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“Learning Curve” briefing on OECD and #coal subsidies decision #climate #roadtoparis

On Tuesday the OECD will be meeting. It’s the rich countries’ club, a useful talking shop for elite decision makers.  On the agenda is what to do about the awkward fact that while we SAY we want to stop the world getting more than two degrees warmer, at the same time we are allowing public money to help build new coal-fired power stations in the developing world, competing with renewable energy.  The USA and Japan want some relatively tight rules.  On the other side is South Korea and Australia (always such a good global citizen when it comes to coal and climate, oh yes) with a proposal for much looser rules. It’s basically a spoiler operation to water things down.

So, I did a “briefing paper” on what is at stake here, giving a bit of the history.  It’s the first of a series of brief briefings which I am going to write about recent coal/climate battles (although I am fascinated by the period 1988 to 1997, there just isn’t the word count in my eventually-forthcoming PhD thesis to justify further research.  Sad face.)  The idea is to help me get my head around key dates, key players, key battles, put it out into the world and then be told by people who know better that I am wrong about x or y or z….

The briefing paper is here as a doc, here as a pdf.

And I’ve cut and paste it below too, but the formatting is inevitably a bit wonky..

PLEASE let me know what you think.  What have I got wrong?  What have I not explained (it’s probably because I don’t know it myself).  What should I have read and said?  Thank you.

Learning Curve” briefing: The November17th OECD decision on coal subsidies, and why it matters.

Marc Hudson

15th November 2015

What’s up?

On Tuesday 17th November there is going to be a bun-fight in Paris. The “Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development” (a club of 34 rich countries) is having a meeting and there may be some fur flying. The USA and Japan, backed by Germany and France, are proposing some new ‘tough’ rules about the coal industry. Specifically, they want to stop rich countries being able to give money to poor countries to build new coal-fired power stations. Not totally, don’t get giddy – there is a loophole; “ultra-supercritical pressure coal plants” would still be eligible for public money under the US/Japan proposal. By a strange coincidence, Japan leads the world in that particular technology. According to one recent study (Bast et al. 2015) Japan and Japanese companies (I’m looking at you, Toshiba Corp) are $20bn to the good for flogging these technologies over the last seven years.

Meanwhile, South Korea and Australia (by another eerie coincidence the world’s biggest coal exporter) have cooked up a rival plan that is a lot weaker, as a spoiler.

The US/Japan proposal includes a clause saying a coal plant can only get “export guarantee” money if cleaner options like renewables can’t be done. The Australians want that clause removed. Classy.

Why now?

Have you been stranded on Mars with Matt Damon? There’s a big climate conference, also in Paris, in two weeks’ time. At that meeting some protesters will get beaten up and our lords and masters will cook up a PR deal that convinces enough people that climate change is being dealt with. Do keep up.

So what; why do coal subsidies matter? Isn’t renewables the Wave of the Future?
The fossil fuel industry knows it is in trouble. Coal-fired power stations aren’t getting built in the kinds of numbers that people who sell coal for fun and profit (especially profit) would like. So, as old plants are shut down and replaced by gas-fired or renewables (nuclear remains in the doldrums) , then the demand for ‘steaming coal’ (the kind you burn to make electricity) might shrink, and as demand shrinks so would price. The price is already low (especially compared to the boom that ended in 2011) and that is causing all sorts of headaches for the industry in both Australia and the United States.

Renewables are indeed growing quickly, but from a very low level. What we’re seeing is a battle – coal is fighting a rearguard action, and renewables is trying to grow as quickly as it can (obvs). This subsidy fight is just one example, one battle in a broad war.

So when did all this hoo-hah start?

In 1824 a French guy realised there must be something stopping all the heat bouncing off the earth. In 1859… wait, you mean the OECD subsidy thing, don’t you? Well, the OECD and its step-child the International Energy Agency (established in 1974 after the Western world got slapped around the face by the first Oil Shock) have been looking at environmental issues for yonks. The IEA has done its fair share of boosting the coal trade (remind me to show you a 1979 report I stumbled across sometime).

The OECD has been working with the G7 and G20 (groups of the top 7 and top 20 richest countries) for quite a while now, on the whole “green growth” (cough, cough) thing and facilitating climate finance (a fancy way of saying finding money for cleaner energy when nobody wants to be the one paying to “save” the planet).

Back in September 2009, as part of the pre-Copenhagen hype, the G20 leaders said they would “rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption”. The OECD, IEA, OPEC and World Bank have been looking at it closely since then.

