Monday, September 30, 2019

How Could I Have Been So Blind?

Photo of Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016 from CBC
 A Book About Oil

I am happy to report that I have finished Project X and sent it in. In the process, I did a lot of reading on topics related to the paper. One topic area that I read quite a bit about was global warming, and the climate change that is a consequence of global warming. This issue is something that I have been educating myself about for the past year.

I read the following book, Oil's Deep State: How the Petroleum Industry Undermines Democracy and Stops Action on Global Warming  -- In Alberta, and in Ottawa, by Kevin Taft, written in 2017. Taft was an elected MLA of the Province of Alberta from 2001-2012, so he had an inside view of the impact of oil companies on government. He has a PhD in Business and is an expert in public policy.

Although he is writing about a heavy topic, the book was fascinating to me because I lived in Alberta during part of the period he writes about. He describes how the big oil companies in Alberta, which are extremely wealthy, strategically used their money and power to influence politicians, researchers, and the public in order to bring in a national energy policy that favoured the fossil fuel industries and also to suppress information about the effects of fossil fuels on global warming.

I was shocked. I know that sounds naive. I knew the big transnational petroleum companies were bad actors, but I hadn't really understood the range of tactics they have used to protect their right to amass wealth from oil (even though they knew about global warming) and to undermine democratic processes. Right in my own country. (Really naive, right? Ongoing wars in the middle east over oil, etc.)

 I asked myself: How could I have been so blind about global warming? As a person who cares about the environment, how did I not know about global warming and its terrible consequences a long time ago? Rephrasing Greta Thunberg’s anguished question – why didn’t I personally start taking action a lot sooner?

Taft says that scientists made the public aware of the risks of global warming and the relationship of global warming to the burning of fossil fuels as early as 1965, confirming fears that had been voiced more than a century ago. I myself heard of global warming decades ago (but not as early as 1965 – I was just a little kid then). So here’s a list in which I have tried to reconstruct my thought processes, excuses, and misunderstandings:  

A List

1. Ever since I was born, there have been a series of terrible things going on in the world; like the cold war and the threat of a nuclear holocaust that could wipe out humanity; the threat of overpopulation that would strain our planet beyond its capacity to support us all; terrifying diseases like AIDS, Mad Cow Disease, Ebola, and necrotizing fasciitis; and awful wars. In spite of it all, my own life has been good, and life for many people around the world has gotten better (overall poverty has decreased; international agreements have been made about weapons proliferation, population is still increasing but at a much slower rate than in the 1980s, etc.). Somehow, each of these possible doomsdays has turned out better than predicted, so far. So, the problem is that I have become COMPLACENT. A news stream of constant crises made me numb to them. Global warming seemed like just one of many crises.

2. “They” will look after it. Like a child looking to my parents to take care of the things that were too big for me to manage, I looked to powerful others – the government, the scientists, the United Nations, and so on to fix the big problems of the world. For the most part, I believe that our democratic system has worked quite well, and great progress has been made in lots of areas. But I have gradually come to understand that THERE IS NO THEY; THERE IS ONLY WE. That is to say, our elected officials, our scientists, our diplomats, and so on are just regular people like you and me. Yes, they might have specialized skills and be extraordinarily talented. But they can’t make the big changes needed to change course on global warming alone. All of us need to contribute.

3. What’s so bad about the climate warming up, I remember asking myself. After all, Canada’s winters are awfully cold, and the summers can be quite short and cool. Maybe we’ll have nicer summers, and the winters won’t be so bitter. Maybe we’ll have a longer growing season. Wouldn’t that be good for agriculture? WRONG! I was thinking about it in a too narrow way, about how it might affect me in the small region where I lived. I didn’t think about people dying from heat waves in areas further south, or realize that the rapidity of the change in climate would make it hard for plants and animals to adapt, or recognize that altering the Earth’s temperature would result in extreme weather events like wildfires and floods. In fact, over the last 30 years, throughout northern parts of Canada where I used to live, the forests have been devastated by the spruce budworm and the pine beetle, forest diseases that have been caused by big corporations planting a forest monoculture in combination with the climate having changed to warmer summers and warmer winters.
Photo of the City of Calgary Flood of 2013 from The Calgary Herald
4. When I first heard about sea levels rising, I didn’t take it seriously. How could a few inches cause a problem for anyone? Surely no one built their houses that close to sea level? See number 1 above – another example of COMPLACENCY, combined with ignorance. But now we know that whole island countries will be lost to the rising oceans, and that many of the great cities of the world are built on river deltas and are threatened by flooding.

5. Lack of, or distorted, information. Throughout my lifetime, I have witnessed environmentalists being looked down upon, scientists being muzzled, and media giving a lot of airtime to people who have no credibility and who state ideological positions for which they have no evidence as if they were facts. It is hard to know what to believe when scientific evidence is scorned, and lies are touted as facts. One example from Alberta when I lived there was that the petroleum industry re-labelled itself as “the energy sector” and oil and gas as “clean energy” even though there was nothing clean about it. So, on global warming, I took a “wait-and-see” approach. I have research skills and I had access to a university library. I could have gone and done my own research. WHY DIDN’T I EDUCATE MYSELF?
Image of the 2013 flood in High River Alberta from The Calgary Herald
6. Another factor is that I worked within a system where a culture of overwork was normal. Eleven and twelve hour workdays were normal. I didn’t have much time or energy left to focus on anything much except my family and the basics of life in the hours when I wasn’t working.

