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The three days of dissertation boot camp, organized by the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication, have been highly productive for me. While the advice was good, I could personally have done without the short instructional segments on things like goal setting and editing. What was extremely useful was the structure: sitting in a room with twenty or so other people for seven hours a day, minus lunch, and having fewer of the distractions than arise when working alone or even with a friend.

On the first day I largely focused on taking things I had sketched out in point form and converting them into paragraphs in my draft thesis chapters. I did more of that in days two and three, but ended up concentrating more on my ongoing census of all Canadian divestment campaigns, hoping to identify some participants from each to interview and who could help me find other organizers. I went through my whole list of Canadian universities and sent dozens of emails, actually scheduling at least a couple of interviews. I also added a lot to my big spreadsheets: one to characterize each identifiable Canadian campaign, a universal timeline with important events from each, a survey on the extant literature on campus fossil fuel divestment, and an index of standard types of documents produced by many campaigns like briefs and committee reports.

The experience has demonstrated that being well rested is not a requirement for getting research done, since both the early morning start (by my standards) and ongoing personal stress left me pretty much exhausted the whole time. There’s strength to be drawn, I suppose, from making material progress toward a self-identified goal. I don’t want this thing to stretch into an eighth year beyond September 2019, requiring me to pay more tuition and delaying the transition back into doing productive non-academic work (and having an income where the slow breakdown of all my equipment, clothes, and general belongings is to be expected).

Certainly in some ways the project isn’t going as I most optimistically hoped — particularly in terms of being able to easily get large numbers of interview subjects from each campaign in order to gain perspective on strategic decision making and disagreements — but it still seems like my broad research questions should be possible to answer using my methodology and the people and materials available. I’m also glad that I will have a reasonable amount of preliminary text to share with my committee members after academia’s standard August coma is shaken off.

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A monopropellant is a liquid which contains in itself both the fuel and the oxidizer, either as a single molecule such as methyl nitrate, CH3NO3, in which the oxygens can burn the carbon and the hydrogens, or as a mixture of a fuel and an oxidizer, such as a solution of benzene in N2O4. On paper, the idea looks attractive. You have only one fluid to inject into the chamber, which simplifies your plumbing, your mixture ratio is built in and stays where you want it, you don’t have to worry about building an injector which will mix the fuel and oxidizer properly, and things are simpler all around. But! Any intimate mixture of a fuel and an oxidizer is a potential explosive, and a molecule with one reducing (fuel) end and one oxidizing end, separated by a pair of firmly crossed fingers, is an invitation to disaster.

Clark, John D. Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants. Rutgers University Press Classics, 2017. p. 7 (italics in original)

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I spent much of today’s boot camp doing research online about Canadian university divestment campaigns and trying to contact people who have been involved.

Even though all the campaigns have happened since 2012, there’s a lot that has clearly already disappeared from the internet, though some of the websites established by campaigns remain in the Wayback Machine. There also seem to be some campaigns that never progressed beyond a petition on gofossilfree.org which a single person could set up in a few minutes. Helpfully the site lets you try to contact the person who set up the petition, but I don’t think I have gotten any responses so far from any campaigns that don’t offer more substantive evidence like a Facebook page or a media report.

I had hoped it would be possible to interview a fairly large number of people from each campaign, both to help develop a detailed timeline and to get into my core research questions about the effect the experience had on people. That may yet prove true for some campaigns – especially large ones that happened fairly recently – but my hopes of being able to get in touch with one or two people from each campaign and then easily reach a large group of others seem unlikely at this point to be fulfilled.

The early mornings of the dissertation boot camp have been a bit disruptive, especially alongside rather disrupted sleep. A friend of mine who I worry about often has been incommunicado for an unusual length of time, to which my brain naturally responds with a lot of directionless worry and speculation. There’s also another situation where I thought two friends were being treated badly by a third person, but it seems that despite being essentially vetoed my effort to encourage a change of behaviour has just left all three of them upset with me.

On the plus side, it seems like we have found someone to take over the room from our housemate who is moving out.

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I’m at my first day of a three day “dissertation boot camp”. I’m working on adding to four chapters: my issue and literature context chapters and the ones I have started on repertoires of contention and political opportunities.

