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Reconstructing The IPCC: Is Energy Transition Dead?

Propagandist Reconstruction, or PR of news, science data, other persons’ views and different opinions is a long-term stalwart in modern society. From organizing public support for wars, even when the public itself may be attacked or be subject to economic loss, to ensuring that political leaders are re-elected, or that women start smoking and the public keeps buying the consumer products which generate the highest profits, the role of “communication” is primordial. What is called Public Relations is also and most basically propaganda.

At critical moments, when a big lie starts being exposed in public, or a previous completely accepted and slickly sold “truth” starts to slip in the opinion polls and lose traction in the minds of average consumers, the role of PR is critical. The propaganda machine goes into overdrive, but due to the presence of “new truths” now also competing for dominance, the so-called public debate is necessarily chaotic and clumsy, unsure and uncertain.

The year-long and massive PR campaign on Climate Change (CC) and Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), ending in farce and chaos at the December 2009 Copenhagen ‘Climate Summit’, was in political leadership terms a minority endeavour. Only four world leaders, albeit from four major countries of the Old World OECD, continued an unstinting campaign on CC and AGW, using every emotive trick in the book in their “landmark” speeches on these subjects, right up to the end. Until December 2009, the four leaders Obama, Merkel, Sarkozy and the soon-voted-out Brown gave regular interviews where PR of the type “catastrophe”, “saving the planet”, “our last chance” was regularly utilised. The alternatives offered by these four-only leaders was typically confused – supposedly an “ecological” society using “green energy” would arise, but this would magically not affect sales of BMW cars, Boeing airplanes or French nuclear reactors.

Since their failure at Copenhagen to vendre la meche and obtain worldwide support for a supposed global transition to an ecological society depending on green energy, the four leaders have predictably “walked away” from the issue: which was especially easy for Gordon Brown.

Reconstructing the Recent Past

With CC and AGW we are still in the shock phase following the effective collapse of what was planned and hoped to become a new and dominant social theme. Such new dominant social themes are not painstakingly built, using large amounts of funds and the investment of ‘face’ or personal prestige by political deciders and corporate elites for the fun of it. The new social theme is launched to either reinforce existing, or build entirely new economic and financial, business and commercial themes. The personal investment by the four leaders was made clear by the speeches and pronouncements of this four-person OECD leadership team trying to launch public fear of CC and AGW, and public admiration of so-called ecological lifestyles and alternate or renewable energy, throughout the year of 2009.

Failure of the launch process was made concrete by the North-South divide, between Old World and New World, on all parts and components of the new theme. This culminated in open stand-offs between the four OECD leaders and powerful Emerging Economy leaders, at the ill-fated Copenhagen meeting. Quite shortly after this, culprits and scapegoats had to be found, and this was materialized by the UN IPCC group of experts on CC and AGW, who were blamed for various faults. These extended from plain lying, to exaggeration, distortion and more technical failures such as “imperfectly quantifying uncertainties”, which in logical terms sets enormous challenges!

Today, a “decent interval” after the Copenhagen farce and the resignation of its Director, Yvo de Boer, the UN IPCC is now playing its scapegoat role. It is now in “reconstruction”, and in major part this concerns its communication. The remaining figurehead, Rajendra Pachauri, may however not be forced to immediately resign given the further loss of prestige for the IPCC that this would inevitably cause, a point well appreciated by Pachauri himself.

In a Times Of India interview, 3 September 2010, Pachauri had this to say about what the IPCC is supposed to communicate. Speaking of how he would go about “repairing” the panel’s governance and methods and keep his job, he said:

“At the (IPCC) meeting, we dwelt at length on Article 2 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which says the central objective of the convention is to prevent the anthropogenic interference with the climate system which is in terms of ecosystem, ensuring food security and ensuring that development can take place. These are the three central pillars”.

