Imagine that you are a journalist — it’s not hard to do — in need of some information about climate change. Where would you turn to first?
You might start with the UK’s allegedly independent Committee on Climate Change, they are charged by the Climate Change Act 2008 with establishing the UK’s ‘carbon budgets’. Or, of course, for more policy-related matters, you could ring the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Both these organisations have media officers. But perhaps you want more of a science angle. In which case, you could have got in touch with the Met Office. The Met Office scientists do lots of research into climate change and its impacts — work that needs no introduction here — much of which comes out of its Hadley Centre. Or you could get in touch with some of the other academic research departments that have been created over the years: The Climate Research Unit at UAE, or al at UEA, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, which has branches at Cardiff University, Newcastle, Cambridge, Manchester, Oxford, Sussex, or Southampton Universities. Or you could get in touch with The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE, or it’s sister, The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College, just down the road. There’s The Walker Institute for Climate Research at Reading, The National Centre for Atmospheric Science, which is part of the National Environmental Research Council, which funds and directs an array of research programmes across many research organisations, throughout the UK and beyond.
Perhaps you’re more interested in responses to climate change. In which case, there are the government-backed non-profit companies Carbon Trust, Energy Saving Trust, and The Waste & Resources Action Plan (WRAP). Or there are the departments, quangos, statutory bodies and non departmental public bodies, not already mentioned, like OFGEM, the Dept. for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Environment Agency, The Forestry Commission, and many others.
And of course, let us not forget the charities and NGOS!… Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, The WWF, The RSPB, and those one-time development and relief charities, who prefer to concentrate on making the weather noce, rather than saving people’s lives, like Oxfam, Tearfund, and Save the Children. An even fuller list can be found on Wikpedia.
In other words, if you wanted to find out about the climate, there are, literally, thousands of people, in hundreds of organisations, with budgets totalling many, many £billions, that you could call on — and that’s before we’ve even considered other individual experts and organisations in other countries. Each of them has a view on climate change and probably wants to share it with you. Every organisation listed above has at least one media officer, if not an entire media team.
(In other words, if you are a journalist, and you’re unsure about where to go for a comment about climate change, you are doing the wrong job, and the discussions about mediocrity in the previous two posts on this blog apply to you absolutely.)
So why, then, has this week seen the birth of a new climate change organisation, the ominously-titled, Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit?
The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit is a non-profit organisation that supports informed debate on energy and climate change issues in the UK.
We support journalists and other communicators with accurate and accessible briefings on key issues, and work with individuals and organisations that have interesting stories to tell, helping them connect to the national conversation.
But isn’t this is a job that was already being done by The Carbon Brief.
Carbon Brief reports on the latest developments and media coverage of climate science and energy policy, with a particular focus on the UK. We produce news coverage, analysis and factchecks, and publish a daily and weekly email briefing.
Carbon Brief are…
… grateful for the support of the European Climate Foundation, which provides our funding.
And The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit gladly tells us that,
All of our funding comes from philanthropic foundations. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the European Climate Foundation, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, and the Tellus Mater Foundation.
Tellus Mater are a mysterious organisation…
Tellus Mater’s mission is to catalyze a shift to sustainable capitalism: to change the operating rules for capitalism so that finance can better fulfill it’s role in directing the flows of Financial Capital to production systems that preserve and enhance Natural Capital.
Furthering green capitalism strikes me as a categorically political objective. And yet here it seems to be presenting itself as a philanthropic organisation, pursuing indubitably noble, if not value-free objectives, while not listing its supporters, or saying much at all about where its own money comes from.
The Grantham Foundation, of course, is set up from the extraordinary wealth of the super-rich Jeremy Grantham — another mega capitalist, again, note.
And the European Climate Foundation…
was established in early 2008 as a major philanthropic initiative to promote climate and energy policies that greatly reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to help Europe play an even stronger international leadership role to mitigate climate change.
The group of philanthropists who founded the ECF were deeply concerned over the lack of political action and the lack of general public awareness around the devastating future consequences implied by climate change. They formed the ECF – a ‘foundation of foundations’ – to collaborate in ensuring the necessary transformation from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy.
The ECF has an annual budget of roughly €25 million. The majority of our funds are re-granted to NGOs and think tanks engaged in bringing about meaningful policy change. Our programme staff collaborate with grantees and experts from the field and funders to design and fund strategies based on a thorough understanding of decision-makers, decision-making processes, and political context. In 2012, we made 181 grants to 102 organisations.
There seems to be a lot of ‘philanthropic’ activity aimed not as much at helping people, as managing the public’s perception of climate change and influencing policy makers. The alleged “lack of general public awareness around the devastating future consequences implied by climate change” is of course, what has concerned all three major political parties, and thus the government, its departments, The United Nations and its organisations, the European Union and its organisations, NGOs, charities, and of course, all manner of public organisations.
