Category Archives: coal mining

Turnbull, #climate and the National Press Club #auspol

On February 1st Malcolm Turnbull will make a major speech on the Coalition’s climate and energy policy at the National Press Club.In his last public utterance on the topic, at the Sydney fish market in December last year, he spilt coffee , perhaps trying to douse the flames caused by Josh Frydenberg’s declaration that carbon pricing would be considered in this year’s policy review. Turnbull ruled that out, so who knows what he  will say on Wednesday. One well-informed and immensely experienced observer reports that

“Turnbull will announce new vehicle emissions standards and a new energy efficiency scheme. He and his office are looking at “technological solutions” – bright new ideas in solar thermal, or battery or carbon storage technology that might fill the policy void. But all those technologies need government policies to provide investors with incentives and certainty, and without actually confronting the climate doubters no one can imagine what that policy might be.”

(Another similarly-credentialled observer says he is the weakest Prime Minister since Billy McMahon )Who knows, perhaps Turnbull will dust off the ‘Greenhouse Challenge‘ voluntary programme for industry that Prime Minister Paul Keating started and  John Howard extended. We will know soon enough.

Meanwhile, the National Press Club has a long and interesting (if you’re a pathetic geek like me) history with climate change, and it tells us something about Australian journalistic responses to climate change.

Clubbing together
The Press Club began life as a press luncheon club, the result of some journalists having an (uncharacteristic for the profession) drinks in a Canberra watering hole. It seeks “to provide a genuine national forum for discussion of the issues of the day by the personalities who help shape them.” (A cynic might say that it is a way for journalists to have stories handed to them literally on a plate, with some nice plonk alongside.) The first speaker, on 17 May 1963, was Chief Justice and External Affairs Minister Sir Garfield Barwick.  Soon after Barwick helped establish the Australian Conservation Foundation.  The Press Club initially only held a few events a year, but it has grown steadily and there are now about 70 a year. Early environmental speakers included conservationist Harry Butler (October 3 1979) and in mid 1984 the German Greens Petra Kelly  who you can hear here 

The Club, naturally, reflects the concerns of the day, and politicians of the day fly kites and announce policies.  The climate issue seems to have reached the Club in October 1988,when the Liberal Senator Chris Puplick, the Opposition’s Environment spokesperson  launched the Opposition’s environmental policy and spoke on past Coalition.  It seems bizarre now, but Puplick then  went on to develop a policy on climate change that was more ambitious than Labor’s and took it to the 1990 Federal election.

Puplick and his Labor opponent Graham Richardson debated at the Press Club on March 7, 1990, just before the Federal election, and it was from  the club that Bob Hawke made his final (and successful) appeal to green-minded voters, calling on  disaffected voters not to vote green but, if they did so, to direct their second preferences to Labour. He warned. “When you wake up on 25 March there won’t be a Democrat government or a green independent government.”

In June 1989,  the inaugural Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory,  Rosemary Follett,  had appeared at the club and said that she was

“particularly concerned with environmental issues of national and international significance. The people of the ACT can be assured that the government intends to act locally in addressing issues such as the Greenhouse Effect and Protection of the Ozone Layer.”

Richardson had appeared shortly afterwards,after two cancellations for lack of journalist interest.. He talked tough (it’s how the man rolls) on the Federal government perhaps using its constitutional powers to override state decisions on environmental matters. He also confirmed a report by Michelle Grattan about a Cabinet meeting at which Treasurer Paul Keating had vetoed his proposal for a 20 per cent reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2005 (the so-called ‘Toronto Target’ ). He told the assembled hacks

“… When I put this target to our Cabinet, I came under close questioning by the economic ministers. I couldn’t sustain my argument with sufficient science.

“I haven’t yet learnt how to lose gracefully so I was angry. I delved into the department’s records so that I could write to my Cabinet colleagues and demand a reconsideration. The cupboard, however was bare, and the letter was never written.”

[Dunn, R. 1989. Cabinet reduces greenhouse target. Australian Financial Review, 26 July.]

