Andrew McKillop: Whatever Happened To Climate Change Crisis?
Politicians, today, have predictably “walked away” from the issue of global warming. In retrospect we have to ask why this mass illusion, the transition to “a new ecological society” imploded and fell off the teleprompters, off the front pages, and out of the seemingly endless TV special reports on threatened polar bears and collapsing ice cliffs. How could this all disappear so fast?
Back in 2009, the failed Copenhagen “climate summit” was with retrospect a founding event for the climate change industry: in many ways it never recovered from this massive hit from what are called “climate sceptics”. Since that time, the small but powerful group of OECD country political leaders, corporate elites, and mainstream press and media barons who promoted the image of climate catastrophe with the straightest of faces, seemingly believing every word of the doom-eager rantings of James Lovelock, James Hansen, Al Gore and others, have backed off and edged away from their failing and shrinking monster.
Once upon a time, climate change and global warming (supposedly the same thing), were or was as a major challenge to the planet and our civilization. It predicated a massive change of the global energy system away from dirty, dangerous and expensive fossil fuels. Everything from nuclear power and wind farms to landfill methane gas recovery, solar power plants and electric cars and bicycles was in vogue. Anything not needing oil or seeming not to, was a great emerging and breaking business opportunity, seized on not by dozens, but by hundreds of hedge funds. Most of which are gone, today.
In retrospect we have to ask why this mass illusion, the transition to “a new ecological society” imploded and fell off the teleprompters, off the front pages, and out of the seemingly endless TV special reports on threatened polar bears and collapsing ice cliffs. How could this all disappear so fast?
DIDN’T TURN ENOUGH BUCKS
Carbon finance was always the coming and new trick – which didnt come. The USA’s voluntary but (in certain States) partly legally binding CO2 emissions credits trading scheme, with its special exchange the CCX in Chicago, is now a fading memory. Just before it went out of business in December 2010, the traded value of a ton of CO2 had fallen to 10 US cents. European governmental and corporate promoters of carbon trading, including the largest-possible oil corporations, had from 2005 promoted the idea of ever rising prices for CO2 credits. Even today, the UK’s corporate-and-government backed Energy Technologies Institute can proclaim that the price of a credit to emit a ton of CO2 could attain $750 (500 GBP), by an unspecified date sometime before 2045. The real world and fully mandatory European emissions trading scheme, the ETS, struggles and bumbles along with CO2 values around $15 or $20 and ever declining numbers of trades per day, but its life expectancy is low.
The carbon trading community, which in 2009 or 2010 might or could have “been something” is now an industry on the way out: the main goal of remaining traders is to find another job. At one time (in 2009) proclaimed by the IMF’s ex director Dominique Strauss Kahn as able to attain a yearly turnover of “at least $10 trillion” thanks to an alphabet soup of tradable derived financial products, emissions trading turnover surely came to rival McDonald’s global turnover, but after the sumptuous profits for the small number of financial players, the elegantly termed “pass through” to alternate energy spending on physical equipment was low, desperately low.
The UN IPCC was firstly swivelled into media view as the scapegoat for the loss of political and corporate face – following its short period of basking in what Fritz Vahrenholt calls “Die Kalte Sonne”, the halcyon days when Rajendra Pachauri could make surprise visits to national parliaments with a smiling-but-serious Sir Paul McCartney in tow. The IPCC’s climate experts panel had delivered the wrong newsbytes and soundbytes, this was a scandal. Confusion and doubt had replaced the previous “near certainty” that global average temperatures would rise at least 5 or 6 degrees celsius by about 2050, despite this being purely and simply impossible, barring cataclysms such as the Earth being pushed out of its present orbit and neearer the Sun !
By 2010 the IPCC was a ball and chain, needed reform, and its communication needed serious reconstructing. Its annual reports, once the meat of front page reviews in government friendly media, are now lower ranked than football industry and celebrity gossip.
Without the homely feeling of sure and certain catastrophe, the views and opinions of hand-on-heart doomsters like James Lovelock were constantly pushed down the list of daily newsfeeds, with an inevitable loss of earnings and turnover value for a now crippled business. Like a rudderless Titanic homing in on a broken off ice cliff in the north Atlantic, the industry was dying.