It is a puzzling thing… democratic governments, supranational political organisations and charities seem to be out of kilter with the public mood, yet each depend on the public to a greater or lesser extent, for legitimacy. Together, they seem to think it is their role to persuade the public rather than respond to them. It is hard to resist the idea that this gap in fact precedes the political establishment’s embrace of climate change, and that the possibility of the end of the world in fact comes as quite a relief to those who still have positions of power, in spite of that gap.
The Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) demonstrated the need for itself by commissioning a survey. The poll, said the ECIU, “shows widespread misconceptions about energy and climate change”.
It shows that only one in nine (11 percent) of people are aware of the strength of the scientific consensus on man-made climate change, a finding that the ECIU said carries ‘uncomfortable echoes’ of the MMR controversy of 15 years ago.
In fact, the Comres survey asked,
What proportion of climate scientists do you think believe that climate change is mainly the result of human activities?
The answers were as follows:
Almost all 11%
A majority 43%
About half and half 35%
A minority 9%
Almost none 2%
It wasn’t good enough for ECIU that 43% of respondents only said ‘a majority’ — they were ignorant if they didn’t say ‘amost all’. ECIU continue,
Nearly half of the UK population (47 percent) think either that most climate scientists reject the idea that human activities such as fossil fuel burning are the main driver of climate change (11 percent), or that scientists are evenly split on the issue (35 percent). Several recent studies [ Cook et al, Tol, Verheggen et al] show that more than 90% of climate scientists agree that the main cause of climate change is human activity.
In spite of surveys such as Cook et al, the view that scientists are split on a proposition as ambiguously framed as the survey’s is not unreasonable.
For instance, even if one believes i) that climate change is a problem, and that ii) it is a problem caused by industrial emissions, and even that iii) most scientists believe i) and ii), there is the question of degree to which a) climate change is a problem, b) climate change is caused by man, which the proposition in the survey ducks. The problem of ill-defined propositions is rife in climate change science, as I pointed out last year:
Nuccitelli’s survey results are either the result of a comprehensive failure to understand the climate debate, or an attempt to divide it in such a way as to frame the result for political ends. The survey manifestly fails to capture arguments in the climate debate sufficient to define a consensus, much less to make a distinction between arguments within and without the consensus position. Nuccitelli’s survey seems to canvas scientific opinion, but it begins from entirely subjective categories: a cartoonish polarisation of positions within the climate debate.
No less a figure than climate scientist, Professor Mike Hulme, founding director of the Tyndall Centre, joined the debate.
Ben Pile is spot on. The “97% consensus” article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed. It obscures the complexities of the climate issue and it is a sign of the desperately poor level of public and policy debate in this country that the energy minister should cite it. It offers a similar depiction of the world into categories of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to that adopted in Anderegg et al.’s 2010 equally poor study in PNAS: dividing publishing climate scientists into ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’. It seems to me that these people are still living (or wishing to live) in the pre-2009 world of climate change discourse. Haven’t they noticed that public understanding of the climate issue has moved on?
The informed member of the public would now know that respectable, consensus, mainstream position on climate change is that,
1. There are serious problems with the historical temperature record, especially as it has been constructed from proxies.
2. There are serious problems with projections of likely future temperature, especially as they have been produced from computer models.
3. There are no detectable signals, attributable to climate change, in statistical records of climate, or losses associate with them.
These are points which emerge from mainstream climate science. They are not the irrational beliefs held by anti-scientific ‘deniers’.
So the scientific understanding of the planet’s past and future climate, once regarded as an essential component of understanding climate change are in fact matters of debate. It might be reasonable for the public to regard the question posed by the survey as trivial. And as Judith Curry points out about the current climate, there are many problems with the claim that ‘more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together’ — far from speaking for itself, the statement needs unpacking and its premises interrogating. Meanwhile, the Cook et al study deviated from the consensus position in effect by including in its estimation of the ‘consensus’, studies which proceeded from the putative consensus a priori, rather than investigating it. The problem, as I have explained in the article linked to above, is one of a ‘consensus without an object': most people agree with the consensus without identifying what the point or principle of agreement is, thus the ‘consensus’ is invented ad hoc, to suit whatever is needed from it, in any particular debate. New light has been shed on the study by Jose Duarte.
In the case of the ECIU’s attempt to construct foundations for itself out of the public’s ignorance of science, this new organisation does a good job of mangling its own survey, which aimed to measure the public’s memory of an earlier mangled survey — Cook et al. One can now imagine that someone in the future trying to understand the construction of successive organisations, each built on the failures of previous organisations. There will be some kind of archaeologist, peeling back through mangled surveys and studies, but never reaching the actual point of origin — a climate change big bang.