Grok this from a recent example, a 2013 report that was snappily titled “Climate and Carbon: Aligning Prices and Policies

Across the OECD, a significant portion of support for fossil fuels is provided through

reductions in, or exemptions from, energy taxes. The OECD (2013b) has identified over 550 individual support mechanisms that directly or indirectly encourage the production or consumption of fossil fuels across OECD countries. Producer support mechanisms include i) government intervention in market mechanisms to alter costs or prices, ii) transfers of funds to producers, iii) reduction, rebate or removal of certain taxes, and iv) the government assuming part of the production risk.”

In a June 2013 speech President Obama called for an end to public money for new overseas coal plants “unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity(Plumer, 2013).

According to Lake (2015) they’ve been talking about “discussions to phase out export credit finance for coal power stations in the OECD commenced last year, but hit a stalemate in June this year.” That’s because Japan played the “I need a little more time” card (Guardian, 2015), but was been brought round to the USA’s way of thinking by October.

Btw, earlier in June a corking report “Under the Rug: How Governments and International Institutions are hiding billions in support to the coal industry” was released.

Why are USA and Japan acting as they are?

President Obama, under all kinds of pressure, is chasing a legacy, and it’s not going to come via anything that involves getting a treaty through the US Senate, nosiree. The Japanese also have their own international problems, since their coal consumption has gone up since they shut down their nuclear power stations. This deal seems to be around giving their reputations a bit of a polish, without pissing off too many domestic groups who could make electoral pain. Meanwhile, it would be a nice little earner for the the Japanese economy, since anyone (mostly from Asia and South America, where economies are growing fast and decent coal in decent quantities is relatively hard to come by) wanting to build a new coal-fired power plant would probably be flying to Tokyo, cheque book in hand. It also is tied up with Japan’s ongoing competition – on many levels – with China. Geo-politics, eh, whaddyagonna do?

Why are Australia and South Korea blocking? What is Australia’s motivation in this?

Australia is wanting to defend its coal exports. For the last 25 years, that’s been its primary motivation, in terms of foreign policy. They’re very up front and unashamed about this.

Also, the fact that “Australia, one of the world’s 10 richest countries , received over $4bn in funding for new coal projects – mostly for mines and mostly from Japan” may not be totally irrelevant… With the South Koreans, well, their export agency dishes out $7bn a year (Matthiesen, 2015). As Sebastien Godinot, an economist with WWF-Europe, said in June “Their intention is clearly to buy time or to block any substantial progress.” (Matthieson, 2015).

There’s resistance to this in Australia. Morton (2015) writes

10 environment and like-minded groups including Greenpeace, WWF, the Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation have written an open letter to the government calling on it to back the US and Japan and ratify a deal. The letter says it would be “deeply embarrassing” for Australia if it were the only country to not support or further weaken an agreement – “particularly when countries such as Japan and Germany, which export coal plant technology, have agreed to limit support for coal plants”.”

The government leader in the Senate George Brandis said in parliament that the country “believes in the coal industry… We know that Australia produces some of the cleanest coal in the world… and it is a very important source of prosperity for the Australian economy, and very important source of jobs for Australians.”

How will it all get decided?

OECD decisions are made by consensus, and it will be mildly interesting to see if the new-look government in Australia (Tony Abbott got turfed six weeks ago, do keep up), is willing to play the bad boy and scupper the deal.

But “super-critical” is good, right? I mean, new technologies make coal okay-ish?

Well, um… “no.”. As Lake (2015) points out.

The International Energy Agency recently highlighted that in order to meet the [average-global-temperature-rise-of-no-more-than] 2℃ goal, any new power stations must on average emit 200 grams of CO₂ per kilowatt-hour, whereas even super-critical power stations emit above 600 grams per kWh.”

But I mean, the West is trying to help out, right?

Well, as one reviewer of this piece astutely noted – “I missed the neocolonialist punchline: we restrict developing economies’ support to boost our own economy, while at the same time we pretend to do something good. In reality though, we’re just protecting our privileges…”

What is this OECD thing anyway?

The OECD would say of itself ;

The mission of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. The OECD provides a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems. We work with governments to understand what drives economic, social and environmental change. We measure productivity and global flows of trade and investment. We analyse and compare data to predict future trends. We set international standards on a wide range of things, from agriculture and tax to the safety of chemicals.”

A cynic would say it’s the rich man’s club, set up in 1961 to defend the Western economic order when the self-described Communist world still existed and there were some ‘independent’ states, with more expected, and that since then it has morphed into one of those useful talking shops and spaces where complex issues get threshed and thrashed out so that the biggest of the big boys and girls can then do a red carpet photo op.

