Thursday, December 21, 2023

Energy Transition and Electrifying The Vehicles

So, this past week, Canada's environment minister, Steven Guilbeault unveiled plans that would ban the sale of new ICE vehicles in Canada by 2035.  Of course, the usual suspects are whining about how "unrealistic" this is.

Here's the thing, this is a generational shift in technology, and one that has to happen for serious reasons.  Anyone who lived through the 2023 fire season in Canada needs to understand that a big portion of that fire season had to do with climate change.  Maybe it's too late to hold back the storm we face on that front, but that doesn't change the fundamental obligation we have to both ourselves and future generations to act. 

Largely the complaints I hear are along the following lines: 

1 - building electric vehicles is hard, and retooling manufacturing plants to the new technology is harder.  

2 - the electricity grid isn't ready for everybody to start using electric cars - it would collapse if that happened tomorrow. 

Both of these are to varying degrees true. The fact that something is hard doesn't mean that it isn't a valid goal.  The automotive industry has been through this before.  In the 1970s, the introduction of CAFE regulations meant that suddenly cars had to get fuel efficient.  Guess what?  It happened.  A family sized car today has vastly better fuel consumption than a lot of the "economy" cars of the 1970s.

Did this happen overnight?  Nope.  Did it nearly kill the domestic automakers?  Yes.  But by the mid-1980s, they were finally starting to figure it out.  Japan was vastly ahead of them by that point, but that's another story.  

What did the CAFE standards and other related standards of the 1970s do?  They birthed the development of a range of technologies - some of which succeeded and survived, others died out.  Carburation was replaced by fuel injection; early pollution control was almost entirely vacuum driven, that got augmented by electronic controls; catalytic converters became mandatory; engines tightened up, and non-interference designs gave way to interference designs; transmissions evolved, and automatics eventually surpassed manual transmissions for efficiency.  

Innovation sometimes requires government to set the direction.  Capitalism is, at its core, fundamentally opposed to any change that affects profitability.  If we let the automotive sector alone, we'd still be driving cars designed in the 1960s.  Why?  Because making them is easy and profitable. 

So, when I hear "industry players" talking about how hard it is, or that it "can't be done".  Yeah - everybody said that as Henry Ford set up his first production line too.  Get down to the hard work of figuring out how you _can_ do it instead of telling us that it's hard.  

The electricity grid needs a massive overhaul anyhow.  In Alberta, 20 years ago, we built a ridiculous transmission line to sell "surplus" production into the US market.  We (rate payers) are still paying for that in spite of it never having been needed.  You were willing to have us pay for that because you understood how to use it for profit.  Now the electricity grid needs to change dramatically so we can produce fewer emissions for transportation.  I don't see a problem here.  

Again, there are a myriad of technologies that need to be considered - perhaps every roof should have solar added to it.  "Oh, but micro generation is hard say the megalith generating companies" - because they don't know how to profit from it. There are many possible solutions, and likely the real answer is a catch bag of multiple solutions put together. 

Engineers love solving problems - this objective creates a whole lot of problems to be solved.  The starter has fired the starting pistol.  Why are you standing around quibbling about how "difficult" it is? 

The blunt reality is that energy transition is happening whether you, the current automotive world, or the oil execs like it.  Get on board and figure it out, or be prepared to become part of the past just as bespoke buggy makers and stable keepers are today.  

I don't know that I expect the 2035 target to be hit, but one thing is certain:  You will never hit the target if you don't try to. 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Losing International Support

International support is an interesting phenomenon.  Generally speaking, for most of my life, Israel has had pretty much unconditional support from all the “western powers”.  It hasn’t been subjected to significant criticism no matter what it has done.

However, its incursion into Gaza seems to be drawing a different response.  Instead of unconditional support, many countries are starting to pull away as the war progresses.  Where one can point to Hamas’ actions on October 7, 2023 as a clear trigger point for the current conflict, the Israeli response has flipped things around in the public eye, and Israel is being seen as the aggressor.  