7. Too many problems and too little time. This relates back to #5 and #6. There are so many things to educate oneself on. Is this fair trade coffee? Does this water bottle have BPA in it? Is gluten bad for you? Was this clothing made in a factory that condones human rights abuses? What are the main recommendations of the reconciliation report? Did these eggs come from a factory farm where the hens were confined in cages? Is this detergent phosphate free and is phosphate the only problem with detergent? Is gasoline with ethanol added better or worse for the environment? How much exercise a day does a person need to maintain a healthy heart? Is one glass of wine a day good, or is it better to drink more, or less, and what about alcohol other than wine? Is it worse for the environment to use cloth rags that you launder or to use paper towels? Are genetically modified foods dangerous or not and are they safe for the environment? Is high fructose corn syrup worse for you than other sugars? What is Canada’s policy on refugees seeking asylum? And I could keep on listing questions like this for pages and pages. It is easy to see how global warming could get lost when there are so many important things to care about. A person is tempted to pick one or two causes and forget about the rest. The sense of overwhelm leads to a kind of learned helplessness. BUT IF WE DON’T HALT GLOBAL WARMING, NONE OF THE OTHER ISSUES WILL MATTER.  

8. I have always voted, and educated myself about my voting choices. But I always thought of myself as a not very political person. I felt distaste for the name-calling and empty talking points of politics. It seemed that whatever politicians promised on the campaign trail, they went and governed in the same old way after they were elected. I became cynical about politics. But now I am beginning to see that engaging in our democratic system is one of our best ways of making a difference on global warming. The big transnational corporations certainly aren’t going to change their ways on their own; they are too busy lining their pockets to the detriment of the rest of us. VOTING FOR A POLITICAL PARTY WITH A STRONG ENVIRONMENTAL PLATFORM IS IMPORTANT. And along with voting, it’s also important to be fully engaged in the political process – to donate to parties that have a strong environmental platform, to volunteer to work for those parties during campaigns, to write to elected officials, and to consider running for office oneself.

 Looking to the Future

I could kick myself around the block a dozen times for being so slow to start learning about the threat that global warming and climate change pose to our planet and the survival of our civilization. It brings me to tears whenever I think of the overheated world that my grandchildren, and everyone’s grandchildren, are going to have to live in. But there’s no point in looking backwards and blaming myself. The best thing I can to is to take responsibility for my choices now and throw my efforts into practical actions that will make a difference on climate change. We have a narrow window of time of about ten years to shift the possible outcome of global warming to something bad that we can live through from something really bad that humans might not survive. FOR THE SAKE OF OUR GRANDCHILDREN, AND EVERYBODY'S GRANDCHILDREN, LET'S TAKE ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE NOW. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Project X Ate My Brain

Project X ate my brain, err, rather, it is still in the process of eating my brain because it is still in progress.

Project X

I am deep into an academic writing project that I have dubbed "Project X." It has totally taken over my thoughts and my time.

In it, I am pulling together disparate threads of ideas that come from my lived experience during my 25-year career in higher education, my research focus over the last few years on ethics in research and researchers' public responsibility, and my recent immersion in learning about global warming and the climate emergency. My voracious reading for the project has taken me into new (to me) research fields, such as corporate social responsibility, and back to rereading and thinking about ideas from the ancient history of my intellectual development, such as John Dewey's writings on democracy and education, and Karl Marx's concepts of capitalism and surplus value.

I am trying to craft an coherent and compelling argument that knits several disparate ideas together.

I have written more than the requested number of pages, but am still refining the argument. The task that faces me in the hours and days ahead is to read, read, read; write, write, write; and then cut, cut, cut. Project X is overdue, and I have nobody to blame but myself and my own procrastination. But, my goodness, is it ever a fascinating ride!

So, I know I promised a blog post on my excellent summer vacation. But I have to defer that post for now, and so many other things until Project X is all wrapped up and delivered with a bow.

Some of the things that have been put off to the side are: my daily exercise, revising my novel, working on the prequel novel, my art, reading and writing blogs, any new time commitments (I am still trying to keep commitments that I previously made, although some of those are going to be late, too). I sure do hate saying "no" to new fun things.

But lest you are tempted to feel sorry for me, thinking that my life hasn't been very fun lately, I have to put you straight right now. For me, academic research and writing is fun (if unremunerated).

As well, there have been a number of very fun events in my life in September, all planned and committed to many months ago when I still optimistically believed that I would have been finished with Project X by now. 

Birthday Bash

We hosted a big birthday bash at our place to celebrate Rob's and my September birthdays. Friends and family came to the party from far and wide. We had a band!

Dancing to Beatlemania Tunes

133 Years of Wisdom

 Friends and Family Come to Visit

We had a wonderful time visiting with friends and family, some of whom travelled 1,000s of kilometers to celebrate with us. We also enjoyed some excellent grandkid time.

Blogger Meet-Up

I also had the chance this weekend to participate in another blogger meetup! This time I got to spend time with Natalie from Natalie the Explorer, Donna from Retirement Reflections, and Ann from The Unretired.Life.

Natalie, me, Donna, Ann
We ate, drank, walked in the rain, and generally made merry.
A Lovely Rainy Day
Oops, I think I am procrastinating again.