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October

2019-10-04

in Daily updates

September was a comparatively slow month for thesis work. A little bit of that is probably loss of desperation as the project has broadly come together and it has become clear that it’s possible to finish. More important, the social doldrums of August ended so now there are a lot more calls on my time: events at the political science department, friends visiting town, activist happenings, and so on.

Nonetheless, I need to keep focused on finishing the dissertation. It has been a bit annoying in ongoing conversations to have relevant material in the text, but be unable to share it. I’m not planning on taking the academic publishing route, so at least I will be able to release it as soon as the defence is done and the text has been accepted by the university.

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Gen-reh!

2019-10-01

in Language

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I don’t know who had the brainstorm to add Glados-like comments to https://clickclickclick.click/ but it adds brilliantly to the site’s impact and cultivated paranoia. Very cool intersubjective web-based art.

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“The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.”

Greta Thunberg’s full speech to world leaders at UN Climate Action Summit

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After attending half of a classmate’s job talk for a law and political science position at Guelph I photographed today’s Climate Strike in Toronto. It was a big organic crowd, with some contingents from labour or specific causes who were clearly together but where most people carried home-made signs which didn’t come out of a print shop or an activists’ art build.

It’s good to see the level of concern, which is perhaps hardening into a willingness to demand action. That’s what it will take with a government as deferential to industry as Canada’s is. If Justin Trudeau hadn’t twisted a little to help SNC-Lavalin that would certainly have been the default approach in Canada’s civil service, which exists in symbiosis with the industries which it is meant to regulate. They fall over themselves to bail out the automobile industry, so the scale of changes necessary to address climate change is broadly unthinkable to them: totally outside the scope of what they see as possible to implement. They’re also the guardians of federalism, so the inter-provincial dynamics of fossil fuel and climate change politics are frightening to them, strengthening a trained impulse to generally try to muddle through with as little fundamental change as possible.

Preventing the worst effects of climate change now demands boldness far beyond what the Liberals and Conservatives are offering — perhaps more along the lines of what Green Party members whisper to each other during fearful conversations about climate change and the human future. The world of 2000 looked nothing like the world of 1900, and 2100 may be more different still. All of this can go: rapid transport options available to anyone with money, cities dominated by the private car, exotic foods in all seasons, cheap and automatic indoor climate control in summer and winter, suburbia. The populace takes it all for granted politically and ultimately emotionally, but it’s fragile. Indeed, it has never really been functioning in the way people thought, since the interactions between people behaving that way and the rest of the biosphere gradually erode away the web of life on which human survival depends. I think we’ll find that our personal options will inevitably be constrained in some ways in the future, which will produce a series of political fights which will make hyperbole about carbon taxes seem like gentle childhood provocation.

Hey, I tend to be a worrier though. Maybe Greta will provoke the world sufficiently to drive politicians everywhere to reverse their foolish commitment to continued fossil fuel dependence and implement the kind of rapid global decarbonization which is feasible with cooperation and cheap compared to suffering the effects of unconstrained climate change. The logical and ethical case for action is a slam dunk, it’s just hard to accept that we actually need to make sacrifices so that future generations won’t inherit a degraded world where changing global conditions continuously imperil them and in which the richness of life has been sharply circumscribed by our unwillingness to get over coal, oil, and gas at a rate that does justice to the inheritors of the Earth.

It’s also logically possible that some combination of technological development and political change will lead to the kind of mass renewable deployments being called for at rallies like today’s, and by organizations like 350.org. David MacKay’s book is convincing that there is enough renewable energy potential to give all the world’s billions of inhabitants a standard of living comparable to that in Europe today, based around a much more equitable distribution of global energy use.

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PowerPoint is the scourge of critical thinking. It encourages fragmented logic by the briefer and passivity in the listener. Only a verbal narrative that logically connects a succinct problem statement using rational thinking can develop sound solutions. PowerPoint is excellent for displaying data; but it makes us stupid when applied to critical thinking.

Mattis, Jim and West, Bing. Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead. 2019. p. 182

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Reading is an honor and a gift from a warrior or historian who—a decade or a thousand decades ago—set aside time to write. He distilled a lifetime of campaigning in order to have a “conversation” with you. We have been fighting on this planet for ten thousand years; it would be idiotic and unethical to not take advantage of such accumulated experiences. If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you. Any commander who claims he is “too busy to read” is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way. The consequences of incompetence in battle are final. History teaches that we face nothing new under the sun. The Commandant of the Marine Corps maintains a list of required reading for every rank. All Marines read a common set; in addition, sergeants read some books, and colonels read others. Even generals are assigned a new set of books that they must consume. At no rank is a Marine excused from studying. When I talked to any group of Marines, I knew from their ranks what books they had read. During planning and before going into battle, I could cite specific examples of how others had solved similar challenges. This provided my lads with a mental model as we adapted to our specific mission.

Mattis, Jim and West, Bing. Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead. 2019. p. 42

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