Interview with Doreen Massey on Space

Social Science Bites has a podcast and interview transcript of an interview with Doreen Massey up. You can listen to the interview here or view the transcript and other info here. Here is the teaser from the site:

“Doreen Massey has made her reputation by studying space, not outer space, space here on planet Earth. Professor Massey is a geographer who wants us to rethink many of our assumptions about space, including the assumption that it is simply something we pass through. She believes that an analysis of spatial relations between, for example, people, cities, jobs, is key to an understanding of politics and power.”

Writing week

This week I’m settling in to write the first chapter of the book I’ve been researching. I’ve re-worked the introduction and first chapter in rough draft and am now ready to set into the meatier portions.

Of course, tuning to this project also requires tuning out some things. As such, I think I will forgo posting about the large demonstrations against the Keystone XL pipeline that were held primarily in Washington but also in many other places. These protests do figure into the larger set of ideas the book grapples with, particularly the ways in which particular environmental activities gain symbolic meaning when, in the political economy of things, its just another pipeline.

How we got to that conflict is part of what I will be seeking to explain, although I will be looking through the lens of water to do so. Water is of course caught up with many other sectors and often is the instrumental, if not intrinsic reason certain projects are opposed – tanker spills, pipeline leaks & Keystone XL’s original route all motivate dissent not only by appealing to globally normalized carbon emissions but also by rendering risks palpable through something that is meaningful locally. Often this is water.

Water ethics bibliography updated

At long last, I’ve finally updated the resources page I created to build a bibliography on water ethics. It is by no means complete, but provides a decent starting place I think.  Any and all suggestions for improvement are very welcome.

The end(s) of ethical oil: connecting dots on radicalism and re-regulation in Canada

A couple of years ago, a triumphant Ezra Levant pilloried opposition to Alberta’s Oil Sands on a simple premise: we all need oil, so it is best to buy from producers that respect human rights. Today, the “ethical oil” profiteers argue that Canada is not compromised by selling oil, or control over it, to countries (China in particular) with abysmal track records on everything that supposedly made buying our own oil so great: human rights, fair wages, democracy… the list goes on. I think I get the logic: yesterday’s moralizing is today’s norm.

Now, having created the narrative, it is necessary to police its boundaries. Such as through spying on environmental activists deemed a threat to national security.

But I’d like to revisit the ‘ethical oil’ narrative, the poverty of its logic and to connect it to re-regulation in Canada.

Ethical oil: as bad as you remember

Perhaps it has been awhile since Ezra Levant’s book, Ethical Oil, fell off your nightstand. If so, here is a quick re-cap. Levant pitches his arguments in a thought experiment designed to convince 20-somethings studying vegetarianism at McGill University that, since we all need oil, its better to develop the Alberta’s bitumen deposits than it is to buy oil from countries with paltry records on human rights or working conditions. The conclusion? There is not only an economic reason for developing the Canadian Oil Sands, there are moral reasons as well.

In addition to the poor reasoning of Levant’s book that I’ve noted previously, almost any student of vegetarianism will likely read Peter Singer. And these students would only get a few pages into one of his central works, Practical Ethics, before they would read a statement like this: one of the central tenets of ethical reasoning is that you cannot start out with premises that intrinsically favor certain groups over others.

Most of us recognize this logic straightaway; its unethical to begin with ideas of male superiority in decisions about gender equity. But either Levant doesn’t see this, or he reasons poorly. Either way, Ethical Oil is, in its sloppy normative rhetoric, simply a statement that if you like Canada better then buy oil from it. But I think we can do better than Ezra.

 Fast-forward to re-regulation

Move ahead a few years in Canadian politics, and the ‘ethical oil’ campaign has now entrenched its narrative. In fact, it is increasingly the case that the entire country has its economic future (at the very least its fortunes) pinned on the price of Alberta bitumen, at least according to the federal finance minister.

Once seen in this context, the dramatic re-regulation of Canadian environmental laws in 2012 becomes more clear as a not-so-subtle outworking of a moral argument. And it helps to explain why an industry letter on environmental regulations [PDF] predicts so many of the actual legislative changes.

Today, Reuter’s is reporting that Canada is close to releasing its emissions plans for the Oil Sands. It will be very interesting to see what those plans entail. Canada has had 4 environment ministers in the last 7 years. All of them have said similar things, and so I’m not holding my breath.

One thing that is worth noting is that the moral ends of ethical oil are now in the maintenance of the policy norms it sought to install. And so there is a dramatic narrowing of the vision of public policy: one that conflates ill-conceived moral ends with those of political economy.

Close up at a distance + mapping violence

There is a lot of discussion lately around mapping violence and the use of new technologies.

Drone strikes that (seemingly) kurgan1simultaneously keep us at a distance from violence while making it a ready solution to impending threats, are one example. Stuart Elden has linked to an interesting new book on this topic by Laura Kurgan. He includes a description of the book and this sentence caught my eye: “Close Up at a Distance records situations of intense conflict and struggle, on the one hand, and fundamental transformations in our ways of seeing and of experiencing space, on the other.”

The reason I thought this was so interesting is that I follow the work of Taylor Owen, a fellow (and also former) Trudeau Scholar, who is now the Director of Research at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism. Taylor’s work, among other things, has tracked and mapped violence, particularly the bombing of Cambodia. Here is a short talk he gave last month where he draws out some links between the dropping of some 200,000 bombs in the 1970s and shifting politics of space.