Sir Ninian Stephen, by then Australia’s first Environment Ambassador, spoke wittily in late 1990 on the topic of  “the environment: a passing storm or an issue for all seasons” (you can listen here –  He argued that it didn’t matter what he said, only if he blundered in the Q and A.

The following year the Canadian entrepreneur behind the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Maurice Strong, spoke. In November 1992, after Rio, Jeremy Leggett, a former geologist who had become  Greenpeace International’s Atmosphere and Energy Campaign leader spoke (his book The Carbon War is a terrific read, btw).

Worth remembering
Amid all the advocates of action (Ian Lowe, Peter Garrett, David Suzuki, Bob Brown, Gro Harlam Brundtland, Nick Stern), perhaps the one we should most remember is President Kinza Cloduma of Nauru.  In late 1997, when the Australian government’s diplomatic push for special treatment at the impending Kyoto Protocol meeting had silenced the South Pacific Forum’s attempt at a strong pro-action statement, Cloduma told the journalists

“I am not impressed when Mr. Howard openly scorns the critical nature of the situation in order to bow to the will of the fossil fuel industry.”

There have been peaks and troughs of concern since then, with scientists speaking  in September 2000 “Greenhouse Science Forum: How Real is Climate Change? What does Science Tell Us?”,  Ian Lowe spoke in 2005 on “ Is Nuclear Power Part of Australia’s Global Warming Solution?” (his answer was ‘nope’).

In the white-heat of the 2008-9 carbon pricing battles, Ross Garnaut seems to have had a camp-bed at the NPC, so often was he using it to launch various drafts of his climate reviews.  The Greens’ Christine Milne argued on 17 June 2009 that “The Climate nightmare is upon us.”  Bob Brown and  Ziggy Switowski debated nuclear versus renewables in April of the following year [thanks to the reader who alerted me to this!]

Less emphatically,  Penny Wong, Kevin Rudd, Greg Combet and Julia Gillard all used the NPC to launch various climate policy papers. In mid 2011, Gillard, under ferocious attack over her carbon proposal launched “The Government’s plan for a clean energy future”. She  was asked by Mark Riley about journalist famously suggesting that journalists ‘don’t write crap – it can’t be that hard.’

Since then the club has seen – among others –

Two way traffic
It hasn’t been one-way traffic. An early example of a sceptical perspective came in mid 1992 when Prof Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at  Massachusetts Institute of Technology spoke. (He had been brought out by the CSIRO atmospheric science division, which was then headed by G.B Tucker. Tucker had been aware of the issue in the mid-70s, and written an early monograph – The CO2-climate connection : a global problem from an Australian perspective–  in 1981, but in retirement wrote pieces for the Institute for Public Affairs with titles like  ‘The Greenhouse Panic’. But I digress)

Three years later the Club heard from  Dr Patrick  Moore who was billed as a “ Canadian Environmentalist and one of the founders of Greenpeace”.The first term can be debated. The second cannot.

Climate change exploded as a public policy issue in Australia in late 2006.   It’s ironic to remember now, but when John Howard’s hand-picked emissions taskforce suggested that a low tax on carbon emissions — less than $5 per tonne –  might give Australia a start in preparing for an eventual global emissions trading system , the  Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitchell Hooke argued at the press club that while Australia should not embark on unilateral action, there was scope for “unilateral leadership”. He said

“I don’t want a blunt economic instrument of a carbon tax [but] I would see that kind of low order price as being part of a cap and trade framework.”

Hooke hardened his line, of course, as time went on.  At the peak of the 2011 carbon pricing battles, in June, the Australian Coal Association’s Ralph Hillman spoke on “The mining industry’s position on the carbon tax.”

The same month,  Lord Monckton  and the Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss squared off in a debate. Two weeks later  former President Vaclav Klaus President of the Czech Republic  spoke on “Climate Change: A new ideology”

Bjorn Lomborg followed up his October 2003  visit with another ten years later in December 2013.  Now that he won’t be having his ‘consensus centre’ , the trend suggests it might be another 6 years before he appears again.

