The People Behind the Issue #2

A More Effective Argument

In my last post, I expressed that I find the topic of oil pipeline expansion, along with other complex issues, perplexing. Kinder Morgan wants me to focus on The People Behind the Pipeline—television commercials designed to offer a social connection to the project:

  • Employees are happy in their communities and are proud of their company’s safety record.
  • Landowners are pleased that Kinder Morgan has negotiated fairly.

Interested viewers are invited to visit blog.transmountain.com.

Activists opposed to pipeline expansion have also offered a social connection. The news media reported arrests of protesters, while they tried to block Kinder Morgan’s tests on Burnaby Mountain:

  • David Suzuki’s granddaughter.
  • An 84-year-old retired librarian.
  • A mom with her 11-year-old daughter (the daughter was not arrested).

If I am an undecided observer, I have probably emotionally attached to both sides of the issue. But whose testimonial should carry more weight?

Self Justification

figure Pictures/mistakes-were-made.jpgMistakes Were Made recommends viewing testimonials with skepticism because of a cognitive bias called self justification.

  • You look for evidence that confirms your opinion.
  • I seek for you to confirm that I made a good decision.

If I cannot trust the testimonials from Kinder Morgan or the protesters, then I must return to struggling with the flood of facts. Do I have another choice?

Response to a Reader

Ted’s Facebook comment to an earlier post may suggest a solution.

Not related to your post specifically, but one year I decided I wouldn’t vote for the party that used negative or smear advertising. I figured if that was the best they could do, they didn’t deserve my vote. That year I didn’t vote.

But then, I read our councilmembers’ election brochures like I read resumes. “Yes, you sat on that committee. In real world hard values, of budgets, revenues, expenses, time frames, how did that committee do? What did it accomplish? What was your contribution to that? What was your significant contribution to that committee? Tell me about a time when your contribution to the work of that committee was the thing that was responsible for the success of one of the committee’s projects. Provide specific measurable examples.”

We live in a representative democracy. What would happen if we elected parties and representatives that actually deserved our vote? Could we entrust our elected officials to represent us, trusting that they would protect our interests? Do you want to try?

The People Behind the Issue #1

Two Opposing Views

My news feed is full of details about the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. When I went to examine the issues, I found so much information that it felt like being blasted with a fire hose.

Kinder Morgan summarized their plan—more than a thousand pages—into a convenient infographic, “By unlocking access to world markets for oil, the Project will result in increased tax dollars and years of employment.”

Conversations for Responsible Economic Development (CRED) published their own risk assessment of the expansion project. The two camps disagree strongly on the many issues. Here are a few that stand out:

  • The historical spill count is either acceptable or significant.
  • Expansion will either create many high-paying jobs or potentially cause widespread unemployment.
  • Tax revenues will either be a significant or insignifcant contribution.
  • In the case of another spill, either Kinder Morgan or the taxpayer will pay for the cleanup.

How may I decipher these well-presented arguments without becoming an expert on pipelines and oil spills? If I decide to focus environmental issues, I won’t have time or energy to decipher the dozens of other important issues of our day. I have listed a few examples of complex issues below. What complex issues perplex you?

  • Healthcare privatization
  • Foreign aid, including medical and military
  • Pensions and welfare

Kinder Morgan wants me to focus on The People Behind the Pipeline. In my next post, I will do just that.