Presenting at Power Shift


in Daily updates, PhD thesis, Politics

I am preparing to present a preliminary version of my research results at the Power Shift conference in Ottawa, which takes place from February 14th to 18th.

It’s an unusual venue for presenting academic research. The website says that it will “convene hundreds of young people from across this land to build a powerful and intersectional youth climate justice movement”. This speaks to both unusual features, including an audience comprised of young activists who in the case of my workshop will likely be divestment veterans, and a commitment to be intersectional and emphasize “climate justice”.

In my interviews I have made a particular effort to elicit the views of subjects on questions about which alliances the climate change activist movement should make and why. It’s not a natural match with my research — or with an analytical approach generally — to endorse or criticize particular approaches to allyship. Rather, I am trying to explain descriptively what people believe and what seems to have led to the development and reinforcement of those beliefs. To some extent, I am also trying to comment on what effects those views may have in the future.

Trying to come at the problem in a relatively disinterested way may be unfamiliar to many of the participants. It’s certainly at odds with a lot of the program, which seems to understandably emphasize energizing and exciting people over asking them to think over the strategies they have been using. Nonetheless, I think we’ll have an interesting and respectful discussion. It’s pretty easy to explain at the outset the logic for not assuming our current approach is correct, and being willing to consider deficiencies or limitations it may have. Maintaining morale and a sense that people have done good work is important, but surely actually doing good work must take precedence when the fate of the planet is at stake. It can be very comforting and motivating to see the movement you’re in as already in possession of all the answers and just needing to spread the word to everyone to succeed. Thinking critically about the real barriers to implementing a decarbonization project globally may require more unfamiliar thoughts and company, but there’s a strong case that it’s necessary.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. January 29, 2019 at 11:32 pm

Activists have criticized the ‘science framing’ of climate change because it doesn’t do enough to make people act. That’s fair enough, but there is also a risk that in broadening our activist objectives too far we will stop paying sufficient attention to the scientific facts at the center of what climate activism is meant to achieve, or at least was meant to when solving climate change was the main object. With all this “Green New Deal” stuff, it seems like fighting the physical breakdown of the climate is taking a back seat to pursuing more economic equality. Economic equality may be a good thing, but it doesn’t help us keep the planet from crossing tipping points and becoming largely uninhabitable.

anon January 30, 2019 at 9:29 am

It may seem like a matter of logic and pragmatism to you, but don’t antagonize people

Anon January 31, 2019 at 5:50 pm


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