In the lead-up to starting my undergrad program I bought the only printer I have ever owned. I knew I wanted a PostScript-compatible black and white laser printer to be able to print off attractive essays and a deep discount on a large office-calibre machine tempted me into buying an enormous monster which was always hard to cram into residence rooms and which certainly didn’t accompany me to England, Ottawa, or Toronto. Since then I’ve done all my printing with machines belonging to other people, reasoning that it’s better to have someone else handle the maintenance and nice not to have another big whirring box taking up a corner of my room.

Now in the context of the dissertation and some other fairly ambitious writing projects I’m thinking about ordering a Brother HL-L6200DW printer. Several run-downs of well-regarded printers mention the model, for which a 12,000 page print cartridge is $167.86. It does look pretty large but, since my room isn’t in a house where playing music from the stereo often makes sense, I could sell or give that away to make space for it. That could be fitting in a couple of ways. Tristan actually picked out the stereo in Ottawa, as a possession suitable for somebody with a new and well-paying government job and a reasonably noisy one bedroom apartment to himself. A few days ago, he strongly endorsed Brother’s monochrome laser printers for reliability and affordability. Trying to live simply it makes sense to invest in things that you would use frequently and to remove things from your life which are used as rarely as my stereo, especially if those things are cluttering a significant amount of the space you have to work with.

After a summer of expenses and little earned income I am wary of adding even more to my recent set of alarming credit card bills, but everyone who I have spoken to so far sees a printer as a reasonable purchase for somebody in my position.

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One frequent talking point from people who see no problem with continuing to enlarge the bitumen sands is that action by countries like Canada is pointless as long as larger places like India and China continue to build large amounts of coal capacity.

The Economist recently reported (in an issue with a cover story about how “the world is losing the war against climate change“):

Although coal is horribly filthy, India is utterly dependent on it. It generates more than three-quarters of the country’s electricity. Mining it and turning it into power accounts for a tenth of India’s industrial production. It provides jobs as well as power. Coal India, a state-owned coal miner that is the world’s largest, employs, at last count, 370,000 people, and there are up to 500,000 working in the coal industry at large. Far from reining in production, Coal India plans to increase it, from 560m tonnes in 2017 to 1bn tonnes by 2020. The government’s target for national production is 1.3bn-1.9bn tonnes by 2030.

Coal’s life will be made harder by increased competition from cheap solar and wind. Because of that, Mr Subramanian suggests that Mr Modi, his solar-evangelist boss, should slow down his roll out of renewable energy. “In my ideal world India should do a bit less renewable and a bit more coal for the next 10-15 years,” Mr Subramanian said in May. Some dismiss his comments as deliberately provocative. Yet he has rubbed salt into the wounds of environmentalists by describing efforts to wean energy-poor countries such as India off fossil fuels as “carbon imperialism”.

Coal’s staying power may be reinforced by India’s sense of immunity from international pressure to clean up its act. India resists the idea that it cannot put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere simply because the rich world, which produced much more per head during its own development, has used up all the available “carbon space”. In fact, the government continues to support coal projects to keep them afloat. A report by the Centre for Financial Accountability, a think-tank focused on India, says that coal projects in India received almost three times as much support as renewable-energy projects in 2017, mostly from government-owned banks.

Dealing with climate change is only possible on the basis of broad and effective international cooperation. States like India which are still building huge amounts of new energy infrastructure have the capacity to make choices that will make avoiding catastrophic climate change impossible. Persuading them to make different choices requires many things, including financial and technical assistance, but critically it requires that countries like Canada be willing to move first and accept what seems like an economic sacrifice for the sake of a better future for everyone. I say “seems” like a sacrifice because in a world with extreme climate change the cash Canada is banking through continued fossil fuel development is liable to be meaningless.

Everyone who has to give something up or adjust their lifestyle about decarbonization seems to raise some kind of ‘fairness’ argument: why should I give up what I feel I deserve? Why should I act when others aren’t doing so? Countries like India where extreme poverty remains widespread have a genuine and convincing case that they should not have to sacrifice important human welfare developments for the sake of global decarbonization. Still, coal is so awful once you add up the health, environment, and climate costs that even the poorest places with the worst problems should not still be deploying it. For Canada and other rich states to credibly encourage that requires both far more aggressive domestic action to stop fossil fuel development and the determination to provide sufficient technical and financial assistance to help states like India decarbonize quickly enough to help us all avoid global catastrophe.

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