Journalism and climate change
The Press Club’s willingness to host those who deny basic scientific facts is indicative of a broader difficulty that journalism has had with this issue.  Academic studies of the journalism profession’s dilemma over climate change. One influential paper argues that “balance is bias”, given the overwhelming scientific argument (and dare we say ‘consensus’) on anthropogenic climate change. The authors argue that

“the prestige press’s adherence to balance actually leads to biased coverage of both anthropogenic contributions to global warming and resultant action.”

John Oliver put it more visually with this stunt on ‘Last Week Tonight’

Australia’s experience has been extensively studied – see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. For starters.

All this is part of a battle for hearts and minds – what counts as ‘common sense’ and shapes or sustains the institutions  – “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” – underpinning society.

Recently scientists have been admitting that studying climate change exacts an emotional toll. Journalists are following suit.

Malcolm Turnbull first addressed the club on March 18 1992, wearing his Australian Republican Movement hat.  He might need better head-wear this time round.  When Kevin Rudd launched the White Paper of his ill-fated and unloved Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme three protesters were dragged out The numbers of protesters there to greet him on February 1st will probably fall closer to that than the 1500 who turned up to say g’day to Pauline Hanson in 1997

But on the day, and indeed all through the year, Turnbull will – like other endangered Australian fauna – be feeling the heat.

Balance schmalance- when the powerful do it is in the ‘national interest’

So, I am writing an article; a proper academic article. Got me a journal in mind and everything. It’s on incumbent strategies versus challenge(r)s, and uses multiple streams approach and defensive institutional work. Gonna have the sucker done (first draft) by the close of play on the 27th December if it kills me.

Reading some fascinating stuff, but also writing as I go along – it’s the only way, after all.

Anyway, I stumbled on a very useful article from the defunct Business Review Weekly.

Hooper, N. and Way, N. 1995. Canberra’s Green Berets. BRW, 20 February, p.36.

They (approvingly) quote the late Peter Walsh (climate denialist and “failed” (his words) Finance Minister complaining that

“The Environment Department should no longer be regarded as a component of the Commonwealth bureaucracy, but as a fully taxpayer-funded extension of the partially taxpayer-funded Australian Conservation Foundation propaganda machine.”

All because some of the bureaucrats thought that cutting down and digging up everything in sight and in site was short-termist.

Never mind that the Treasury, Energy Department, Resources, DPIE etc had been busy scuppering anything environmental for, well, decades.

What happened next? The Greenhouse Mafia ran the show for another 12 years. Then the fight broke out into the open, and the opponents of action won. And now we are totally stuffed. Oh well, so it goes.

Podcast on #Australia #climate policy #auspol

The very cool people at Beyond Zero Emissions, on 3CR (community radio in Melbourne)  interviewed in November.  Here’s a link to their page about it. (it’s cut and paste below)

BZE radio talks to Marc Hudson:

Marc is studying the strategic responses of the Australian coal industry to the challenge of climate change. He is in the final year of a PhD at the Sustainable Consumption Institute: Manchester University. Marc is a regular contributor to The Conversation.

BZE Technology Radio Show: 11 Nov 2016: Podcast:

A historical perspective of contradictory statements from politicians and bureaucrats.

Marc talked about:

  • Coal usage in Australia from soon after White settlement, and the rapidly expanding export of coal to Japan from the late 1950s onwards, which was important for Japan as it rebuilt after World War Two.  Japan was the single most important market until the late 1990s, and is still very important.
  • China becoming a market for Australian coal from 2008 – but these exports have been decreasing as China produces most of its own coal, and is recognising coal as a health risk, and a political one, due to air quality in Chinese cities.
  • The chopping and changing of Australian climate policy, with dizzying peaks and troughs, alongside the basic bipartisan support for increasing coal exports
  • Prime Minister Julia Gillard and our short lived carbon pricing,
  • Malcolm Turnbull’s overt support for renewables until he became prime minister,
  • The election of climate denier Malcolm Roberts of One Nation to the Senate
  • The appointment of climate denier Craig Kelly as Chair of the Federal Environment Energy Committee.
  • The Australian recent ratification of the Paris agreements
    The current Morocco conference
  • The election of Trump in the US
  • Australian climate change activism.

