Life after Copenhagen II: the Reality Slowly Dawns (Everywhere except the Environment Movement)

In our previous essay, Life after Copenhagen, we laid out the reasons we believed that Copenhagen would be a failure. On this occasion, it gives us at HLC no great pleasure to say “we told you so”. It is striking how shocked many people were by the spectacular nature of that failure.  Certainly, we would agree that the usual attempts to describe any diplomatic fiasco as a major success have proved even more fruitless than usual.

The many reasons for the failure have been fully discussed in the global media; the usual blame game has been played out.  The early stages of the blame battle were dominated by the first world’s attempts to blame China for the failure to achieve any meaningful progress.  As time has passed, most commentators have returned to the clear and obvious fundamental difficulty that no meaningful climate change legislation is likely to be passed in the United States.

Far more interesting to us, both because it impacts directly on the work we at HLC do and because it is virtually uncommented on, is the declining power and credibility of the environment movement globally.

It is no surprise that during a period of economic recession support for the environment movement falls.  That is what has happened during previous economic recessions at a national level and it is therefore unsurprising that it should happen globally.  More interesting, is the declining credibility of the environment movement with politicians, regulators and media commentators.  As far as we can tell, both from talking with a wide range of environmentalists and from following the environmental press, no significant post-mortem examination of the underlying reasons for the failure of the movement have been conducted.

There is a very depressing reason for this; the environment movement doesn’t believe that it is failing, nor does it see that its credibility is draining away.

In our work with companies and corporations around the world, one of the things that we at HLC are always looking out for is what the military call “incestuous amplification”.  This is the tendency for a group of people who work together to form a common understanding of the world. This they then defend against all comers.  All comers, in this context means, amongst other things, the arrival of any new evidence that their position is untenable.

As one might imagine, the environment movement has a vast body of folklore on how this phenomena works in the companies with which they have done battle.  Amusingly, if it weren’t so catastrophic, the phenomenon has nowhere a stronger grip than on the environment movement itself.

The environment movement “narrative” is that most sensible people recognise that man-made climate change is happening and that something needs to be done about it urgently.  Partly, this is simply a consequence of the fact that environmental movement activists tend to talk to other people similar to themselves and take this to be a consequence of everyone agreeing with them.

The truth is that public opinion is scattered across a spectrum from that described by environmental movement activists through to the total denial of the British Daily Telegraph or a variety of talk-show radio hosts in the United States.

Far more important, is that public opinion is slowly but surely evolving away from the position espoused by the environment movement.  How does the environment movement react to this?  Simple, in the same way as any psychologically besieged group, they deny the evidence.  The environment movement never ceases to produce opinion polling “evidence” which is so transparently rigged that most politicians will not give it a second glance.

There has been an interesting public exchange on this matter between some of the more psychologically besieged environmentalists and the highly respected organisation,  Pew.

You can find a letter summarising the Pew position here.

As this declining public support for action on climate change feeds through into the political process, political action on the issue rapidly diminishes in scope.  In our essay called “Mind the Gap Goes Nuclear”, you will find an explanation for this in terms of how politicians deal with issues that are acquiring an “electoral downside”.

You can find a good explanation of just how big an impact this is having on the international climate change political process here.

What happens next?

Well, at the moment, it looks very unlikely that the environment movement will actually take on board the reality of the shift in public opinion, never mind consider the possibility that the environment movement’s self deception is playing a significant role in how badly wrong things are going.  The “narrative” rolls on; these changes in public opinion are almost invariably attributed to the apparently limitless capacity for propaganda of the wicked multinationals.  No sensible person would deny that some multinational corporations have made concerted attempts to influence public opinion.  Equally, it would be silly to deny that the fossil fuel industry is spending a fortune on resisting some of the specifics in proposed climate change legislation everywhere in the world.  Surely that is what one should expect?  Even if these corporations agreed with the overarching objective of addressing man-made climate change as rapidly as possible (some of them do, some of them don’t) it would be reasonable to expect them to defend their commercial interests during the detailed stages of such discussions.  Those lobbying efforts may be very irritating to environmental activists but they are not the cause of the shift in public opinion. Rather, the shift in public opinion is the cause of the success of that lobbying.

As the gap between public opinion and what the scientific consensus dictates grows ever wider, the political class is being forced into the same position as the environment movement.  Rather than face the task of changing public opinion, the politician attempts to bridge the gap by blaming the commercial companies “the multinationals” for the consequences of their own actions.  The most obvious example of this at the time of writing is the hysterical hate campaign against BP in the United States.

The reason that such catastrophic incidents are occurring is self-evidently because the oil drilling is being conducted in ever more difficult, dangerous and sensitive areas. A logical consequence of the continuing use of such fuel, as has been endlessly pointed out by, amongst others, the environment movement. The American president’s speech on the subject is an illumination of the problem. Once again he says climate change must be addressed and launches another review process. However, no American politician can really get to grips with the issue of gasoline use in the United States because they would simply not be re-elected.

The public will not accept meaningful action to reduce the use of fossil fuels.  The scientific evidence that such a reduction is an urgent necessity is overwhelming.  It is not possible for democratic politicians to discuss the reality of the position; therefore, high-profile displacement activity is essential.  The more the consequences of unrestrained fossil fuel use are illuminated, the more commercial scapegoats will be required.

For managers in the commercial world, watch what is happening to BP in the United States and see your future.

June 2010