And how does this relate to the whole Paris thing?

It doesn’t, not directly. But if Tuesday goes well for the US and Japan, it adds the momentum and that Something Is Being Done. If Australia “wins” Malcolm Turnbull will get some frosty froggy glares when he’s in Paris for the opening day of the Paris summit. But frankly, everyone is used to Australia being an unrepentant and irredeemable sociopath by now. And Julie Bishop, Australian Foreign Minister and now co-chair of the “Green Climate Fund” may get some froideur, but since everything is – with her help – getting warmer, then it all evens out in the end, eh?

Um, okay, so where can I get more information?

There are the official websites of these outfits, and particular campaigning groups that keep an eye on it all;


Oil Change International


World Resources Institute Sustainable Finance Programme

In terms of newspapers, your best bet is the Financial Times.

Anything else I should know?

Yeah, the species has almost certainly left it too late to do anything about climate change. Yes, there’ll be some wind farms, but pretty soon we will panic and reach for the geo-engineering. You’d be well advised to take one or both of the following courses of action: 1) stockpile shotgun ammo and baked beans in a sick survivalist psychodrama 2) dance and drink and screw

Key dates

2009 (Sept) G20 meeting in Pittsburgh says leaders will work to abolish export subsidies

2009 (Dec) COP19 Copenhagen climate conference ends in farce

2013 (June) President Obama gives ‘we really oughta stop with these subsidies’ speech

2014-5 Negotiations, ending in deadlock in June. Japan gets its arm twisted/drives a harder bargain


Bast, E., Godinot,S., Kretzmann, S. and Schmidt, J. 2015. Under the Rug. How Governments and International Institutions are hiding billions in support to the coal industry. NRDC Oil Change International WWF http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2015/05/Under_The_Rug_NRDC_OCI_WWF_Jun_2015.pdf

Friedman L. and Vaidyanathan, G. 2015. U.S. and Japan to announce deal curbing coal financing. EE News, 27 October. http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060026972

Guardian (2015) OECD talks to phase out coal subsidies end in stalemate. , 12 June.


Lake, K. 2015 OECD coal discussions highlight tensions in Australia’s position on climate change. The Conversation, 13 November.


Matthiesen, K. 2015. Japan and South Korea top list of biggest coal financiers. Guardian. 2 June.
Morton, A. 2015. Turnbull government accused of blocking US, Japan plan to reduce coal. Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November.


Plumer, B. 2013. The U.S. will stop financing coal plants abroad. That’s a huge shift. Washington Post, 27 June.


Disclaimers and biography

This briefing is not definitive! Not even of what I know now, let alone what I will (hopefully) learn. All constructive criticisms of blind spots/misinterpretations gratefully received. You don’t even have to be polite about it. Tweet me at @marcsrhudson

This is published under a Creative Commons non-commercial 3.0 licence. Mash it up, but credit me. Don’t sell it, ‘kay?

Thanks: Malte and Pat.

Marc Hudson, besides trying to extract himself from editing “Manchester Climate Monthly,” is a second year PhD candidate at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, studying how come and how coal is still in the game almost thirty years after climate scientists and some ‘issue entrepreneur’ activists, bureaucrats and politicians managed to wake everyone up to the threat of anthropogenic global warming. The views, snark and glibness contained herein are entirely his own, and in no way represent the official position of the SCI, the University of Manchester or anyone else, obvs.

Future “Learning Curve” briefings will appear on – (Australian) divestment, peak bodies & umbrella groups, carbon capture and storage, local coal conflicts, denialism, the coal industry’s recent trajectory.

Star Trek, innovation theory and “dominant designs”

Article discussed:  Rebecca M. Henderson and Kim B. Clark (1990) “Architectural Innovation: The Reconfiguration of Existing Product Technologies and the Failure of Established Firms” Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 9-30.

Hugh_bodyThere’s an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation called I, Borg, which is useful for thinking about innovation theory and ‘dominant design’.  No, seriously.

In it, the Good Guys (you can tell, because they’re mostly human) have captured a Bad Guy (wears black), an individual member of a hive mind called ‘The Borg’.

According to wikipedia

“Chief Engineer La Forge and Commander Data assist Dr. Crusher in bringing the Borg back to health. As they come to understand the workings of the Borg, La Forge and Data postulate an idea of using the Borg drone as a weapon of mass destruction. By implanting an unsolvable geometric formula into his mind and returning him back to the Collective, the formula should rapidly spread (similar to a computer virus) and disable the Borg.”