LAST CHANCE – LOST CHANCE
The window of opportunity for “saving the planet” from climate disaster and relaunching it as the new dominant social, political and business theme, has slid shut since 2009. All attempts at restoring the same gung ho elite fervour that preceded the vastly expensive Copenhagen conference or “summit” have failed, as the “enhanced truth” of global warming disaster has paled and shrunken, has been exposed, and replaced by other sensational news fodder for the press, media and TV to recycle and exaggerate, distort and destroy.
This underlines the critical challenge for attempts at saving the theme: the big lie has been exposed in public, the previously watertight new “truth” has been done down, even its high priests, most recently James Lovelock (in April 2012), have backed away from their own exaggerations. To save the theme, or in ecological parlance “recycle” it now needs a miracle, that is political leaders prepared to stick their necks out a second time: in a context of unremitting economic crisis where the surest of certitudes – like high oil prices – are under attack this is very doubtful.
Until December 2009, the four Global Warming leaders – - Obama, Merkel, Sarkozy and the soon-voted-out Brown – - gave regular interviews where emotive keywords of the type “catastrophe”, “saving the planet”, “our last chance” were regular fodder. Sarkozy has now also gone, and the Obama-Merkel duo are weak and unloved leaders in their home countries. Their doomster rhetoric, mindlessly gurgling soundbytes supplied by the Hansen, Lovelock, Gore trio was so extreme it was hard to believe they could be concerned about their economies going down the tube and unemployment rising to 1930s levels, but by the sheer need of trying to save their own jobs, today, their current interest in global warming disaster is now almost absolute zero.
Proving the global warming theme and meme was makeshift, the alternatives to catastrophe offered by the four-only 2009 leaders was typically confused. Supposedly, an ecological society totally dependent on green energy would arise by about 2035, but this magical transformation would just as magically not affect sales of BMW cars, Boeing airplanes or French nuclear reactors, in the meantime. Oil drilling in deepwater, and tarsand oil on land, would obligatorily have to continue, and increase. CO2 emissions trading, or at least carbon taxes would naturally have to vastly expand, but within 25 years or so there would be a bicycle-dependent eco-society, in an eyeblink of historical time. How would this happen? Byt some sort of Pol Pot revolution in the mindless consumer societies?
Politicians, today, have predictably “walked away” from the issue, and this was especially easy for Gordon Brown, in his walk away from Downing Street, early in 2011. The implosion of what so recently but briefly was the all-new social, political and business theme is starkly evident. Saving global warming, we can conclude, will be as hard as saving the planet called Greed.
RECONSTRUCTING THE PAST
To be sure, the serried ranks of corporate profiteers from the global warming surge are still in the “shock” phase, following the effective collapse of what was going to be so big their business models had to be changed, on paper and in press releases at least. Unwinding their trading and investment positions, rejigging their portfolios will take time, so for a while longer Big Business still plays carbon correct. Rather surely however, corporate spin doctors are now at work to reconstruct the past in order to cancel the global warming business future.
Their then-new dominant business themes were painstakingly built, using large amounts of funds and the investment of “face” and prestige by corporate elites, not entirely for the fun of it. Squeezing the last drops of earnings and profits from the dying scam is now the marching order for corporate spin doctors, with sure and certain telltales in their corporate PR and communication. Low Carbon is falling out of their corporate advertising, but the business of alternate, renewable or green energy is powering forward, with fewer and fewer needs for round-the-clock doomster blethering about collapsing ice cliffs and dying polar bears.
Failure of the global warming launch process can be reconstructed back to 2009, by the spin doctors. Carbon correct opened another North-South divide, between the Old World of 1930s style mass unemployment and parasitic casino capitalism, and the New World of Asian industrialising giant economies. This had culminated in open stand-offs between the Historic Four OECD global warning leaders, of which only two still cling on to power today, and increasingly powerful Chinese, Indian and other emerging economy leaders, at the ill-fated Copenhagen meeting. Reconstructing the past, the UN’s IPCC group of experts had gone too far, had perhaps even resorted to plain lying, at least massive exaggeration and distortion and had “imperfectly quantified” climatic uncertainties.
