Jean-Paul Sartre’s blog

Satre’s blog discovered in New Yorkers’ imagination – thanks to progressive geographies for posting this. For whatever reason, it got me thinking of Werner Herzog’s reading of Where’s Waldo?


Progressive Geographies

The New Yorker has some passages from Sartre’s blog.

View original post

Activism and the environment

I had the chance to watch the celebrated documentary If a tree falls: a story of the Earth Liberation Front yesterday. The film documents the story of one ELF member being tried for both criminal and terrorist charges as part of an investigation into the string of arson activities the ELF claimed responsibility for. In the discussion after the movie, one person raised a very interesting question: is articulating how far you are willing to go (in terms of direct action) to protect the environment taboo? That is, is it the kind of question that even among friends you would be uneasy giving an honest answer to?

The question intrigued me. Partly because there is a lot of rhetoric in Canada about being branded a ‘radical’ if you support environmental policy; that label was indiscriminately applied to anybody concerned with the environment (i.e. moms, small-businesses, municipalities) by Canada’s minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, earlier this year. But another part of the intrigue was that on Thursday I attended a lecture by David Harvey at Boston Univerisity. Dr. Harvey is an expert on issues of political economy and social revolutionist thinking and a leading authority on how to interpret Karl Marx.

Harvey’s argument was really centered on how three things hang together: (1) the accumulation of capital; (2) class struggle, and; (3) urbanization. This short video provides the quickest explanation of his general thoughts on accumulation and the ways that economic processes create crises regarding what to do with surplus (i.e. profit).

But the bulk of Harvey’s argument was really about the ways that urbanization has been a site where a large struggle exists between building an environment based on economic principles versus building one based on human wants, needs and values. He gave the argument that crises exist when you have surplus capital and surplus labor side-by-side, and that the way to solve this problem has often been found in urbanization. He cited China’s building of ghost towns as a way to put capital and labour to work – in this case building cities and malls where nobody lives.

These arguments are detailed more closely in his latest book: Rebel cities: from the right to the city to urban evolution. There are also interviews with Dr. Harvey on this book available here and here.

David Harvey Rebel Cities

Okay, so where is all this going? Well, one of Harvey’s contentions was that the Occupy Movement represented a sort of direct activism regarding the spaces in, and rights to, the city. And, secondly, that this form of direct action stuck around for awhile. But did it change much? Well, no, it didn’t.

Since I don’t have any reason to distinguish activism regarding so-called ‘natural’ environments from ‘built’ environments, this all got me thinking that perhaps part of the reason direct action may not change much is that there are a lot of social taboos surrounding it. For instance, protest regarding these sorts of things can be complex if regulating or eliminating certain activities eliminates sources of income for families or even entire communities. So finding a common language to work them out in society is a real challenge. You don’t have to look far to find articles asking questions about this lack of social vocabulary. Just google things like: what was Occupy even about? what were its goals?

But more importantly, there aren’t many training sites where one can learn about how to effectively take up a political stick and start talking, let alone start walking. So I was really very pleased to see Bob Huish get a profile in the Globe and Mail recently on the courses he has developed at Dalhousie University (Halifax) that actually teach activism. This short video shows how some of his classes get at these issues in a way that tries not only to take direct action out from under the taboo umbrella but also to begin the process of developing a common language of action for a citizenry whose rights matter.

IWRM at McGill University

I had the pleasure of joining (via Skype) the graduate class on Water: Society, Law and Policy that is a core course in McGill University’s graduate certificate in integrated water resources management. This was the third time I was invited to speak on ethical issues in water policy with that course and, as I have come to expect from the students there, it was a treat.

One of the students offered a nice critique of some of the work Peter Brown and I did in our book, specifically the essay on what we called ‘compassionate retreat‘ that forms the last chapter of our book. The gist of that piece is that water management has over-emphasized technical and scientific knowledge at the expense of considering issues of normative judgment. So we suggest that finding ways of retreating from our current position as a dominant force in complex systems and do so with compassion is vital – both with respect to the obligations we created through massive interventions into the water cycle and with respect to those excluded from the ‘benefits’ wrought under the guise of that type of development.