So, in my analogy, the Borg would be the existing company – big, powerful and confident that they knew what was best for everyone – competitors and supply chains (to be swallowed/vertically integrated), their own staff (to be hierarchised) and customers (to be monopolised if possible).  And they’d take what they thought was a ‘normal’ innovation within their ‘dominant design’.  And over time, it would seriously stuff them up.

The paper (Henderson and Clark, 1990) is seriously rich, and deserves more than a mildly forced sci-fi analogy.  But life is short, and I’ve a PhD to write…  Here are a couple of quotes from it, that should perhaps help

A dominant design;

The emergence of a new technology is usually a period of considerable confusion. There is little agreement about what the major subsystems of the product should be or how they should be put together. There is a great deal of experimentation (Burns and Stalker, 1966; Clark, 1985). For example, in the early days of the automobile industry, cars were built with gasoline, electric, or steam engines, with steering wheels or tillers, and with wooden or metal bodies (Abernathy, 1978). These periods of experimentation are brought to an end by the emergence of a dominant design (Abernathy and Utter-back, 1978; Sahal, 1986).

(Henderson and Clark, 1990: 14)

And an example of people not understanding that the parts might be re-arranged, and there is a larger system out there (in which the minor innovation could ruin your whole day/week/year/decade/livelihood) –

In the mid-1950s engineers at RCA’s corporate research and development center developed a prototype of a portable, transistorized radio receiver. The new product used technology in which RCA was accomplished (transistors, radio circuits, speakers, tuning devices), but RCA saw little reason to pursue such an apparently inferior technology. In contrast, Sony, a small, relatively new company, used the small transistorized radio to gain entry into the U.S. market. Even after Sony’s success was apparent, RCA remained a follower in the market as Sony introduced successive models with improved sound quality and FM capability. The irony of the situation was not lost on the R&D engineers: for many years Sony’s radios were produced with technology licensed from RCA, yet RCA had great difficulty matching Sony’s product in the marketplace( Clark, 1987).

(Henderson and Clark, 1990: 10)

As someone recently suggested, I should get a life…

Renewable Energy and South Australia – 100 per cent event…

On Tuesday 16th June, Dr Mark Diesendorf was in the hot seat.  In front of a capacity audience of about 120 people, he outlined the report [pdf] about achieving 100% renewable energy that he has just written for the Conservation Council of South Australia.  He also fielded a very wide variety of questions from the audience.

All in all, an excellent event; here’s a video of the first 80 minutes of his talk (at which point my camera battery died- there is an irony in there somewhere….).  Most of the rest of it was captured by someone else, and as soon as I get that footage, I’ll upload it too.

Of dinosaurs, Gramsci, Aussie polluters and #climate change: 5 easy pieces

I appear to be Learning.  Instead of 13 articles to synthesise, this one only goes up to five.

They’re listed below, and I’ll take them in the order I read them, which is mostly chronological.

Dobel, A., Westberg, K. Steel, M. and Flowers, K. (2014) An Examination of Corporate Social responsibility Implementation and Stakeholder Engagement: A Case Study in the Australian Mining Industry Business Strategy and the Environment Vol. 23, 145-159.

Levy, D. and Spicer, A. (2013) Contested imaginaries and the cultural political economy of climate change Organization Vol .20 (5) 659-678.

Macintosh, A. (2014) Mitigation Targets, Burden Sharing and the Role of Economic Modeling in Climate Policy Australian Journal of Public Administration Vol. 73, (2) pp. 164-180

McLean, D. (1978) A Terminal Mesozoic “Greenhouse”: Lessons from the Past Science Vol. 2011, Number 4354 pp. 401-406.

Wang, L., Li, S. and Gao, S. (2014) Do Greenhouse Gas Emissions Affect Financial Performance? – an Empirical Examination of Australian Firms Business Strategy and the Environment 23, 505-519.

First up, the geologist Dewey McLean (1978) – ‘A Terminal Mesozoic “Greenhouse.”

It starts “Human combustion of the fossil fuels coal, oil and gas and of forest clearing is measurably increasing the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere.”  And then in a few pages, with headings such as “Late Maestrichtian Extinctions”, ”Body Size and Heat Dissipation” and “Human-Generated Carbon Dioxide : A Modern Trigger?”  he basically says ‘be afraid, be very afraid.’

