Protesting Pipelines is Worthwhile

Trudeau approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline among others today, and of course the ongoing fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline keeps making the news for the brutal treatment of protestors by police. These are fights that I think activism can and should fight. I want to explain why I think so.

I’m usually pretty critical of “voluntourism” ventures which are quite often scams to take advantage of the gullible, or to give good feelings to the Western participants while not actually doing any good for the local population. Instead, there is GiveWell, which is a charity evaluation organization, and the charities that it favours: giving to malaria prevention (AMF) and de-worming (SCI). These are things that I think are the best causes for donating money.

Dad pointed out the inconsistency between this stance, and my belief in environmental activism. After all, if we care whether what we’re doing is good and effective in the area of charity, we should be even more concerned in the environmental realm, where our impact can be much greater and more catastrophic. And we don’t have randomized controlled trials of various environmental interventions to figure out what does good and what does harm. So therefore, are we not better off doing something else, lest we do harm? I want to explain why I think environmental activism is still important, and in particular why efforts like stopping particular pipelines are worthwhile.

The short answer is that we rely on controlled trials in charity evaluation because they are available. If they weren’t available, that would not be a good reason to not donate to charity. Randomized controlled trials in changing the global environment will not be available for as long as we have only one Earth (as a sticker on the door of one of my professors at UBC read, “земля у нас одна — мы за ценой не постоим”). So we have to use the best available evidence. In terms of the mechanism for burning fossil fuels leading to warming, there is nothing to disagree about as far as I can see. There is of course a large and important debate over just how serious the effects will be. To me, it seems that a large amount of warming leading to large scale refugee crises, famine and property loss seem extremely likely. We are not particularly confident in our models, perhaps. But if we are not particularly confident in our models, but think an extremely severe outcome is possible, it’s only more imperative to try to act. This is a crucial point that I think people often miss.

But even if we accept that anti-global warming causes are important, is anti-pipeline activism really the thing to do? Isn’t it much better to try to work on passing carbon taxes? I admit that I used to think so, but I don’t any more. And the reason is basically that what makes a difference in emissions is what works politically. It turns out that carbon taxes as they are passed often end up being pretty toothless because carbon is priced very low. And it can’t be priced higher because it’s not politically feasible. Instead, what has a much bigger impact on reducing emissions is stricter regulation and outright bans on dirty fuels. You can say that it’s a shame that this method is not the one that is most economically elegant. In a perfect Econ 101 world, we would have a growing carbon tax that priced the externalities of carbon correctly. That’s not the world we live in. And our actions have to recognize that. The way to reduce emissions, which we are pretty sure is something we need to do, is to make regulations of and bans on dirty fuels more politically advantageous. And I think anti-pipeline activism is a good way to do that.
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The Trump

I don’t have anything useful or smart to say on Trump being elected. Just the fact of it happening is already bad news, but what scares me much more is what Trump will do as president. I hesitate to try to say what this proves, since I had no idea it was coming. And regardless of what I say, I’m sure Zuuko will come in and say I’m not really getting it and am just repeating the latest liberal talking points. I’m actually really curious as to his analysis of the situation. Still, it would be weird to post on the blog as if the Trump election didn’t happen, so we might as well acknowledge it. This is the purpose of this post. Random thoughts follow.

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Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

Should Bob Dylan Have Won the Nobel Prize in Literature?



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Protect Semaphore Lakes

Over the August long weekend, three of my friends and I went to camp at Semaphore Lakes, a place in the backcountry north of Pemberton where you can camp among heather meadows. It is a beautiful place, but one that is reeling from how popular it is.

Locomotive and Tender Mountains reflected in a tarn

Locomotive and Tender from the campsite

The way to access it is from a pullout on a logging road. When we came there, there were 23 other cars. Since the pullout can only take three, the rest were all parallel parked along the edge of the road.

The camp itself is in the alpine, among a series of small lakes and tarns, with great views of the Railroad Group. There is little running water except upstream of the lakes, and many campers, including us, get their water from the lakes. Some campers also wash their dishes in the same water. The tarn we used to get water had soap suds floating in it. There was also some garbage we found that we took out. And that makes me think that the proportion of people who pack out their crap isn’t exactly 100% either. An outhouse would help make Semaphore Lakes less shitty, literally. The camping area is, as I mentioned, a heather meadow, so there is very little dead wood, and things grow very slowly. Yet people are camping on vegetation, and burning campfires. We did it too. There were a ton of mosquitoes and everyone around us was burning a campfire, so we said to hell with it. I know, we were wrong. But people are relatively law-abiding – and into passive aggressiveness! If there was a sign banning campfires, I bet there would be way less of them.

Semaphore Lakes camping area

One of the larger among the Semaphore Lakes

What it amounts to is the Semaphore Lakes are being “loved to death”. And I can only imagine that it will become more and more popular. I don’t know what to do about this more generally, but probably small steps like putting in an outhouse will alleviate some of the issues. But currently the area isn’t protected or cared for in any way as far as I know, and that’s just not a tenable solution.