The problem that exists in the present for the likes of Cook et al’s 97% survey, is that it is not having the desired effect of rousing the masses from their climate science slumber. Yet it was transparently a PR exercise, rather than an attempt to inform the public. So too, for that matter, is the European Climate Foundation’s sister-project, The Climate Brief, a PR exercise. One might recall at this point, another PR exercise:
The Climate Science Rapid Response Team is a match-making service to connect climate scientists with lawmakers and the media. The group is committed to providing rapid, high-quality information to media and government officials.
Climate Science Rapid Response team member scientists are chosen to cover a wide array of topics related to Climate Science. They have been selected based upon their publications in professional peer-reviewed scientific journals.
There is a wide gap between what scientists know about climate change and what the public knows. The scientists of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team understand that better communication can narrow this gap. The media is in the best position to deliver accurate science information to the general public and to our elected leaders but only when they have access to that information. The Climate Science Rapid Response Team is committed to delivering that service. We are advocates for science education.
The climate change communication field now seems crowded with organisations claiming to be able to connect the public, via the media, with climate scientists.
The Climate Science Rapid Response Team seems to have been convened by Richard Hawkins of the Public Interest Research Centre(PIRC). And as we know, it’s all about funding…
PIRC was set up with grants from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable and Social Services Trust. One way or another, JRCT has supported every one of our major ventures over the years.
PIRC has also been core-funded for many years by the 1970 Trust, and grants for individual projects have in the past been given by other organisations including the Consumers Association, Social Science Research Council, Allen Lane Foundation, Artists Project Earth, Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, the Network for Social Change, Nuffield Foundation, Ford Foundation, the Sainsburys Family Trusts and Trocaire. In the past few years have also received support from civil society organisations, including WWF-UK, RSPB, and 10 other conservation organisations for Common Cause for Nature.
So now there are an entire ecosystem of philanthropic organisations, funding other organisations to ‘inform’ an apparently ignorant public for their own good. But each of them fail to alter the balance of public opinion. What has the ECIU got that The Climate Science Rapid Response Team not got? And what have they got that The Carbon Brief hasn’t got? And while we’re there, what have those organisations got that organisations like The Science Media Centre — which also aims to put scientists in front of cameras — have not got?
Paul Matthew in the comments below notes that we should remember the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN), which is also funded by the ECF, amongst many others. And Responding To Climate Change (RTCC), which appears to be a project of a private company, Entico, which has substantial contracts with the United Nations. Then there’s the conglomeration of NGOs, ClimateCoalition, and CaCC (Campaign against Climate Change), too — each of which claims to be doing the same thing.
We should examine these claims to be informing the public and raising the level of debate. That is not the effect of any of these organisations. All such sound-byte mines do is encourage lazy, sloppy, cut-and-paste journalism. Churnalism. All the journalist needs to do, now, to write a piece about climate change, is ring up any of these organisations, ask for the officially-sanctioned and hygienic comment, without ever having had to go to the trouble of understanding the debate they are reporting on.
The founder of ECIU is Richard Black, a former BBC journalist, who became known for his palpable activism-cum-journalism — not something which is deserving of criticism in and of itself, but which under the pretence of i) scientific journalism, and ii) the BBC’s commitment to the environmental issue, is rather jarring. Just as there are plenty of ‘units’ established to ‘communicate’ science, and a surfeit of media organisations intent on burdening the public with ‘information’ about climate change, journalists like Black were ten-a-penny. That is the consequence of mediocrity’s ascendency, of course. There was speculation that Black’s notoriously one-sided hectoring became too much, even for the BBC. The notion that the public might not be getting the right messages might not be all that distinct to bitterness at being removed from an organisation which very rarely gets rid of anyone it has put in the public eye.
But journalists removed from such high profile institutions as the BBC’s World Service leave with the connections to the world intact. Hence, Black has been able to assemble quite a team, as Andrew Montford notes, over at Bishop Hill.
Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green & Bow
Richard Benyon, MP for Newbury
The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, Bishop of London
Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief, British Medical Journal
Professor Michael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy, UCL
Professor Joanna Haigh, Co-Director, Grantham Institute, Imperial College London
Marylyn Haines Evans, Public Affairs Chair, National Federation of Women’s Institutes
Martin Horwood, MP for Cheltenham
Lord Howard of Lympne
Robin Lustig, Journalist and Broadcaster
Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, Former Commander, UK Maritime Forces
Lord Oxburgh of Liverpool
Lord Puttnam of Queensgate
The Earl of Selborne
Dr Emily Shuckburgh, Head of Open Oceans, British Antarctic Survey
Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness
Sir Crispin Tickell, Former Ambassador to the United Nations
Dr Camilla Toulmin, Director, IIED
Lord Turner of Ecchinswell
I shall spare you the biographies. Andrew suggests that this ugly assembly represents ‘the goblin version of the GWPF’, which is certainly the most of it.