Fwiw, I found this one by following breadcrumbs (e.g. this) from George Monbiot’s latest excellent “we really are screwed” piece in the Grauniad.  I have a bit of a fascination for early (ignored) warnings.  Earlier in 1978 Nature had published a piece by John Mercer warning that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could go (and guess what, it probably is).  Of course, ‘early’ is relative. Revelle, Keeling and Bolin (among many others) had been banging on about anthropogenic climate change since the late ‘50s.  Btw, my fascination has led me to set up a very depressing website called “All Our Yesterdays, 365 Climate Histories.”  But I digress…


Next up is the extraordinarily rich piece by David Levy and Andre Spicer.  This really is a Must Read.

[How did I find it? A hat-tip here to my friend Christopher Wright, who has co-authored a book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations coming out in September with Daniel Nyberg. I’ve read the first few chapters and they’re dead good]

Levy and Spicer use the concept of “imaginaries”, which they describe as providing

“a shared sense of meaning, coherence and orientation around highly complex issues. Imaginaries are closely linked to the ways in which institutions and economic activity are organized and structured, and the ways people think they ought to be organized and structured.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:660)

They outline four core climate imaginaries – ‘fossil fuels forever, ‘climate apocalypse’, ‘techno-market’ and ‘sustainable lifestyles’

And throw in some thinking from dead Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (very cool guy) and Bob Jessop too.  They describe Jessop as arguing that “we are at a selection stage where

“more radical imaginaries that fundamentally question capitalism, or seek to revive Keynesianism and a stronger state, are losing plausibility within the coordinates of neoliberal capitalism.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:662)

My money is on neoliberal capitalism to win all the battles and lose the war (what, with Mother Nature batting last and all).

So, the imaginaries have to duke it out, but it’s not of course a fair fight. Some organisations have deeper pockets than others, and are going with the grain of human ‘progress’ and promethean self-conception…

Levy and Spicer outline how different imaginaries have gained pre-eminence at different stages over the last 30 years,


(and this gibes well with the Schlichting, (2013) that I discussed in the last summary. They also reference Unruh’s (2000) under-used concept of the Techno-Institutional Complex .

And give some great concrete examples of the fossil-fuel industry’s unsympathetic  counter-rhetorical strategies (Ibarra and Kitsuse, 1993) around telling anecdotes, and insincerity –

“This linkage of climate to class politics was expressed powerfully in a 2008 CEI television advertisement targeting Al Gore’s alleged hypocrisy regarding energy. The narrator begins: ‘Here’s the electricity we use at home. Al Gore uses 20 times as much’. Against a backdrop of Al Gore greeting other celebrities and receiving his Oscar for the film, An Inconvenient Truth, the narrator continues: ‘Mr Gore’s friends use lots of energy, too, but Al Gore wants to cut our energy use, putting our jobs and our future in jeopardy. Mr Gore’s future, on the other hand, couldn’t be brighter’. Reprising themes from earlier advertisements, the narrator warns: ‘But what will happen … if we restrict energy use? Some people may have a bright future, but don’t kid yourself–without affordable energy, hundreds of millions of people won’t have any future at all’. The final scene is a destitute black child wrapped in rags.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:671)

There’s also the concept of a “value regime” (adapted from Appadurai) which I have to think about more. It

“refers to the broader political-economic settlement linking an imaginary with specific set of technologies, production methods and market structures.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:673)

They point out that

“locating the fossil fuels forever imaginary within a broader value regime helps explain its resilience. Even as the imaginary eroded as a motivating vision, it remained anchored to economic and technological foundations, reinforced through everyday practices of energy intense lifestyles, just as institutional logics are reproduced through routines (Lounsbury et al., 2003; Seo and Creed, 2002). Moreover, the sector remained politically powerful, with substantial profits to fund lobbying, advertising and other efforts to defend the value regime.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:674)

Some of the articles imma need to read (see below for learning – it’s all a bit Pascal’s sphere of ignorance/knowledge)

Callon, M. and Muniesa, F. (2005) ‘Economic Markets as Calculative Collective Devices’, Organization Studies 26(8): 1229–50.

Leahy, T., Bowden, V. and Threadgold, S. (2010) ‘Stumbling Towards Collapse: Coming to Terms with the Climate Crisis’, Environmental Politics 19(6): 851–68.

Levy, D. L. and Egan, D. (1998) ‘Capital Contests: National and Transnational Channels of Corporate Influence on the Climate Change Negotiations’, Politics and Society 26(3): 337–61.

Levy, D. and Scully, M. (2007) ‘The Institutional Entrepreneur as Modern Prince: The Strategic Face of Power in Contested Fields’, Organization Studies 28(7): 971–91.

Morton, A. D. (2007) Unravelling Gramsci: Hegemony and Passive Revolution in the Global Economy. London: Pluto Press.