Further reading

Out of step: marching for climate justice versus taking action
(The Conversation: Marc Hudson: 27 Nov 2015)

The sound of silence: why has the environment vanished from election politics?
(The Conversation: Marc Hudson: 23 June 2016)

Beyond Zero Emissions interviewers: Kay Wennagel, Michael Staindl, Natalie Bucknell

Broadcast from Radio 3CR in Melbourne, Australia

Based on a write up by Bev McIntyre

Solar Citizens launch at Adelaide Festival of Ideas #AdlFoI

[Fourth of a series of blog posts about sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday 22nd October]

Next up was the launch of Solar Citizens. It covered the ‘solar rooftop revolution’ (1.5million Australian houses with solar panels, from a basically standing start 8 years ago), the start of solar citizens and its plans for a ‘fair and orderly transition.’

This was done via an engaging talk that took in President Carter’s 1979 installation of solar panels on the roof of the Whitehouse, Reagan’s 1986 removal, and Obama’s 2014 re-installation (by which time the price had dropped by a factor of 40). In the last few years the rooftop solar ‘revolution’ has at a conservative estimate, 19000 jobs, reduced energy bills and 24 million tonnes of carbon saved. An interesting comparison was made with the millennium drought, which also brought a sense of personal connection/responsibility for consumption patterns.

Solar Citizens’ origins were linked to the ‘direct attacks’ on renewables emanating from the big ‘gentailers’ (Origin, AGL and Energy Australia) and the owners of the transmission lines (the ticket clippers).

In May 2015 they’d proposed a solar surchage of $100 per year on people with panels in South Australia, simply to raise revenue.  Thus do incumbents defend themselves…. The regulator (AER) said ‘nope’, it went to court and the courts said ‘nope’, while local groups rallied, petitioned and generally raised cain (effectively).

Solar Citizens are also trying to get ‘big solar’ on the agenda.  They’ve combined with Get Up! To produce a ‘Homegrown Power Plan’ .

Here’s their video-

It seeks to remove roadblocks , ‘reboot the system’ [e.g. end the situation where people only get a derisory amount for energy they sell back from to power companies, that then flog it on at ‘normal’ prices to other customers) and repower the country” (concentrated solar thermal etc).

These sorts of normative entrepreneurship efforts are crucial to any transition, be it energy, food or whatever.  They often get written out of the official histories (we can’t have citizens making  a difference, after all, they might get wrong ideas about democracy and their own power!], but boy do they matter…

There’s a Solar Citizens event on October 31 in Adelaide. Sadly there was no time for questions – I’d have asked about their relationship (competition?) with BZE…

But which BIT of big business gets its way in which circumstances, eh?

The State is merely the committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie, innit?  The evil moustache-twirling CEOs get together and tell their political meat-puppet underlings what to do.  Simples.

Well, sometimes, but every so often maybe it is more complicated.  I’m collecting examples of these every-so-often moments for my PhD thesis.  I have quite a nice collection, especially from the years 1996-2007, when little Johnnie Howard was a staunch and effective opponent of climate action.

Here’s a new example, from a Marian Wilkinson 2007 article..

But [Hugh] Morgan’s real success was not in the propaganda war but in the boardroom. In 2000 the Business Council of Australia was struggling to come to grips with the challenge of climate change. [Paul] Anderson, then chief executive of BHP and a key member of the council, called a meeting of the leading business players to discuss their response.

“I held a party and nobody came,” he says. “They sent some low-level people that almost read from things that had been given to them by their lawyers. Things like, ‘Our company does not acknowledge that carbon dioxide is an issue and, if it is, we’re not the cause of it and we wouldn’t admit to it anyway.’”