This puts me in mind of a recent post by Judith Curry on ‘Institutionalizing Dissent‘. Says Curry,
One of the norms of science is organized skepticism. Those working at the climate science – policy interface (including the IPCC) have worked hard to kill organized skepticism by manufacturing a consensus on climate change. The idea of a climate red team has been put forward by John Christy. Kantrowitz and Biddle have thought through how institutionalizing dissent might actually work. Particularly for climate science, implementing something like this wouldn’t be simple, and actually achieving the desired objectives would be quite difficult.
I’ve previously drawn a distinction between science as a process and science as an institution (or institutions). When institutional science is expected to produce a consensus, it seems to me, it is at the expense of the process of science, to the extent that the scientific process needs an institutional basis (at least for the resources, etc, that scientific research needs). The manufacture of consensus, it seems to me, is equivalent to the manufacture of consent, or at least equivalent to its circumnavigation: who needs a demos, when you have a mandate from the objectivity of science? But the demos doesn’t go away…
This seems to me to be the point of ‘units’, such as the ECIU. Although such organisations have been unsuccessful at reproducing their ideas in the public’s mind, climate institutions have nonetheless multiplied to occupy a great deal of public space. One can think of orthodoxies being established materially, rather than ‘ideologically’, so to speak, to achieve the same effect. This is the construction of consensus, as opposed to its mere manufacture.
When David Cameron was launching his ‘Big Society’ initiatives, I happened to be working with anti-wind farm campaigners, producing films and other research. It struck me how far removed these people were from the lofty heights of green NGOs. With their feet firmly planted in Brussels and Westminster, NGOs are based in huge office complexes, whereas wind farm campaigns really were launched from kitchen tables, by amateurs, who had zero experience of any kind of campaigning, and few contacts to ask for favours from. Although they are characterised — caricatured — as rural, moneyed and privileged (which I found only occasionally to be the case), wind farm campaigners lacked any resources save for what they had in their pockets. Whereas Greenpeace et al have legal teams to take development or planning issues to the High Court, it was beyond the means of most campaigners to apply for judicial review, and would do at huge personal cost and financial risk. There was never any hope of establishing any kind of institutional response to wind energy.
Whether it is in debates about science or energy policy, those debates have been won by the creation of institutions, in something like ‘astroturfing’. But “informing” the public, or claiming to speak for ordinary people isn’t as much the point as simply dominating the public sphere.
At the other end of the world to the wind farm campaigners — and it might as well be the other end of the universe — is the green lobbying and PR effort. Zombie ‘philanthropic’ organisations. The rotting corpses of dead billionaires infect the world of the living. Take, for instance, the words of the European Climate Foundation — funders of The Carbon Brief and The ECIU:
Adopting stricter standards and effective labels for appliances and equipment
All energy-using products made in or imported into the EU must meet minimum energy performance standards and product labels that encourage the production and purchase of more efficient models. The Ecodesign and Energy Labelling directives both established complex processes for designing and adopting new standards and labels. To counter industry efforts to weaken requirements and delay implementation, we support a network of technical experts and NGOs that monitor and participate in the regulatory process and arm policymakers with data and analyses to ensure adoption of the most ambitious, technically and economically feasible requirements. Our work in this arena has already led to notable successes, most recently on boilers and vacuum cleaners.
The ECF are congratulating themselves for having lobbied — spending 25 million Euros a year — the European Union to ban electronic appliances with energy consumption over a certain rating. That meant lightbulbs and washing machines, and just this week, it means vaccum cleaners, and in the future it will mean more and more appliances. It sounds somewhat trivial, but although it means that although washing machines now use less water and less electricity, it means they are less good at cleaning. Ditto, vacuum cleaners with less power are less able to produce a vacuum, and thus less able to clean floors. The policymaker’s conceit is that by setting a standard in law, innovation follows. But there was never a need to force competing manufacturers to find an edge over each other. Now, rather than meeting consumer need, manufacturers have to meet the needs of Europe’s technocrats, and the will of dead billionaires.
And although the consequences are for the consumer, and it seems like so much whinging about not having quite as good an electrical appliance as could be had, the means by which this transformation was acheived was political. The ECF, again:
Our primary geographic focus is on Brussels (the hub of EU policymaking), Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Poland – five venues that play a critical role determining Europe’s political leadership on climate and energy policy.
The institutions where policies are made should not be the plaything of philanthropic organisations and their benefactors. What business do the ECF, and for that matter Richard Black and the ECIU have in Brussels, Germany, the UK and Poland? They are not elected. They do not stand for public positions.
So don’t be fooled, The Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit does not exist to inform the public, but to deny the public democratic expression. The Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit is not about ‘science’, it is about transforming politics, to take power away from people, to put it in the hands of dead ‘philanthropists’.