Rabe, B. (2008) ‘States on Steroids: The Intergovernmental Odyssey of American Climate Policy’, Review of Policy Research 25(2): 105–28.

Wynne, B. (2010) ‘Strange Weather, Again: Climate Science as Political Art’, Theory, Culture, and Society 27(2–3): 289–305.


Dobele et al. (2014) was, a slight case of feeling on the receiving end of bait-and-switch.  The case study dealt not so much with mining but with a (failed) shale gas project in Queensland that had come acropper for a variety of reasons (hubris, local relations going tits up when the plant began to pong, and the arrival of Greenpeace.  Dobele et al. point out that the company did itself no favours by retreating, in PR terms, to Sydney.  Not a good look.

They’re good on the point that actors should see themselves as part of an actor network – “a company is not the centre of the stakeholder network; the network has a life of its own, regardless of a company’s involvement or non-involvement’

Still, for my purposes, there were some useful references, perspectives on CSR etc.

And I will need to track down;

Barlow, K. (2004) The Environmental group Greenpeace alleges that the Federal Government offered a multi-million dollar Subsidy to a private oil company in Exchange for Taking Legal Action Against Greenpeace, Australia, Radio National.

Sounds interesting, and should be compared with the farce in the Cheney-Bush Whitehouse when functionaries on the inside were encouraging a think tank to sue the administration to gum up the works) –

[wikipedia] On August 11, 2003, Maine Attorney General G. Steven Rowe and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in a press release[8][9] called on United States Attorney General John Ashcroft

to investigate whether officials at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) solicited a conservative Washington think tank to sue the federal government in order to invalidate a government document warning of the impacts of global warming.The two state attorneys general obtained an email document through a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed a great intimacy between CEQ and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) on strategizing about ways to undermine the United States’ official reports and the authority of its officials.

[…] It appears that certain White House officials conspired with an anti-environmental special interest group to cause the lawsuit to be filed against the federal government.


Wang et al. (2014) is just plain depressing. If they are right, and I am reading them right, then it turns out that there is “a positive correlation between GHG emissions and corporate financial performance.”  [Translation: trashing the planet makes you money].  They speculate that the “positive correlation found in this study could be explained with reference to the unique economic structure and development of Australia, particularly its dominant mining industry.” [Translation: “we’re China’s spare coal mine and we’re too busy counting the dollars to be counting the carbon, suckers.”]

Levy and Spicer would probably nod and point to the “fossil fuels future” imaginary, and the “climate impasse” from 2009 onwards. (Australia avoided the Global Financial Crisis, and the entire soap opera of bringing in weak emissions trading scheme, at the second attempt, and then abolishing it, has played out between 2010 and 2014.)


Finally Macintosh, (2014).  He’s written a LOT of good stuff on Australian climate policy, including on land-clearance, which is what he addresses here.  The gist of what he is saying is that despite getting a ridiculously good deal out of Kyoto (by threatening to leave, basically), the Australians persist in saying the sky will fall if they have to even reduce the rate at which they accelerate digging up carbon and selling it to everyone they can.

There’s lots of very controlled (and thus more effective than my-style-of-ranting) stuff about the political purposes to which economic modelling can be put –

Given the significance of targets to sovereign and political interests, there is the added difficulty that there are strong incentives for parties to skew the analyses in their favour (Putnam 1988; Christoff 2005). This would not be overly problematic if the analyses were transparent but the complexity of the modelling and circumstances in which it is typically undertaken often shield it from scrutiny and leave it vulnerable to manipulation. Governments can shape the scenarios to produce results that support their negotiating and domestic political positions safe in the knowledge that most people will be bamboozled by the numbers, graphs, maps and other material that typically accompanies the analysis. Bycontrolling the release of information, governments can also prevent meaningful scrutiny of the underlying assumptions and outputs (McKibbin et al. 2009; Ergas and Robson 2012).
(Macintosh, 2014: 166)


The treatment of LULUCF in the modelling that has been done for policy purposes in Australia highlights the problems with burden sharing approaches that use economic projections to determine national targets. Put simply, economic modelling is too unreliable, too subjective and too vulnerable to manipulation to provide a reliable and objective basis from which to set caps. Economic modelling has its uses, including in relation to the formulation of climate policy. The danger lies in exactly how it is used.
(Macintosh, 2014: 176)

There is a long history of the use of economic modelling to ‘frame’ debates on climate mitigation in Australia, back to the late 80s and early 1990s.  You can read about it in my thesis (probably only a footnote!  In the meantime, check out  Diesendorf (1998) and Henman (2002).