The newspeak or PR speak of this stands out in the confused mix-and-mingle of dominant social themes. Keywords such as “ecological” and “anthropogenic interference” are aligned with “pillars”, “food security” and “economic development,” while the now-controversial roles of green energy and energy transition are totally downplayed.

Is Energy Transition Dead?

Even in early 2009, when the four-only world leaders who most openly nailed their colours to the mast or “pillar” of CC and AGW took their courageous political decision to launch this new theme, world oil prices were still declining from their most recent all-time high of about US$ 145 a barrel, attained in July 2008. Natural gas prices would soon fall even more massively than oil or traded coal prices, due to the “supply side miracle” of shale and fracture gas reserves, at least in the USA.

The global economy had entered recession, slashing energy demand along with employment, raising government debt and budget deficits to new and extreme highs in the Old World OECD countries, but not in the “decoupled economy” Emerging economies. The political pressure, as well as economic rationale for “jumpstarting” and “ramping up” green energy had greatly declined through the year of 2009, thanks to recession and the gas supply breakthrough, making the December climate conference a conference too late for the announced goals of creating new and massive funding and financing mechanisms for green energy in the low income countries, mainly in Africa, and preventing them from “getting the oil habit”. In the same way, the need to “ramp up” carbon finance and CO2 credits trading, to generate funds for investing in the Old World’s own transition to green energy had also greatly declined in a single year. This is reflected, notably, in the spectacular demise and possible near-term future disappearance of US voluntary emission credits trading.

To be sure, this leaves the IPCC’s supposed “pillar” of ensuring food security, even if economic development using more and more oil and other fossil fuels, as in China and India, will forge ahead. World agriculture’s link with and dependence on climate and weather is of course well known, but its extreme, near-total dependence on oil and other fossil fuels is less well known and often carefully ignored. Notably in the developed Old World North, in the OECD countries, farming and food production can attain extreme highs of oil intensity, as in Japan, exceeding 10 barrels of oil per hectare, per year, of direct farm input oil energy. Food security, very simply, is oil security.

The IPCC’s role in preaching energy transition away from oil was never direct: the logical framework created to buttress this PR role of the IPCC was rather complex. It firstly posited large or even near-apocalyptic CC and AGW, established this was heavily due to CO2 emissions, and identified mainly oil as being responsible for these CO2 emissions, despite the clear and massive role of coal-fired power stations as CO2 emitters, as underlined by James Hansen and the wind-power, nuclear power, and other “low carbon” energy lobbies. The role of natural gas or methane, of which extremely large and fast increasing amounts are emitted each year, was never given high prominence by the IPCC, and will probably be given less in the future due to natural gas returning, provisionally of course, to the fold of cheap or “reasonable priced” energy.

The Reconstructed IPCC

It is certain the IPCC will be reconstructed, if only because of the heavy loss of face suffered by the three remaining political leaders of the 2009 four-person leadership team advocating CC and AGW, and accelerated energy transition. From this year, the IPCC will be expected to be more scientific and less controversial, that is easily faulted and exposed. This is despite Pachauri’s “fighting talk”, in his September 3 interview and elsewhere, seeking a second term as chief of the IPCC, where he has said: “(I 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 little more uncomfortable for the people than I was in the first”.

While oil prices stay relatively low – and as set by present ‘realistic anticipations’ of political and business leaders this would be anywhere below US$ 90 a barrel – and the OECD group remains mired by extreme public debt and budget deficits, the need for PR to achieve a quick transition away from oil has melted much faster than the Himalayan glaciers. For political leaders, a long-term issue is anything which extends through all or most of their mandate, about 4 years. The CC and AGW issues were always massively out of range and out of time, in this real world temporal framework for deciders.

The IPCC may therefore be allowed to die a timely death, with the help of reduced funding and without the added status of becoming a full-blown UN agency. 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 to be recycled in the press and media, on the inside pages, and in TV documentaries at off-peak hours, but as a new and powerful social theme announcing large scale economic, financial, business or commercial action the time has passed and the theme has failed.