While Anderson was no fan of the Kyoto agreement, he was convinced climate change was real and BHP should get out in front on the issue. He believed the solution was a carbon tax that would put a cost on greenhouse gas pollution to force down emissions.

Wilkinson, M. 2007. Delayed reaction. Sydney Morning Herald, 24 March.  Reprinted in Jones, T. (ed). 2008.The Best Australian Political Writing 2008.  Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. Pp.155-163.

The upside of coal

See below for a truly extraordinary coal advert from 1975, where, looking for fresh workers, the UK National Coal Board basically says “this job is a fanny magnet.”

Meanwhile, I just finished Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags, which some say is his best.  Published in 1942, it is about the phoney war – it starts in September 1939 and finishes, mostly, with the British expedition to Norway in April 1940.  It’s bleak, funny, scathing etc.  Waugh definitely on top form.  This bit caught my eye, and may turn up either in my thesis or something else about the ‘value’ of fossil fuels.’

The Cafe Royal, perhaps because of its distant associations with Oscar and Aubrey, was one of the places where Ambrose preened himself, spread his feathers and felt free to take wing. He had left his persecution mania downstairs with his hat and umbrella. He defied the universe.

‘The decline of England, my dear Geoffrey,’ he said, ‘dates from the day we abandoned coal fuel. No, I’m not talking about distressed areas, but about distressed souls, my dear. We used to live in a fog, the splendid, luminous, tawny fogs of our early childhood. The golden aura of the Golden Age. Think of it, Geoffrey, there are children now coming to manhood who never saw a London fog. We designed a city which was meant to be seen in a fog. We had a foggy habit of life and a rich, obscure, choking literature. The great catch in the throat of English lyric poetry is just fog, my dear, on the vocal chords. And out of the fog we could rule the world; we were a Voice, like the Voice of Sinai from a cloud. Then, my dear Geoffrey,’ said Ambrose, wagging an accusing finger and fixing Mr Bentley with a black accusing eye, as though the poor publisher were personally responsible for the whole thing, ‘then, some busybody invents electricity or oil fuel or whatever it is they use nowadays. The fog lifts, the world sees us as we are, and worse still we see ourselves as we are. It was a carnival ball, my dear, which when the guests unmasked at midnight, was found to be composed entirely of imposters. Such a rumpus, my dear.’

Evelyn Waugh, Put Out More Flags (Spring, Ch 4)

Now, that extraordinary advert. Brace yourselves.

My “Three Minute Thesis” effort on #climate

Here’s my performance in the University of Manchester final of “Three Minute Thesis.” (Thank you very much to the organisers – and the training we received was fab).

I did okay but on reflection,  I tried to do too much – a history of climate science and policy, an explanation of issue lifecycle models, AND the Australian Coal industry’s responses.  I had one second left; without the pauses, I’d have been able to get in the concluding “climate change is about to wipe the stupid grin off everyone’s face” line better.  Still would not have won – the winner did a brilliant job, and thoroughly deserved her win.


NB In three minutes you have to make some blunt claims.  I’d be uncomfortable saying the Australian Coal Industry as a whole funded climate denialists in an academic paper, for example, though individuals and some actors within it certainly have.  Three minutes is not long…



#Awalkinthepark – Coal, climate, counter-movements

Almost every morning I lug a heavy (25kg/55lb-ish) backpack and my sorry ass around a local park. There are squirrels, dogs, dog-walkers (but no doggers) and also things to read. Yep, I read as I go. What I haven’t been doing is systematically writing about what I read. No more! Today I begin this, and – with the help of friends nagging me on facebook – I should turn it into a very useful habit indeed.

Today’s readings were all/portions of-

Rubin, E. 1991. Envionmental constraints: threat to coal’s future? Keynote session presentation to World Coal Institute Conference on Coal In the Environment, London, 3 April 1991

McMullan, J. 1991. International Collaboration in Carbon Dioxide Collection and Disposal. In Thompson, P. (ed) 1991. Global Warming: The Debate. London: John Wiley& Sons.

Evans, R. 2006. Nine Lies about Global Warming. Melbourne: Lavoisier Group, February 2006.