There is a petition and accompanying website that I just saw on facebook to ask the BC government to turn Semaphore Lakes into a Provincial Park. I encourage you to sign it if you think it’s a good idea. Comments say that a conservation or recreational site designation may be other options to give the area some protection. I am not well versed in what is the best step forward. But I think some sort of protective step does need to be taken.

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Victimisation and the victimisation narrative

Here are two articles which both seem to reflect the truth about the situation of muslims in France: 1. Ben Quinn in the Guardian with a straightforward report about the burkini bans and 2. Ben Judah in Standpoint with a long essay on Islam and the French Republic.

I don’t see how it’s possible to get out of this situation. The solution to problems of immigration is usually assimilation. But it’s hard to convince muslims that they should feel themselves a part of France if French people and the French state continually signal to them that they aren’t. And it’s hard to convince the rest of France to treat muslim citizens like any other citizen when muslim citizens continually signal to them that they aren’t like other citizens, and aren’t interested in becoming so.

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The Cinematographer’s Apprentice

My first memory is of an illness. I am lying in a room with a political world map on the wall, and a big blue hot water bottle is being brought for me. My second memory is of moving. We are going by taxi from the grandparents’ house to a new place. I am proud of it being the first taxi trip where I don’t throw up. My third memory is of faking having a dream. I desperately want to be dreaming dreams, but I’ve never had one. If I could have dreams, it would show how grown up I am. I am deathly jealous of people who do get them. All I get with sleep is the faint feeling of lost time. Dreams sounds much better. But what are dreams, and what can you have dreams about? I had asked mom, and she named some things you might see in dreams: rainbows, horses, balls, that kind of thing. So I wake up, and I tell mom: mom, mom, I’ve had a dream! — What was the dream about? — It had a horse in it!

Looking back, I have to admit that I just don’t get it: what was the hurry? I am glad that my thinking makes no sense to current me, because this is a clear sign that something changed about me in the intervening years. And that’s very reassuring. It would be a shame if I had remained the same person for the last 29 or so years.

There is a narrative explanation appropriate to the first memory: “he was a sickly child”. There is a narrative explanation appropriate to the second memory: “his family moved around a lot”. Is there a narrative explanation appropriate to the third memory? I don’t know. I hope it isn’t “he was always a liar”. Is it “he was always into imagining things”? That doesn’t seem right to me, either. It’s only after I started having dreams for real that I became interested in how to translate them to waking life. It’s only after I started having dreams for real that I realized their power.

I have never been in a dream where I was bored. I have never been in a dream where I was sleepy. If you can recreate dreams, you can command your audience. That’s not necessarily a good thing. You also probably don’t hear “I was in North Korea and I was bored” very often. But within the context of time-limited entertainment, it’s worthwhile. terror for two hours isn’t like terror for the rest of your life. It’s actually an impressive achievement. And yet if you recount dreams, everyone gets bored pretty fast. And so trying to understand dreams, and trying to recreate them, rather than just recount them, is the interesting part.

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Zolltan arbitrates Great Man vs. Everyman

Why is this photo here?

Last time Zuuko came to visit me, he explained why he doesn’t have much to say for the blog anymore. He’s come to realize more and more that the world’s path depends on the specific actions, quirks and foibles of individuals. And what can you say about that? And what can you say about that on an anonymous WordPress blog? And what can you say that won’t get you kicked out of the corridors of power?

Whereas I think individuals, and specifically their character and their foibles don’t matter that much. Of course, a disagreement about this isn’t something new or silly. If you read Tolstoy explaining War and Peace at the end of War and Peace, you can see him struggling with this question in spite of himself. Napoleon he says disproves the Great Man idea, because despite his greatness he wasn’t able to overcome the historical tide. And yet Tsar Alexander proves it, because his temperament and cast of mind was exactly such that he was able to harness the historical tide. I am not alone in not finding this my favourite part of War and Peace. It doesn’t make much sense.

I could be a squish like I usually am on this blog, and say that both structural aspects and the behaviour of individuals is important. And this is surely true, but not very illuminating. Let’s try something else. B. told me about a Philip Tetlock book called “Superforecasting”. You can read Scott Alexander’s review here. And the main finding the book discusses seems to be that good forecasting ability beats insider information. That is, people who Tetlock identified as good forecasters did better than people who knew stuff about the people making decisions. In the end, the information you get in the corridors of power wasn’t worth much. Another thing that is indicative of structural aspects mattering more individual quirks is the work of Peter Turchin, some of which I’ve talked about before. I am really excited to get and read his and Nefedov’s book on secular cycles. I clearly haven’t read it yet, but the idea that civilizations follow specific patterns is not new, and now they are doing the work to bring in data that’s necessary to characterize these patterns. I think people can overestimate the importance of insider information because they’re excited by the fact that they’re getting it. Does it matter? Yes, it does. But it matters less, and in less predictable ways than you might think.

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