Thursday, September 1, 2011

Demonstrating but not understanding why


I cycled past a demonstration in front of the White House today and stopped to chat with a late-fifties early-sixties guy to ask him what it was all about. Apparently, they don't want a pipeline built to take oil from a Canadian oil well to the US because the oil produces twice as much carbon dioxide as oil from Saudi Arabia. He didn't seem too sure about whether it is the production releases twice the amount (as he first said) or the total burning of oil. Since the actual production is responsible for less than 10% of the total amount of pollution released, transport and refining for about 20% and the actual using of the fuel for the remaining 70%, it matters.  See a video explaining where the pollution comes from HERE. He clearly felt very strongly about this issue - it was the first time he had ever protested against anything, but he didn't seem to know exactly what he was protesting about. My guess is that goes for a large number of the protesters there. They clearly felt strongly since they seem to want to actually get arrested. So, I asked does he feel strongly enough about this issue to protest but he does not about other ones? He started to tell me why this was really bad, but we had already ascertained that he didn't really know exactly what he was protesting about. I asked him why more efforts didn't go into charging a higher tax on fuel consumption as this would ultimately be more effective. He flinched when I mentioned this but did agree that it is necessary. He pointed out that Obama can stop this pipeline being built with just a signature - no need to negotiate with Congress. I can buy this as a reason. Nonetheless, I think that most people there feel strongly emotionally probably due to good marketing and memes - word of mouth within their communities telling each other they had to do something, that is is awful. They genuinely feel emotional about it, but feeling strongly does not make you correct (although they may be). More worryingly, for me, it means that efforts might go into changing small visible things and ignoring the bigger picture.

Worryingly, the website is well done, fairly powerful, but actually gives no information about the pollution caused. It is all just emotion. I want numbers. This man was protesting based on one piece of actual solid information - production produces twice as much carbon dioxide as it does in Saudi Arabia. And he wasn't even sure of that.


1 comment:

  1. Great post Dr. Davies.

    An additional consideration; measuring the value of a protest by a proxy indicator like travel cost. How much will people pay to fly to D.C. to protest and at what trade-off against other things they could spend their money on.

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