May 19, 2014
By Jason Anderson, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy, WWF European Policy Office
My colleague Nick Molho, Head of Climate & Energy Policy at WWF UK, recently published an opinion piece about shale gas on the Economist website which approaches the issue with unimpeachable logic for both sides of the debate.
It is a fitting rebuttal to a skewed report by the House of Lords, which ignored the evidence on climate change that Nick delivered and wrote him off as an ‘activist’. This made me stop and think for a moment. Aren’t activists the guys refusing to come down from trees and such? Nick is a lawyer with years of experience in the energy field and speaks in paragraphs with footnotes dangling off every sentence. A more reasonable and fact-based person would be harder to find.
Upon reflection though, maybe this is what the world has come to: people of goodwill and good education, who forgo high-paying careers, and with no vested interest work for the public good, making every effort to back their statements with analysis and reasoned argument, are “activists,” like a kind of lunatic fringe.
In the last few days, after banging my head up against the solid rock face of political and industrial intransigence on climate action, I relaxed after hours by learning more about how systemic these problems are in other fields. I saw the film “Inside job”, about the financial crisis, which outlines both the spectacular greed and cynicism of investment bankers, and the astonishing control they have over government. Thinking that I’d scraped the bottom of the barrel, I turned to the film “Food, Inc.”, about industrial scale agriculture and its consequences. After hearing the story of the mother whose 2 1/2-year-old son died 12 days after eating a hamburger infected with E. coli, and how US politicians refused for years to put in place even the most basic measures to prevent similar tragedies, I began to think that these phenomena of climate change, financial crisis and food crisis can’t possibly be separate and coincidental. And of course there are examples from many other fields; the list is depressingly long.
So who is dictating the terms of the debate? Aren’t the ones who either cause or condone these conditions the lunatic fringe?
Last week my office boycotted an event hosting Exxon, who were promoting their 2040 forecast, an exercise that prominent rationalist Bill McKibben called “consummate arrogance”. We decided not to sit alongside Exxon and allow them to continue to pull the wool over the eyes of policymakers and the public (read our related blog post). Theirs is not a reasoned discussion on how to solve climate change and promote energy security and prosperity, but rather a sophisticated approach to lobbying. The intention is simply to wend their way into the public discourse as a source of ‘impartial’ information, making them appear to be a trusted partner in a conversation about the public good. That’s a sham we don’t want to be a part of, since they clearly are basing their strategies on a complete failure to tackle climate change, as the new report from the Carbon Tracker Initiative shows.
Of course, fossil fuel companies have done very well with their approach to lobbying and perhaps not uncoincidentally global emissions march upwards, which is frustrating, particularly given it continues to make a mess of my annual Key Performance Indicators. But I guess it’s silly to air that kind of personal frustration. After all, the world continues to struggle with frighteningly basic challenges like avoiding mortality from diarrhea or treating people who have a different skin colour with simple respect.
I don’t know if there’s a simple answer – perhaps all you do need is love, or perhaps we can all just get along, or maybe it is simply the case that sometimes lacking easy answers the only course of action is to get up every morning, put your trousers on one leg at a time, do what your conscience tells you is right and hope for the best.
And if my resolve ever flags, I can look back on the remarkable life and career of my former colleague Marc Pallemaerts, who tragically passed away two weeks ago. The tributes have come in from far and wide, sketching the portrait of a man with great drive and intelligence, who combined a keen intellect with dogged determination never to let the convenient or expedient get in the way of the correct. As one of the architects of the Aarhus convention he fought for the tools that allow the public access to information and to justice on environmental matters. As the leader of the EU delegation to the Bonn and Marrakech conferences of the UNFCCC, he helped prevent international climate policy from dying at the hands of the Bush administration. He’s also the man who would put aside whatever he was doing (in whichever language he happened to be publishing in) to answer any question kindly and thoroughly, an oracle of fact and insight. As well as an activist. Which makes me proud, and determined.