Evans, R. 2006. Nine Facts about Climate Change. Melbourne: Lavoisier Group, November 2006.

Rotty, R. 1979. Atmospheric C)2 consequences of Heavy Dependence on Coal. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 33, pp. 273-283.

Breslow, J. 2012. Robert Brulle: Inside the Climate Change “Countermovement.” PBS, 23 October.

Edward Rubin, 25 years ago, makes for rueful reading. He admits coal’s environment problems date back to 1300 and that “the argument coal used for power generation accounts for only 8% of the global warming problem so please leave us a one and go worry about more important things simply will not carry way in a world where growing environmental concerns are increasingly being voiced through political action and regulatory change.”

He flags the “enormous uncertainties” in climate change, and notes “fully a third of the presentations at this conference are devoted” to it.

His solution? Well, the primary one of the top five is “technological innovation. New and improved technologies that reduce the cost of using coal in compliance with environmental requirements in different parts of the world represent the best long-term solution for the sustained growth of this industry, and we must pursue such developments aggressively.”

Didn’t happen.

McMullan casts a wary and weary eye over energy conservation, increased use of nuclear power, a shift to renewables, a shift to hydrogen, stop cutting trees and replant more. The most interesting thing is his sceptical eye on what we now call carbon capture and storage. He outlines the problems and opportunities with ocean disposal, geological structure storage and enhanced oil recovery. None seemed convincing to him…. So much has changed!!

Next up the ‘exec summaries’ of two “climate counter-movement” pamphlets by the late Ray Evans, Tonto to Hugh Morgan’s Lone Ranger. (Morgan is a mining executive and much much more. Since the 1970s he has had a very keen interest in shrinking the state and attacking the legitimacy of environmentalists.
The Lavoisier Group was founded in 2000, the first explicitly climate denialist group in Australia. The February 2006 set of “lies” starts with “Carbon dioxide is a pollutant” and carries on in that vein. Reminds me a bit of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s ad campaign later that year ahead of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” – “Carbon Dioxide. They call it pollution – we call it life”. Evans had visited the CEI in November 1996, and helped plan the “Countdown to Kyoto” conference. But I digress…

The “Nine Facts” on is a rewrite, sort of. It got launched at Parliament on 28 February 2007, with Arvi Parbo (Aussie industrialist) leading, and Dennis Jensen (soon to be ex-Liberal senator) also giving comments. Such is the nature of political and economic elite thinking on climate change…

Next up, Rotty, 1979. Nothing terribly surprising, once you know the history of US scientists concerns (they grew massively in the 1970s). Best book for that is Howe, 2014, and best short article is Kellogg, 1987. Spencer Weart’s Discovery of Global Warming is pretty damn excellent too..
Anyway, Rotty lays out the problem, the possible impacts (there were more uncertainties back then)
My favourite bit was when, having looked at probable increases in fossil fuel extraction and use he concedes that “even lower fossil fuel-use scenarios are conceivable if the global society recognizes the potential environmental challenges soon enough.”

Ha ha ha.

Finally, an excellent interview with Robert Brulle, a US sociologist who studies the climate change counter-movement. Some clips –

So they are very much, I would say, neoliberal foundations. There are some libertarian foundations, but they are not anywhere near as prominent as what I would consider to be traditional conservative foundations. The funding of the countermovement organizations from the oil and gas interests is actually, when you look at the foundations of those organizations, fairly minimal. So it really is driven by these ideologically focused organizations, which is no surprise, because they’ve been building a conservative movement now for 40, 50 years, and they have these organizations that they’ve created and sponsored and helped develop over that period of time. So what they did was alongside of all of the other conservative issues — affirmative action, English as the official language, the Defense of Marriage [Act], these sorts of issues — they added on climate change as an additional dimension to the conservative movement’s issue agenda.


Institutional movements really function through what we would consider to be informal arrangements and weak coordination. So in the case of the climate countermovement, what you see is that the conservative movement coordinates itself quite well, that when you look at the funding flows you can go and look at the dynamics of the Philanthropy Roundtable, which is where these sorts of issues of funding flows are discussed.