Once upon a time, in 2008 that is, the threat of oil shortage could enable hungry traders, incited and encouraged by the biggest names on Wall street, such as Goldman Sachs to talk oil prices into the stratosphere. Such is the industrial and technological success (if not economic success) of alternate and renewable energy that this is now more or less impossible – barring attack on Iran or other tried and tested oil analyst themes. Natural gas prices, today, have almost nowhere to go but down. Aided powerfully by recession, global energy demand has almost entirely stopped groing, and oil demand is in outright retreat. On the energy supply side, the continuing and massive growth of windpower and solar power are reaching into the bations of oil demand – such as Asian oil fired power procution – with an outlook of rapidly rising cuts in oil consumption.
Only slowly percolating into the slow-moving process of political thinking, old style Energy Crisis is now about as real as global warming. The “founding belief” of western politicians that an oil and energy price explosion always threatens, and the real key motivation for preaching energy transition away from oil and other fossil fuels, is no longer valid. The transition is happening because renewable energy runs on “fuel” that is entirely and 100% free for wind and solar, geothermal and ocean thermal power, and costs little for water, wave and tidal energy: a revolutionary difference!
The global economy entered recession with zero need of any help from high oil prices, and if it comes out of recession, will do so on the back of a multicoloured green-and-brown energy supply system: the need to distract the public with global warming hysteria has disappeared. The real world has scored a major victory. This is because the political pressures and economic rationales for “jumpstarting” green energy growth were always different in North and South, or East and West: recession has sharpened and intensified this. The high oil and gas price driver, or rationale for green energy development already shrank through 2009-2011 and today is set to practically disappear, thanks to recession, massive new gas finds and booming supply, radically growing green energy, and ever improving efficiency of energy use. The oil crisis past is now past.
RECONSTRUCTING CLIMATE CHANGE
Very soon, climate change will itself be reconstructed. Our models were wrong; the IPCC was unreliable or biased; other factors – like cosmic rays, sunspots, the Earth’s magnetic field – were all in play, and today we are happy to be unsure about a climatic future where average temperatures are the least of our rational worries and at most will rise, or rather fall by fractions of a degree by 2050 . The IPCC could be reformed and reconstructed, if only because of the heavy loss of face it caused to those 2009 foursome of OECD leaders gargling climate catastrophe at Copenhagen with simply incredible sincerity, and be set in a more scientific and less controversial mode or format, an agreeably distant and technical talk shop. This will absolutely not need the Rajendra Pachauri who claimed in a late 2010 Times of India interview that if he gets a second term as chief of the IPCC, he will “….certainly shed any inhibitions or feelings of cowardice. I believe this is now my opportunity to go out and do what I think is right. In the second term I may be… more uncomfortable for the people than I was n the first”.
The new Pachauri can for example arrange sitar sesions for a new and calm Sir Paul McCartney, reconstructed in Sergeant Pepper mode, only moderately fearful of global warming, if it exists.
Global warming has no relation to a global economic context of extreme public debt and huge budget deficits, massive and rising unemployment, loss of national identity, and a long list of other sombre and threatening realities. The need for massive PR to achieve a quick transition away from oil has melted away much faster than even Pachauri’s melting Himalaya glaciers, and is replaced by the simple and basic economic advantage of not using oil – simple economic reality.
To be sure, the IPCC could be allowed to die a timely death. Its budgets, already shrinking, can be further cut and its added status of becoming a full-blown UN agency simply forgotten. To be sure, the vast quantities of impressively imaginative studies and scenarios produced under its aegis, some of which was the “meat” of Climategate, will continue being recycled in the press and media, but only on the inside pages, in older type womens’ magazines and TV documentaries at off-peak hours: as a new and powerful social theme opening the way to major economic, financial and business action the time has passed and the theme has failed.
Reconstruction will more likely shade into destruction – unless the IPCC and budding green energy czars got the now unlikely windfall gifts of oil price explosion and a raft of climate catastrophes to feed on. Long gone are the days (of 2006) when James Lovelock could stridently blether “Billions will die from global warming before the end of the century”. Climate crisis is over.
Andrew McKillop is a former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission.
Co-author ‘The Doomsday Machine’, Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012
Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.