So, what do we learn? That I am Learning.  That there aren’t enough hours in the day to read closely all the excellent articles out there AND enter the relevant factoids and concepts in your secret database AND do some thinking and writing (not necessarily in that order). AND have a wife, sorry, life.

Last word though goes to the oldest of the articles.  McLean closes (and this is 197-bloody-8, mind you) with this

A critical problem for humans is to avoid arriving inadvertently at a critical threshold that might trigger an abrupt accelerated warming of the climate beyond their capacity to control, or to adapt to, it. The duration of such a “greenhouse” would, in human terms, last an interminable period, and its impact on life would be incalculable. Animals today are generally adapted to relatively cool conditions, as were faunas prior to the terminal Mesozoic extinctions. A sudden climatic warming could potentially impose on us conditions comparable to those that terminated a geologic era.
(McLean, 1978:406)

Diesendorf, M. (1998) Australian economic models of greenhouse abatement Environmental Science & Policy Vol. 1, (1), pp. 1–12.

Henman, P. (2002) Computer Modeling and the Politics of Greenhouse Gas Policy in Australia Social Science Computer Review Vol. 20 (2) 161-173.

Ibarra P. and Kitsuse. J.I. (1993) “Vernacular Constituents of Moral Discourse: An Interactionist Proposal for the Study of Social Problems.” Pp. 21-54 in Constructionist Controversies: Issues in Social Problems Theory (SocialProblems and Social Issues), edited by D.R. Loseke, and J. Best. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

Schlichting, I. (2013) Strategic Framing of Climate Change by Industry Actors: A Meta-analysis, Environmental Communication, 7:4, 493-511

Unruh, G. (2000) Understanding carbon lock-in Energy Policy, Vol. 28, 12, pages 817-83

For “success”? Timing and conformity as key. Barry Jones, #Keynes and #climate

Barry Jones was the Australian Science Minister between 1983 and 1990, and a key figure in the coming of climate awareness to that country.  He is also a pretty smart guy (didn’t help him as a politician, naturlich).

barry jones timing is everything

Keynes said something different but similar –


We needed to be transruptive [another of my shoddy neologisms], but we weren’t.  Now we get to watch it (habitable planet, formal freedoms) all judder and spasm on a jagged downward trajectory, a kind of horizontally mirrored Keeling curve….

To quote myself (cough cough) from Facebook – Herd species. “Had to be, or else you’d get eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger or whatever. Stone age brains in space age bodies in a carbon (c)age of our own devising… Oh well. #funwhileitlasted

Juking the academic stats – the ivory tower game explained.

Is it possible to be cynical enough?  That’s one of those questions I ask myself occasionally (daily/hourly) and usually when I begin to chide myself for corrosiveness, along comes confirmation/warning that I haven’t even got to cynicism basecamp.

The latest timely warning is “Ring a Ring  Roses: Quality Journals and Gamesmanship in Management Studies.”  This is an article by Stuart Macdonald and Jacqueline Kam, that appeared in the Journal of Management Studies (where else?) Journal of Management Studies 44:4 June 2007

Here’s the abstract

A paper in one of the quality journals of Management Studies is much more important as a unit of measurement than as a contribution to knowledge. It measures academic performance and determines much academic funding. There is consequently some pressure to publish in quality journals. But quality journals are defined in terms that are themselves defined in terms of quality journals – a circularity that explains both the paper’s title and the frustration of those who do not mix in these circles. We examine the gamesmanship of publishing in quality journals. Findings from a survey of heads of Management Studies departments in UK universities suggest that such gamesmanship is common. Cunning and calculation now support scholarship in Management Studies. Gamesmanship will remain common until the rewards for publishing attach to the content of papers, to what is published rather than where it is published. We propose a ‘Tinkerbell Solution’: without belief in the value of a paper in a quality journal, the game is no longer worth playing.

Before unleashing a bunch of quotes on you, with comments attached, you should definitely watch this 100 second clip from season 4 of The Wire;


(Soz, embedding disabled)

Poor Prebs. He thinks he’s left the game-playing-at-the-expense-of-the-stated-mission behind him when he left the Baltimore Police Department. But the game is omnipresent, omniscient. It stalks you … “Wherever you go, there you are.”