What you see in the number of sponsorships in the Heartland conference is the attempt to build a worldwide climate countermovement. So you see a lot of organizations from different countries: Italy, New Zealand, Australia. You see a lot of sponsorships from those kinds of countries, and the more organizations you have, the more legitimate the conference looks.


No more free Clean Coal reports?! Thnx for nothing, David Cameron!!

As a resident of the UK, which was paying its dues to the International Energy Agency Clean Coal Centre, I was able to download its latest reports for free.

No more, thanks to the UK government cancelling its subs (something to do with not burning coal any more, at least, soonish). And given George Osborne pulling the plug on carbon capture and storage, it’s all unsurprising.

Btw, IEA Clean Coal Centre is headquartered in … London. #awkward.

iea clean coal

Why the hype over Paris and #COP21? Politics, psychology and money

An essay on hype, history, denialism and the fossil fuel lobby.

I hope I am wrong, and that Paris is indeed the “turning point” it is being hyped as. It won’t take us long to find out – two or three years, I reckon. Personally, I think it will run into the sand in much the same way that the Kyoto Protocol did after 1997.* Let’s remember, the deal doesn’t include aviation and shipping, and people like James Hansen think it’s a ‘fraud‘…

Instead in this brief post I want to put out a provisional answer as to why the grossly inadequate deal received such overwhelmingly positive press with a couple of exceptions, e.g from Paris Climate Justice and Monbiot,  make some predictions about the “denialists”, the fossil-fuel lobby and, finally, the problems of movement-building/mobilising.

Why the hype, from people who ought to know better?

I think there are three reasons, that may well intersect and interact, but for now can be treated separately. They are psychological, financial and political.

Firstly, climate change is bloody depressing, and if you’ve chosen – or are paid – to think about it, it exacts a toll. You get grumpy, demoralised, angry, whatever. And mostly you get the hope kicked out of you year after year after year. The UNFCCC process has been one of repeated let-downs, since the first COP in Berlin in early 1995. You have to go all the way back to the Rio Conference to get any stirring words about large-scale ambition and equity. (e.g. article 2)

So, even though people were carefully managing their expectations downwards, they were STILL pleasantly surprised that the deal was better than many (including myself) thought it would be. There were more fine words in there than most would have predicted, even if
a) the 1.5 thing is a joke – there’s no way on Gaia’s no-longer-very-green Earth that we will stay within that, unless we repeal some laws (of physics). It was inserted as a sop to the Small Island States.
b) the words “fossil fuels” are, as Naomi Klein tweeted, distinctly absent from the agreement. Best trick the devil ever played and all that.


Within that bubble, if everyone around you is cheering and crying and hugging (literally or metaphorically) it’s pretty hard not to get pulled along in the slip-stream.

Secondly, financial – lots of the non-governmental organisations that are usually more critical of this have pretty delicate finances of late, and if you’re reliant on guilty middle-class people sending in direct debits, you have to frame your critiques ‘just so’. To quote (myself)

NGOs are in the business of monetising hope. They need to keep middle-class people signing the direct debits. Thus “world leaders just need to be held to account, and combined with some New Technology, everything will be okay” is an acceptable message to send out in the aftermath of COP21, whereas “this agreement is too little, too late – middle class lifestyles like yours have caused the problem and have to go for us to have any chance whatsoever of avoiding total apocalypse” is … not.  People on the receiving end of the second message are less likely to renew their direct debit donations.

Finally, there’s two kinds of political reasons.
One, people don’t want the process to lose momentum. They on some level know that there will be a counter-attack from the denialists and the fossil-lobby, so they want to talk the Paris agreement up, building its credibility. You saw a sliver of this when Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute chided climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Larkin Bows.
Two – faced with the near-certainty of a horrible future, we’re regressing into all kinds of wishful thinking disconnected from the political and ecological realities. As a very smart friend who I do not see nearly enough just observed

“Interesting to see even Swedish groups who are prepared to digger dive still welcoming Paris. I think we’re now sharply seeing the effect of how the green movement, in the west, is based on morality, feelings like “hope”; aesthetics of struggle. There’s no real concrete link that gives activists penalties or rewards based on what they win or fail to win, unlike a union negotiator who themselves goes home to face a pay cut after agreeing not to strike.”

