Re-writing my dissertation as a popular book

Rather than for academics, my PhD dissertation was always intended more for activists, policy-makers, and concerned citizens.

Despite my efforts to make it accessible and limit jargon, however, it seems that a document in PhD dissertation format just won’t have that broad an audience. As such — once I have a job — I think I should re-write the argument as a book for a popular audience. That would expand the readership, and also let me write it the way I want and not to meet the requirements of academics.

I will be producing a new version of the dissertation with some minor corrections, but that too will have to wait until I am employed and able to pay my bills.

Sticky: My PhD dissertation

If you have been sympathetic to my cause and my suffering, my PhD dissertation is my most sincere, detailed, highly scrutinized, and high-effort way of explaining the climate change crisis which we are enduring and how to work toward a course of action to save us all. Reading it is the best thing you can do in response to observing how much difficulty and pain has been involved in creating it.

Please don’t assume it is written for academics and not for you. It is written for everyone who cares about the future of the world, and more than anything I want people to engage with it. Please also do not assume it’s written in impenetrable or obscure language; I wrote it to be comprehensible to anyone with a substantial and educated interest in climate change: among policy-makers, activists, environmentalists, journalists, and those merely morbidly concerned about the future of this sphere of Nickel-Iron we call The Earth:

Persuasion Strategies: Canadian Campus Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns and the Development of Activists, 2012–20

If reading the whole thing seems like too much, consider reading just the preface on positionality before chapter 1 for an explanation of how I am trying to engage with the climate change activist movement, along with section 5.5 (“Climate justice within the CFFD movement”, p. 190), section 5.6 (“Purity versus effectiveness”, p. 192), and section 5.7 (“Policy durability”, p. 201).

If you prefer a paper copy and will actually read it, contact me and I will send you one of the copies available at cost from

DeSilva and Harvey-Sànchez divestment podcast series complete

The fifth and final episode in Amanda Harvey-Sànchez and Julia DeSilva’s series on the University of Toronto fossil fuel divestment campaign, successively organized by, UofT, and then the Leap Manifesto and Divestment & Beyond groups.

The episode brings back guests from each prior era, and includes some interesting reflections on what organizers from different eras felt they learned, the value of protest as an empowerment space and venue for inter-activist networking, the origins of the Leap Manifesto group in the aftermath of the 2016 rejection, as well as how they explain President Gertler’s decision to reverse himself and divest five years after he rejected the campus fossil fuel divestment campaign.

Threads on previous episodes:

Ongoing occupation demanding fossil fuel divestment at U of T’s Victoria University

Friday was day 12 of Climate Justice U of T’s occupation at Victoria University, pressuring them to divest from fossil fuels.

They have a guide online for people wishing to visit the occupation.

They also have a petition.

Awarded my dictionary

As distant and improbable as it seemed at times, at tonight’s Convocation High Table I was given the dictionary traditionally awarded by Massey College to PhD graduates:

Photo by Chantal Phillips

This was a much more meaningful graduation for me than attending a U of T ceremony would be, and hearing the biographies of all the graduating Junior Fellows was a reminder of how many critical fights humanity is engaged in right now, and how it will take the best from all of us to fight our way to a successful, liveable, humane future for the world.

Early tomorrow I am off for back-to-back-to-back trips: first to visit our dear friends in Ottawa; then for a couple of days of quiet and reading at a dairy farm in Cambridge, Ontario; and then straight out on my first camping trip in many years.

After that, my full-time job will become finding a new affordable place to live in Toronto. Finding inexpensive accommodation is actually more urgent and important than finding an OK job. Per George Monbiot’s tough but invaluable career advice, financial security really comes from minimizing your expenses, not maximizing your income. The cheaper you can live, the freer you are to work on what is important and bring everything you can to the fight.

Dissertation on TSpace

I am still trying to get them to replace the file with one that has a few minor typos corrected, but my dissertation went live on the University of Toronto’s TSpace platform today:

Persuasion Strategies: Canadian Campus Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns and the Development of Activists, 2012–20

Please don’t buy one before asking if I was planning to make you one already, but you can buy a print copy at cost from I am also ordering a batch to reduce shipping costs, so if you want to get in on that let me know.

CO2-energy / climate justice contention on Indigenously-backed fossil fuel projects

My PhD dissertation highlights the distinction between the CO2-energy and climate justice worldviews in climate change organizing.

Put briefly:

[C]limate justice (CJ) activists emphasized the linkages between climate change and other justice issues in both diagnosing the causes of climate change and in crafting their political strategy to control it, insisting that only revolutionary political and economic changes like the overthrow of capitalism will let humanity preserve a stable climate. This analysis and prescription is challenged by CO2-energy (CO2-e) activists who see climate change as fundamentally about fossil fuel energy, with a solution that lies in replacing coal, oil, and gas.

One area where the two viewpoints can be clearly distinguished is how to respond to Indigenously-backed fossil fuel energy projects. The climate justice viewpoint holds that environmentalists should be led by and not criticize Indigenous peoples. For them, if the Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi ‘it community in BC wants to build a coal mine, it is at least much harder to oppose while maintaining their values than the same project proposed by someone else. For CO2-e activists, it is about the fuel to be burned and not the identity of those benefitting, and so it is unproblematic to resist fossil fuel projects regardless of their backers.


Reading my dissertation, step by step

Step #1: Learn a bit of the context and background to climate change politics

I know throwing a whole PhD thesis at someone gives them a lot to handle, especially if it is written in an unfamiliar academic style. Nonetheless, I took pains all through my PhD process to come up with a product which would be comprehensible and meaningful to the community of climate activists.

Several posts down the line, we will come to the “meta question” which motivates the chapter about the ethics of what ought to be done. As someone new to the document and/or climate change policy, I would start by looking at what I considered important explanatory text but which my committee directed I should remove from an over-long document:

Structural Barriers to Avoiding Catastrophic Climate Change

Basically, why is solving climate change a hard problem? We have governments that do an OK-to-decent job at most things, so why are they uniquely bad at caring for the climate long-term when its integrity is damaged by the use of fossil fuels? This first document explores that question in detail, and elaborates upon why old solutions aren’t working for this problem.