So, a sample of the quotes I loved

Rejection rate is also an important guide to quality in journals: the higher the rejection rate, the higher the quality….Only spoilsports will observe that the more authors are encouraged to submit their papers to quality journals, the higher will be the rejection rates of these journals, leading to an increase in their quality, yet greater incentive to submit papers, a higher rejection rate still, and yet more quality. Only cynics and statisticians will observe that as rejection rates rise past 90 per cent, the reliability of screening plummets (Miner, 2003).
(Macdonald and Kam, 2007: 642)


University departments play the game. Their managers encourage publication in quality journals because the return is great and because the measure of performance allows those who know nothing about a subject to judge the work of those who do…. In some French institutions, €12,000 is the going rate for a publication in a quality journal. In Australia, just about to introduce its own version of the RAE, there are similar enticements. Melbourne Business School pays $A15,000 cash for every paper published in the Top 40 list compiled by the Financial Times…. As these payments are per author rather than per paper, authors can bestow riches on favoured colleagues, presumably in return for similar favours. External authors get nothing so collaboration beyond the department is unwise. Cutting long papers into two or three, however, is logical. There is little incentive to write anything for practitioners. (emphasis added)
(Macdonald and Kam, 2007: 644)

Conspiracies against the laity, much?? Finally –

The canny editor cultivates a cadre of authors who will boost the measured quality of his journal, authors who cite themselves and each other, who dedicate swathes of their papers to reviewing past work, authors whose work is so anodyne and so generic that it can be cited almost anywhere.
(Macdonald and Kam, 2007: 645)

Recently the wife told me that I wasn’t a cynic, but rather a disappointed romantic (I shot back an unrepeatable joke that would get me sacked)

Next up – “games,” Wittgenstein and family resemblance

On the Stepper: 13th January: Climate reports, Stockholm syndrome and Green Bans

On an “Australian science/politics in the 70s and onwards” binge at mo’ (trying to be more systematic in my PhD reading).

Garratt, JR, Webb, EK and McCarthy, S. (2011) Charles Henry Brian Priestley. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 57, 349-278.

Didn’t read all of this, but the bits that relate to his climate work. He led the panel that wrote the first Australian Academy of Science report on climate change;

“During the following two years, extensive publicity was given internationally to suggestions by some European and American scientists that a new ice age was approaching and that droughts in the Sahel and India, and wheat failures in the Ukraine, were among the symptoms of this change. After concern was expressed at the World Food Conference in November 1974 about the possible effects of this predicted climate change on agricultural productivity and the global food supply, the Australian Government requested the Australian Academy of Science to report to it on these assertions. A committee on climate change was established by the Academy in March 1975 with Priestley as its Chairman; its report was handed down in March 1976 (AAS 1976). The main conclusion, that there was no convincing evidence of an imminent climatic change, either on a global scale or in Australia, must be set against the evidence then available in 1975. Another far-sighted conclusion stated, ‘All past climate changes have been due to natural events on an astronomical or global scale. Human activities are now developing in ways that could have an appreciable effect on the climate within decades.’ Two decades later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was to take up this very issue in its first report on climate change. In 1976 the Committee’s report was well received, both at home and abroad, with little adverse publicity given to it at the time. The report’s main conclusions were in tune with studies elsewhere that global warming through an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide may constitute a more serious cause for concern than the possibility of an ice age.”

(Garratt, et al, 2011: 374)

Then a bit of the Australian Quarternary Newsletter No 8, November 1976, which had a report on a Natural Hazards Symposium held in May 1976 in Canberra.. Need to track down an article by B. Thom Natural Hazards and future climate change. (well, “need” means – Marc about to over-research and under-write.”)

Quarternary, bless it, makes wordpress’s spell-check light up –

The Quaternary Period /kwəˈtɜrnəri/ is the current and most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).[4] It follows the Neogene Period and spans from 2.588 ± 0.005 million years ago to the present.[4] The Quaternary Period is divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene (2.588 million years ago to 11.7 thousand years ago) and the Holocene (11.7 thousand years ago to today). [wikipedia]

Then Elliott, L. (2011) Australia’s engagement with the UN on environmental issues: Benefits and balance in Cotton, J. and Lee, D. (eds) Australia and the United Nations. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia

Lots of useful background info – Australia’s manoeuvres at Stockholm in 1972 take on an ironic tinge later (but that’s for another blog post).

Last and most certainly not least;

Ferguson, P. (2009) Patrick White, green bans and the rise of the Australian new left. Melbourne Historical Journal 37, pp. 73-88.

Wow!! I don’t understand why, at the posh school I went to in Adelaide in the 1980s, that they never taught me about the gay writer and the communist trade unionist who got on fine with feminists and aborigines and so on, and stopped developers pillaging Sydney for fun and profit. Don’t understand at all…

It’s a bloody good essay. And now I have to stop myself from reading too much about the “Green Bans” that the NSW Builders’ Labourers Federation used to protect Sydney…