The student who critiqued the paper did a fabulous job, particularly in drawing out a nice distinction regarding science and technology. The distinction focused on the difference between policy programs oriented towards how science and technology should be applied versus if certain forms of science and technology fit with defensible ends for water management.

As with other opportunities engaging with the students in this class, it was a privilege to have somebody engage with your work so closely that, when they put up a diagram summarizing your chapter you think, “Hey, maybe we could use that if we revisit this?”

UPDATE: Water and Sanitation Related Diseases and Environment

I posted earlier to the edited book by Janine Selendy on water, sanitation, disease and the environment. I’ve since received more information about the book, including a flyer for it here (pdf) and some reviews that can be read here (Word doc). In addition, more information is below on special pricing, freely available chapters and web resources.

Wiley-Blackwell, the publisher, makes the books available at heavily discounted rates (70% or more) for developing countries and for free in emergency health situations. Wiley makes these prices available on the Wiley page at “Request Pricing for Special Sales.”  Here is the book’s link from Wiley:



Wiley also provides a chance to read an excerpt:

o   ISBN: 978-0-470-52785-6

Updates and additional resources are being posted on a companion website: and on the Horizon Solutions Site:

Thanks to an unusual permission granted by the publisher Wiley-Blackwell, The Carter Center has posted PDFs of four chapters from the book along with the Wiley flier for the book on its website at The chapters are:

Dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm Disease): Case Study of the Effort to Eradicate Guinea Worm
Donald R. Hopkins, Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben

Using Kinship Structures in Health Programming: An Example of Preventive Measures and Successful Interventions
Moses N. Katabarwa

Adrian Hopkins, Boakye A. Boatin

Joseph A. Cook, Silvio P. Mariotti.

Holmes Rolston III on Aldo Leopold’s “Thinking Like a Mountain” Story

In “A Sand County Almanac” Aldo Leopold recounts his experience of shooting a wolf in his famous essay, “Thinking like a Mountain.” But was it an actual event or was it a picture of his change in thinking? Since that essay was one of the first ones I ever read in my first environmental ethics class, I was interested when the International Society for Environmental Ethics linked to Holmes Rolston III’s short writing on the topic and mentioned a letter found in 2009 which is thought to confirm it. You can find Holmes Rolston III’s reflections here (pdf).

Keepers of the Water Press Releases

I somehow missed posting these pdfs in my earlier posts about the Keepers of the Water VI last month in Ft. Nelson B.C. (here, here and here).

Here is the One Land One People press release from the Keepers of the Water VI.

Here is the Indigenous Declaration for Protecting Mother Earth and Water.

Here is the Ft. Nelson First Nation press release.

Public policy and the common good: Trudeau community in Alberta

The Trudeau Foundation is holding its annual public policy conference in Edmonton this year. The topic is the common good, attendance is free (with registration) and the line up looks quite good: sitting MPs (including Elizabeth May), leading figures in Canadian politics (Stephane Dion, Preston Manning and Michael Ignatieff among others) plus the usual slew of high-calibre academics. The conference will cover topics from global environmental negotiations to free trade to urban policy. Should be good – description below. More details here.

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation’s 9th Annual Conference on Public Policy
The Westin Hotel, Edmonton, Alberta, 22-24 November 2012

In defining the common good, the initial version of Canada’s Constitution Act wrote of “peace, order, and good government.” While these objectives should not be taken lightly, there is every reason to believe that most Canadians subscribe to a broader interpretation of the common good, especially at the abstract level. When it comes time to give precise meaning and render tangible notions such as “good government” and “peace,” however, thorny and sometimes bitter disputes often arise.