Two weeks until land claims conference in Ottawa: agenda now available

With two weeks to go until the Land Claims Coalition Conference in Ottawa, things are looking very nicely put together. Many of Canada’s highest profile leaders will be there and the agenda is now available. There are also several working group sessions with a great line up of discussants and presenters. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ll be presenting on the intersections of recent signals and arguments for the privatization of First Nations land and the implications both for territory and other resource rights. Here is a map of where the claims of this conference are located:


Elementa: Science of the #Anthropocene goes live with new journal

A new open-access journal has been launched, Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. The site is now up, and live. Here is a blurb and video from the home page, more can be explored here regarding the journals aims and scope, author instructions, and so forth.

Open Science for Public Good

Publishing original research reporting on new knowledge of the Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems; interactions between human and natural systems; and steps that can be taken to mitigate and adapt to global change, Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene will report on fundamental advancements in research organized initially into six knowledge domains, embracing the concept that basic knowledge can foster sustainable solutions for society. Elementa is published on an open-access, public-good basis—available freely and immediately to the world.


Interactive Pipeline Maps: Liquids, Natural Gas + Proposed LNG Plants

A neat, interactive set of maps from the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association can be found here. This is a very useful tool for keeping the discussions around pipeline routes, reversals and new proposals straight. I’ve posted a couple of quick maps I made below (click to enlarge them), but you can select for several variables for each of natural gas or liquids (i.e. by company, proposed, under construction, existing).

Natural gas


Alberta’s Oil: sustainable development vs. the race for what’s left

There is a lot, and somehow an ever-heightening, showdown playing out regarding bitumen in Alberta. And it is playing out as a global drama where everything rides on just one pipeline: Keystone XL.

Last week, Canada’s Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan, issued what will be the last report under his tenure. Among other things, it dedicated an entire chapter to the federal support of the fossil fuel sector [PDF]. The entire report can be found here, which is much more wide ranging, and considers Arctic energy, liabilities for environmental accidents and marine protection.

Also last week, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird, met with John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state. On the agenda was Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would transport somewhere around 500-700 000 barrels of bitumen per day to the large refineries on America’s gulf coast.

As has been on-going for awhile now, there is considerable opposition to Keystone XL, with a day of action planned for February 17, if I’m not mistaken.

That day of action will take place in the context of two vastly different approaches (both replete with their own “science and facts” agenda) to the Oil Sands.

Canada’s political position is crystal clear. Get the pipeline built and get the oil flowing. That position has not changed for some time, and was reiterated last Saturday (Feb 9, 2013) by the Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver on CBC Radio’s program The House (listen here). The facts that support this argument rest on arguing that, proportionately, Canadian bitumen is a very small sliver of carbon production pie – one certainly dwarfed by coal, or the oil consumption of larger economies. The news out this morning that Alberta is developing a new oil development strategy to get its resources to market.


On the other side, folks like Bill McKibben and Michael Klare (author of “The Race for what’s left), are so opposed to this one pipeline that it is taking on planetary importance. Klare’s recent essay  argues the pipeline portends the end of (what is left of) climate stability. And that Obama’s decision on the pipeline could “change the world.”

In this context, a very interesting article also came out last week on Open Canada, which is a great source of thoughtful debate. The article is by Jim MacNeill, the lead author of the Brundtland Commission report on Sustainable Development published in 1987.

Here is the first paragraph of his article, which is very interesting given the current debate, which is positioned ever more between ‘sustainable development’ and crisis discourses from all sides (the global economy, the global climate, the global supply of resources, and so on):

Brundtland Revisited

“Exactly 25 years have passed since the Brundtland Commission presented its landmark report, Our Common Future, to the United Nations General Assembly, which, following an extensive debate, endorsed the commission’s call for a rapid global transition to more sustainable forms of development. I was the secretary-general and a member of the commission at the time. During a recent conference in the Netherlands, I was asked to look back on our work during the mid-’80s and comment on the progress – or the lack of progress – since then. I was also asked to look ahead and examine the prospects of getting off the largely unsustainable path we are still on.  This article is based on those remarks. While my conclusions will seem pessimistic to some, I believe they offer some prospect of a turnaround toward a more sustainable future, providing Mother Nature doesn’t suffer a terminal heart attack before we finally get our act together – terminal not for planet Earth, of course, which is in no danger, but for the narrow range of conditions that enable human life to thrive on it.” READ MORE HERE.

Measuring development aid in the Congo: experimental design and ethical research

The Trudeau Foundation’s most recent public lecture was given by Dr. Marcartan Humphreys from Columbia University.Here is the short abstract (below). The entire video is available here from the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, where the lecture was given. I highly recommend this interesting talk – the audio is quiet but clear.

When The Results Are Not What You Were Looking For: Experimental Research, Development Policy, and Agency Politics in the Congo

Professor Macartan Humphreys

For 5 years, Professor Macartan Humphreys and his team coordinated with the British government and two international development organizations to study how post-conflict development aid affected local governance capacity in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Working with a sample of nearly four million people – two million in communities that had received development aid, and two million in communities that did not – the team came back with surprising results: analysis of 200 outcome measures failed to reveal compelling evidence that the program – one of the largest of its kind – was having any of the effects that had been attributed to this kind of aid. In his Trudeau Lecture, Professor Humphreys grapples with the ethical and political questions that his study in the DRC, and experimental research in general, raises about researchers’ role in international development. He also discusses the implications of null findings for researchers and practitioners. Researchers dislike null results and often hide them, leading to an unreliable body of published results. Null findings can be even more consequential for practitioners, since they can threaten programming and funding streams. The politics of the absorption of the findings in the DRC thus confronted the team with another ethical question: to what extent should researchers seek to influence the ways their work gets used