Finally, on Paris, I thought this comment was pretty good

You also need to know the wording of the Paris Agreement.
I will summarize it for you. It is written with much use of the following words : –Urging, encouraging, striving, engaging, aiming, welcoming and should (take action eg).
It looks to me like the common goals 1.5 or 2 degrees are merely wishful thinking. There is no mechanism described or prescribed that I can see to achieve either of them.
It is supposedly legally binding but it seems to impose almost nothing on anyone except for a working committee or two.

What will the denialists do?
I doubt they will go away. In fact, I think their numbers will grow. Here’s why. There is a core of rusted on denialists (old white men for the most part). They aren’t going anywhere soon (well, some of the older ones are, clearly), and they’ve not got a way of climbing down without losing face. I suspect they will be joined by other people for whom the consequences of climate change interfere with their view of a ‘just world‘ (bad things can’t happen to good people like them, and good people like them would never have been silent during decades of an unfolding catastrophe, ergo climate change is a hoax).

There will be ‘new’ strands – rather than outright denial, we will see arguments on the costs of action, the ‘unfairness’ that other nations aren’t doing more.  Many of these arguments have been honed and refined over the last two decades. Climate denial is best thought of as the protean T-1000 Terminator, able to shift shape at will, rather than as the industrial T-800…

One very simple strategy might be to ramp up advocacy of things that they know the climate activists either hate or are divided on (nuclear, geo-engineering etc) and then say “well, if you’re unwilling to countenance these solutions, the problem isn’t as bad as you say.”

Of course, the newspapers and television MAY stop giving them oxygen, ‘balance’ may no longer be bias. Given the ownership of the papers and the fear among the state-owned media outlets I doubt it.. We will see. And anyway, the blogosphere etc has a claim to shaping the public mind these days, and there are, famously, fewer controls there.

The Fossil Fuel Lobby.
If we have learnt anything over the last almost-three decades, it’s surely that the fossil fuel lobby is very smart, very determined, and very cashed-up. It’s played a blinder in terms of delaying legislation, then watering it down, and even getting it repealed. It’s not going to go away. Even before Paris I am sure they were hiring smart people to make worst-case-scenario plans,  devise the behind-the-scenes political strategies to slow everything down, drain momentum, energy and attention, and to build fear, uncertainty and doubt.  And expect to see a massive effort now by oil and gas to throw coal under the bus (that already started in Paris – not at the COP, but back in June.

Socio-culturally, expect new memes soon.

Of course, they are not all-powerful now just because they were in the past. But just because they’re on the ropes doesn’t mean they are on the canvas. And to mix the metaphor, a cornered beast is the most dangerous.

Harder to mobilise
Finally, on social movements; in mid-2009, in the lead-up to another much-hyped conference (the Copenhagen one), an Aussie called Antony Kelly wrote a brilliant and ignored article warning that there could be a post-Copenhagen demobilisation effect if the talks were declared a success. He was right, but for the wrong reason.
Most people don’t pay much more than cursory attention to climate change (why would you?!). And what they’ll have picked up from the press and television coverage is that ‘everything’s sorted, leaders are on the case’.
So we will see it possible to mobilise around, say, fracking, but on the bigger and always-more-awkward issues like UK Energy Policy, no.
Meanwhile, there are always other competing issues, and if climate change has been “solved” in the eyes of many, they will take their energy elsewhere -the next war(s), austerity, etc.

What is to be done?
Let’s not lie to ourselves, eh? And let’s carpe the bloody diems.



* The Americans walked away, having bogged it all down in technical details. The Australian’s then walked away. By the time the Russians ratified in 2005, much treasure had been wasted on what was already grossly inadequate.