Who decides? Who chooses what the words actually mean? Who determines what is to be done next, so that principles may come to life in institutions and policies? In mature democracies, it was long thought that an elected parliament, a responsible government, and an independent judiciary were sufficient for the public interest to triumph. In the aftermath of recent controversies involving the economy, the environment, and human rights, however, the spirit of compromise that once characterized democratic life seems to have given way to increasingly entrenched ideological positions that are no longer confined to the fringe. Calls for civil disobedience are increasingly heard among the most “ordinary” of citizens, who claim that political and social decisions overwhelmingly benefit a privileged few: the now-famous “1%.” At the other end of the spectrum, those economic and social entities that are the best established – and that are, by consequence, privileged by institutions – are demanding that their activities be exempt from obligations of transparency and civic responsibility. Meanwhile, even in countries that are deeply affected by economic crises, and which should be cognizant of the limits of markets, governments willingly abandon the resolution of social problems to the private sector, as if public authorities cannot be trusted to make choices for the public good.

This polarization in attitudes affects no sector of social life more than the environment and the exploitation of natural resources. But the contagion is spreading to all sectors: from education to foreign policy, culture, and taxation. The great transformations to which Canada is exposed today – transformations that are pushing the country to review its position in the world and to rethink the foundations of its identity – are undermining the cohesion of its social and political structures. It is increasingly obvious that the balance of values has become precarious and that Canadians are struggling to rally around a common goal.

The ninth Trudeau Conference on Public Policy will give participants the opportunity to reflect deeply on these issues. Participants will explore systematically the conditions under which a pluralist and democratic society arrives at a generally acceptable definition of the common good and agrees on ways to implement that definition in a practical sense.

Slavoj Zizek on CBC radio: listen here

Anna Maria Tremonti is one of my favorite hosts at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In this interview with Slavoj Zizek she discusses a whole range of issues (as is typical when a microphone is in front of Zizek): liberalism, capitalism, democracy, television, smoking, love and systems of thought and force.

Here is the description from CBC radio:

“Slavoj Zizek’s new book, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously dissects the events of 2011, from the Occupy protests to the Arab Spring, and uses HBO’s fan-favourite The Wire to explain how movements of change are stifled by larger forces. As part of our project Line in the Sand, Slavoj Zizek calls on us to rethink our values and says the time has come for an ethical revolution.”

The conversation is about 30 minutes long: LISTEN HERE.

Water and Sanitation Related Diseases and the Environment

I spent today at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s event, “The Future of Water: Cloudy with a Chance of Solutions.” The event was also live webcast and the lectures will be up on youtube in a few weeks. I’ll remark more on the day after I gather my thoughts; the day ranged from desalination to endocrine disruptors to ethics and bisphenol-A to commodification to fracking…a lot of ground topped off by remarks regarding a national U.S. water strategy.

In the meantime, I had the great pleasure of chatting with Janine Selendy, who edited a fantastic new book, Water and Sanitation Related Diseases and the Environment: Challenges, Interventions and Preventative Measures. The book is a bit pricy, but also has some additional features, including multimedia components and it is also supported by this website oriented towards solutions.

Bailout terms force water utility sale in Greece, Portugal

This is an interesting aspect of how water can get caught up with larger debates about the economy reported on by EurActiv.


“EU leaders are under fire for pressuring troubled Eurozone governments to sell public water utilities as part of their bailout deals, with environmentalists and rights activists saying that privatisation will only feed public anger.

Criticism of the bailout conditions set for Greece and Portugal by the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund troika call for shedding state-owned companies, including public utilities, as a condition for billions of euros in funds to stave off insolvency.

Greece came under renewed pressure this week from Eurozone finance ministers to approve a fiscal overhaul in order to receive €31.2 billion in an aid installment that is already two months overdue. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a one-day visit to Athens on Tuesday to give cautious support to the austerity plan backed by her Greek counterpart, Antonis Samaras.

David Hall, who heads the Public Services International Research Unit at the University of Greenwich, says water privatisation is a mistake both politically and operationally, leading to higher prices and disgruntled customers.

In terms of operating efficiency, there is really no visible difference between public and private sectors,” Hall said in a telephone interview, adding “there is no evidence at all to support the widely asserted view that the private sector is more efficient.”

“There is actually very strong public resistance to the idea of water privatisation, and indeed even stronger resistance to the experience of it,” he said, noting that some city and regional governments have reversed course and resumed control over water services.

Greece hopes to raise €3.5 billion from the privatisation of energy and utility companies, while efforts to sell state and locally owned water services are gaining speed in Portugal and Spain”…READ MORE