Here comes the “2050” bullshit. Be happy for it. #climate

The future is here, and we are avoiding it.
2020 used to be the target year, by which we had done x and y and z.
Sadly, we didn’t do those things. A mix of complacency, distraction, stupidity and incompetence mostly explains that. So it goes.

But this presents the happy shiny people (HSP) who want to pretend that they’re making the world a better place with a problem. If they talk about 2020 targets it quickly becomes apparent that

a) we are going to miss those targets. By a very very long way. (But it doesn’t matter, because the targets were inadequate, and we’re fucked)

which is bad enough, but

b) the people who are responsible for the missing of those of those 2020 targets are still in the room. Worse, they are probably the very people on whom the HSP relies for the next bit of grant funding, the next reference, the next desired job.


So, what is to be done? Well, if the HSPs had a shred of intellectual prowess, or moral courage, they’d move the goalposts as little as possible, to say 2025.

In Manchester, the new goalpost is… 2050. Obvs; that’s just how the HSPs of MCC, MACF, LCH, etc roll.

So, we’ve got a “major and substantive report, which will address the Council’s commitments on climate change between now and 2050, in light of agreements at the recent Paris talks“ coming to Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee in July..

Meanwhile, there is an event on March 2nd

This half-day workshop for arts and cultural organisations will explore what leadership on environmental sustainability looks like amongst the creative community.
The workshop is a partnership between Julie’s Bicycle, Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST) network and the Manchester Climate Change Agency. It will be the official launch of the Manchester Climate Lab – a year of events and engagement activities to develop a five year plan towards achieving the city’s vision for a zero carbon Manchester by 2050.

Will either the report or the event have any serious reflection on the scale and causes of the failure between 2009 and 2016? Don’t go holding your breath…

Cui bono?
The whole 2050 target thing is a total gift (courtesy of those muppets at Avaaz) to local power-brokers who very very occasionally need to deflect (statistically irrelevant) local concern about climate inaction. They are perfectly happy to make some long-term non-binding commitment, especially if it means that their feet are not held to the fire over the broken promises they made a few short years ago. They could not, in fact, be happier.
Meanwhile, those who need to cuddle up to these power-brokers – for financial, political or psychological reasons – are not forced to confront the brutal reality of everyone’s failure over the last ten years (well, almost 30 years if we’re honest with ourselves) to reduce our carbon emissions and start preparing for the unpreparable.

Be happy?
Basically, we should be grateful for this 2050 meme In the same way that certain individuals (hi, TB!) and organisations (hi MACF!), operate as useful warnings-for-those-who-choose-to-hear-them, then the “2050 target” flags up that the people running the event are HSPs.

  • You may or may not have a good time at their event.
  • You may or may not meet some interesting people.
  • You may or may not learn something.

All that depends. One thing is certain though – you’ll be unable to contribute anything meaningful , (for example, um, reality), because the maintenance of Happiness, Shininess and – most of all –the support of our current Lords and Masters – is the number one priority.

The game’s the game.

What a species. I’m glad I’m 45. I’m glad I didn’t have kids. Carpe the diems.

See also
literature on management of expectations
nature of bureaucracy (Peter Principle, Parkinson’s Law, Michel’s Oligarchical Law of Irony)
long-term targets as farcical ‘kick the can down the road’ mechanism

Indicator species.
Canaries in the coal mine
Litmus test
Red flags
Signals passed at danger
Hindsight is a beautiful thing

Anxiety Management
Siggie Freud
Terror Management Theory


The “Greenhouse Mafia”, ten years on. #Australia #auspol #climate

Ten years ago today Four Corners broadcast a programme on “the greenhouse mafia”. In hindsight it can be seen as the starting gun for a two year sprint that led to “the first climate change election” It’s worth knowing the history and actions of one of the groups revealed by that documentary.

The first time most Australians will have heard of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network was during a Four Corners documentary in February 2006. That documentary, available here.