Certainly, Israel has the advantage of military superiority compared to Hamas. But it isn’t “military superiority” that tilts the scales of public opinion. If that was the case, then one would think that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would generate a very different reception.  

In this case, I think that two major factors have resulted in the Israeli actions in Gaza being seen as heavy handed.  First is the revelation of Netanyahu’s cynical game of “feeding” Hamas for political gain. There is no question that this has sounded a sour note on the world stage. 

The second is the revelation of Israeli policy documents actively exploring the idea of pushing the people of Gaza into Egypt.  This, combined with the shape of Israel’s ground level approach of pushing Gazans towards the Egyptian border, smacks of “ethnic cleansing”, and that is not something that many people have an appetite for any more. 

Israel’s action in Gaza, and at the ground level, the individual actions of their troops, speak more of collective punishment, rather than a mission focused on rooting out Hamas.  Israel’s much vaunted intelligence networks should have long ago told them who the leaders of Hamas in Gaza are.  A few units of specialized forces could easily have rolled in and gone after them; if the bulk of Hamas’ arms caches and operations centres are buried in the network of tunnels below Gaza, why didn’t Israel tackle that first instead of engaging in what amounts to “carpet bombing”?  

The answer is fairly obvious.  Israel’s current political leadership isn’t actually interested in ferreting out Hamas.  In fact, Netanyahu’s policies over the last 15 years make that abundantly clear - Hamas has been politically useful to him while his government engages in kicking the Palestinians out of West Bank by installing “settlements”.  No, this war is being conducted in a manner that is politically advantageous for Netanyahu, with no regard for anything else.

The issue that this will create is, of course, that Israel stands to isolate itself on the world stage, and perhaps more dangerously for all, it stands to destroy whatever normalization of relations with its neighbours that it has established.  A situation which only benefits Russia and Iran.  

October 7, 2023 is perhaps better understood not as the “act of a terrorist organization” (it was), but as the failure of cynical politics.  Israel allowed itself to walk away from the truly hard work of negotiating a real, and lasting solution with the Palestinian people.  Instead, a cynical politician made fomenting division among the Palestinians his policy.

The situation now is set back to well before the Oslo Accords were written.  A “muscular and violent” Israel might be a good look within Israel, but its neighbours will once again be looking at the 1967 situation and be worrying about a return to that conflict.  On the world stage, is there anybody who can credibly be the “honest broker” between Israel and the Palestinian people?  

The potential backlash towards Israel if it continues on the path it has placed itself on could make the situation in 1967 and prior look positively peaceful.  While Lebanon and Syria are both on their heels right now, struggling with their own internal conflicts, make no mistake about how quickly an external threat can unify and focus a government.  Iran, North Korea, and China would all be quite happy to take money from other states (e.g. Saudi Arabia) to arm up forces in neighbours to Israel.  The resulting conflagration could tear the region asunder for decades to come, and as well armed as Israel is, it’s simply not that big. 

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Israel Is A Study In Collective Trauma

Israel, as a state, was formed as a Jewish state.  As such it was formed with the collective generational traumas that Jewish people have experienced over centuries, and in particular it carries the trauma of what happened during the Holocaust.  To be clear, Israel was hardly welcomed by its neighbours when it was created in 1948, and it has existed in more or less a state of siege ever since.

However, I want to introduce this as an example of continuous collective trauma, and I think this collective trauma concept goes a long ways to explaining Israel’s response to the events of October 7, 2023.  To be clear, this is not intended to justify the excesses of that response, but rather to serve as a framework within which to understand the nature of the response. 

Collective Trauma is simply defined as the shared experience by a group when they are affected by a common set of traumatic events.  In Canada, there has been much discussion of the collective trauma inflicted upon the First Nations as a result of policies ranging from the Reservation System to the Residential Schools system (and many others).  It becomes “continuous collective trauma” when the circumstances that created the trauma continue beyond a singular event.  The policy and political environment related to indigenous peoples in Canada is a good example of something that creates an environment for repeated traumatic experiences to the affected people. 