It drew in part on the PhD of Guy Pearse. Pearse, then a Liberal Party member and lobbyist, had investigated the stark absence of the tourism, agriculture and industry sectors (among others) from the debates over climate change that took place under the Prime Ministership of John Howard.

Formation of the AIGN 
The mining industry and its ideological supporters had spent the19 70s and 1980s winning battle after battle around deregulation of the economy (this is well covered in a number of books, including Mark Davis’ Land of Plenty). The upsurge of concern in the late 1980s over environmental issues and the resurgence of Aboriginal land rights presented a threat to those then-recent victories. In the space of three years three alarming developments took place – the Hawke government’s “Environmentally Sustainable Development” process, its banning of uranium mining at Coronation Hill, and then the High Court judgement on native title (Mabo). Industry was rattled, and one response was the creation of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network.

Something clearly had to be done, and the AIGN was part of the well-funded response.

The AIGN, a small and publicity-shy group of extremely well-connected ex-Federal bureaucrats, was established with the help of the Business Council of Australia and Australian Mining Industry Council (which re-branded in 1995 after going a bit too far on resistance to land-rights legislation).

According to Pearse (2005: 275)

“the AIGN really became a formalisation of the arrangements that the BCA handled in terms of coordinating greenhouse. And they actually set it up independently [and] the executive director of the AIGN… sat in an office … in the Minerals Council.”

The key to its success was an extremely intimate knowledge of both the policies around climate and energy and also the policy-making process. They knew it so well because until they’d joined the AIGN, they’d mostly been in the positions of the bureaucrats they were now lobbying.

The first serious test of the AIGN’s strength was the defeat of the attempt to introduce a Carbon Tax in 1994-5. This tax proposal was put forward by the late Philip Toyne in response to the fact that even then Australia was missing its ‘return emissions to 1990 levels by 2000’ target. It was swatted aside and a purely voluntary emissions reduction scheme – the “Greenhouse Challenge” – was put forward in its place, with AIGN helping to write the rules.

The next major battle for the AIGN was in helping Australia get the best possible deal at the international negotiations that culminated in the Kyoto Protocol. They certainly weren’t alone in this, and Australia won not just a 108% “reduction” target, but also a clause that gave it credit for reducing its land-clearing from a very high rate to a slightly lower one.

Enforcing (the appearance of) business unity

A key feature of the Howard regime’s climate stance was claiming that business was united in opposition to either domestic emissions trading or ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. There were struggles within the AIGN over this, especially with the Australian Gas Association, which left the group and tried to promote gas as a low-carbon electricity alternative.

More intriguingly was a successful At one point an influential ex-Clinton Administration official, Eileen Claussen, visited Australia in the hope of establishing pro-climate action business grouping.

The AIGN sprang into (subtle) action. Again from Pearse’s PhD-

“and they brought her out to Australia at the Australian Greenhouse Office’s expense and did all this lobbying around Australia trying to set up a version of the Pew Centre here in Australia… BP sponsored it and all that sort of shit. And Dick Wells was basically chairing the AIGN at the stage and he said ‘hey, what is this about? We are not being invited to any of these forums. You are paying for it out of Commonwealth funds. I mean what is the story? Don’t we have this open process?’ In the end, business people who AIGN knew very well and AIGN briefed on these things went along to these meetings anyway and told them that they saw no benefit in it so it fell over.” (Pearse, 2005:353)

Years later WWF and the insurance group IAG launched the “Australian Climate Group”, and in 2006 the Australian Conservation Foundation helped midwife a group that made “the Business Case for Early (sic) Action on Climate Change.”

By 2006, because of the millennium drought, international developments like the establishment of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme and Al Gore’s film, climate change moved back onto the agenda. No longer able to defer action the Howard government agreed to investigate emissions trading. The AIGN was well-placed – its then chair, John Eyles, served on the emissions trading taskforce that Howard created.