History is filled with examples of Jewish people being persecuted, and for the purposes of this essay, I think it is more than adequate to demonstrate that there is a valid argument that Jewish people have experienced collective trauma not merely over years or decades, but literally over centuries and millennia.  There can be little doubt that over time, these experiences have formed a collective sense of "existential dread".  After all, one cannot be forcibly detained, marginalized, or murdered repeatedly without there being an impact on the survivors and their descendants.  This is what is known in psychology as "transgenerational trauma", and it generally describes how the impacts of trauma are passed through generations, even if the specific traumatic events have long since ended, impacting people even in times of relative peace and stability. 

Fast forward to the formation of modern-day Israel in 1948, and its creation was perhaps the "last gasp" of the European colonial era.  Put kindly, the formation of Israel was not greeted with open arms by its neighbours or by the Palestinian people who were displaced by the creation of Israel.  Numerous insurgent groups formed that made "erasing Israel from the map" their stated goal, and the Arab and Persian powers in the region certainly played their role in numerous military conflicts with Israel.  It is understandable that since 1948, the people of Israel would perceive their existence as a nation-state as one of being under nearly perpetual attack, from forces both outside and inside the territory of Israel. 

These events combine collectively to foster a general sense that Israel's citizens are constantly exposed to traumatic events, both directly and indirectly.  This creates a general condition of ongoing, collective trauma in the population.  

People who are traumatized individually will experience a wide range of symptoms.  A society that is subject to constant traumas is eventually going to express that in its politics, government, and approach to its neighbours and rivals.  Over the course of my lifetime, I have watched Israel shift from a combative, expansionist orientation to one of peace-seeking, and more recently to one where the government has become increasingly belligerent again.  In its politics, there has been a steady rise of increasingly militant religious parties, and that has ultimately forced the current Prime Minister into making common cause with them in order to maintain power.  

From a trauma perspective, none of this is entirely surprising.  The traumatized party wants to make their world safer, and in terms of collective action, that often means becoming increasingly hardline and militant.  More or less, the reasoning goes "well, our enemies are still there, so we have to become more difficult for them to attack.  The natural consequence is that when there is an attack (intifada, uprising, lobbing of missiles into Israel, etc.), the response is to become ever more controlling of the situation. 

Over the last 15 years, we have watched Israel increasingly make itself difficult to deal with.  Netanyahu deliberately fed Hamas to sow divisions within the Palestinian people so he could claim that there was nobody to talk peace with; "settlements" throughout the West Bank territories have been used as a form of ethnic cleansing to push the Palestinian peoples out of the region, Israel has seldom hesitated to respond with bombs and artillery the moment someone even positions a unit within firing range of Israel's borders, and so on. 

So, when October 7 occurred, it really came as no particular surprise that Israel's response has basically been to level the urban development of the Gaza Strip.  The pattern of escalation exhibited over the last 15 years or so supports that notion.  In some fundamental way, Hamas basically poked Israel's government "in the eye with a stick" - saying in essence "you can lock Gaza down, but you can't stop us".  Israel's reaction was to lash out as violently as possible - exactly what I would expect given the long history of trauma in the society. 

If, as I postulate here, Israel's response is best understood as being driven by collective trauma, we have a framework within which to understand how Israel arrived at "flatten Gaza" as a response.  Basically, they're lashing out, reacting more to their own internal traumas than anything else.  

This gives some sense as to why the Israel / Palestine fight is so intractable.  Both of the parties have been mutually traumatizing each other for years now (and yes, Israel's actions towards the Palestinians can be framed equally as traumatizing too).  You literally have two belligerent parties who are mutually traumatizing each other.  I don't know what the solution is, but I think we can guarantee that the next steps will be escalation of violence.  

Ultimately, it's going to require getting both parties to a table, and acknowledging the harm that each has done to the other - and that event is a loooong ways away. 

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

The Cass Review draws some astonishing conclusions about the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) . More or less, the basic upshot of the Cass Rev...