The (blink and you’d miss it) apogee of its public profile came in early 2011, when, in the midst of the battles against Julia Gillard’s “great big tax on everything” emissions trading scheme, the AIGN co-hosted a business briefing in Canberra with the Business Council of Australia

Since then it has settled back into a comfortable rhythm of regular briefings and meetings for its corporate members, and regular policy interventions to battle support for renewables.

Why haven’t we heard more about these guys? 
With the honourable exceptions of Guy Pearse and Clive Hamilton there has been little extended investigation of the AIGN (a masters thesis was written almost 20 years ago about the carbon tax campaign). There are various reasons for this;

It’s partly because they are not in the business of advertising themselves or drawing attention to themselves. Uninterested in fighting culture wars, and perhaps also wary of the need to maintain its credibility, the AIGN pointedly refused to get involved in the Lavoisier Group.
With characteristic understatement it writes

“rarely issues press releases on matters being debated, it does issue statements to coincide with the release of consultant reports that it has commissioned and which are released to the public.” (from its 2013-14 Annual Report, page 9)

So, without much in public domain, and with interviews either costly or impossible to do, academics will pick on more visible targets. Behind this may lurk the fear of being labelled “conspiracy theorist”, which is one of the main ways academics swear at each other.

The AIGN is not a conspiracy. They didn’t shoot JFK,  or kidnap Harold Holt. But they certainly succeeded in their objective of slowing the pace of climate action and defending the (short-term) interests of fossil fuel producers. If in 1992 you had told its funders that almost 25 years later Australia would be without a carbon tax or any other measures that seriously impinge on emissions, they’d have surely broken into prolonged war-whooping and fist-pumping. Well…

Film Review: “The Big Short” and the air-brushed women

My brilliant friend (he really is) and I went to see “The Big Short” on Saturday. We both really liked it.  It’s clever without being tricksy, its well-paced and brilliantly acted.  We noted the maleness of it, but weren’t particularly concerned (though alarm bells should have been ringing for me, since I’ve seen “Inside Job”.
Another friend (not quite as brilliant, but that’s no insult- Friend A really is in a league of his own, and anyway a fair bit older than Friend B).  sent me this, which is by a friend of hers.  And it’s bang to rights.
“[Brief rant about gender and The Big Short]

So this is infuriating. I watched The Big Short last night, and really enjoyed it. It’s a very male heavy film, but I figured Wall Street was just like that. I’ve read time and again that it’s a racist, misogynistic, homophobic industry, and this is non-fiction(ish). So it doesn’t get a Bechdel pass, quelle surprise

Well, turns out that Meredith Whitney, one of the oracles of the financial crisis, and a fairly prominent figure in the book version of “The Big Short”, just got completely cut out. Because who wants to show a woman being clever? In the meantime, they show someone in her exact role, working for exactly the same person… only it’s a guy.

This got me thinking.

Now bear in mind that this film is all about a group of white guys showing up how dumb and corrupt Wall Street is. In this context, the prominent female characters (often not based on real people, or else highly fictionalised) are as follows:

(1) main character’s wife, who doesn’t understand the financial sector (real world: she worked at Merrill Lynch);
(2) a weak-willed, whiny, corrupt ratings agency employee;
(3) Morgan Stanley exec, who is excoriated by the film for being asleep at the wheel (and buying expensive handbags while the firm crashes and burns);
(4) a shallow government regulator, angling for a job at a big bank by sleeping around;
(5) a stripper, offered up by the film as its example of the kind of clueless person that the sub-prime mortgage industry exploited.

So, just so you know: the financial crisis was caused largely by women, but there were these awesomely clever white guys who saw it all coming. Everybody got that?”

“I started the book [of the big short] this morning, and the preface is literally along the lines of, “Meredith Whitney accurately forecast the demise of several big banks during the financial crisis. Traders so respected her opinion that her analyses wiped billions of dollars of value off the stock market. I asked her if she knew anyone who had made money out of the sub-prime crisis, and she gave me a list of people she had advised: [list of half main characters in the film].””

So, now I “have” to read the book…