Special interest groups: the enemy within?

One of the big issues discussed in relation to climate change is the relative costs of ‘acting’ versus ‘not acting’.  Basically the argument comes down to: If the cost of ‘acting’ exceeds costs associated with the impacts of ‘not acting’, then ‘not acting’ is the preferred course.

As outlined endlessly by highly credible experts such as former World Bank chief economist, Lord Nicholas Stern, the massive costs of inaction on our economic and social systems dwarf the much smaller costs of acting.  According to Stern in his report to the British government, the cumulative cost of climate inaction in 2050 will be a startling 5 percent to 20 percent of global GDP, or 5 to 20 times as much as it would cost to take action.


Estimated global macro-economic costs in 2030 for least-cost trajectories towards different long-term stabilization levels (IPCC 4th Assessment)

The conservative fourth assessment report of the IPCC came to a similar conclusion (bringing carbon dioxide equivalents to safe levels would cost <0.1% of GDP per annum growth over 50 years, IPCC 2007 – the figure below table and figure from Bert Metz, Co-chair of IPCC WG III).  The conclusion: the impact of responding to climate change, if taken across the board, will affect very few of us significantly.

And here is the Dorothy Dixer:  why is it that certain industry sectors and their media associates continue to promulgate inaccurate and misleading viewpoints on the important issue of whether or not we should act decisively on climate change?  The answer is, ‘special interest‘.

Eric Pooley, a Kalb fellow, has written a highly credible and clear account of the issues at stake in a discussion paper published through the Joan Shorenstein Centre on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.  In particular, he focuses on the role of some elements of the media in confusing and often deliberately misleading the debate.  I recommend reading his paper because it highlights the often devious nature of special interest (and its media associates) and outlines the challenges that we face in getting policymakers to adopt a rational and sensible policies with respect to the looming climate change catastrophe.


Estimated mitigation strategies illustrating the cost of numbers (IPCC 4th Assessment)

As Pooley outlines, the forces of special interest have created a hysterical atmosphere that has led with the argument that any action to reduce the current rates of climate issue would cause economic mayhem and is therefore irresponsible.  I was stunned by the numbers involved.  According to Pooley, in just one example, US$427 million was spent by the oil and coal industries on lobbying, advertising and eventually defeating the important and sensible Lieberman-Warner bill that attempted to pass through the US House of Representatives.

At the end of the day, Pooley points to where the showdown really lies.  The argument is not about whether or not climate change exists or not (it exists – that debate is over), it is challenging the deliberate and unethical inaccuracies promulgated by the fossil fuel lobby.  This lobby is bent on thwarting attempts to respond to climate change so as to protect its bottom line via any means possible. As a citizen of this wonderful planet, I personally wonder how these individuals can sleep peacefully at night knowing that they are imperilling the earth and its citizens through their irresponsible and selfish actions.

5 thoughts on “Special interest groups: the enemy within?

  1. There’s no doubt in my mind that the same special interests continue to have excessive influence in Australian politics. After hearing coal industry spokespeople on ABC’s 4 corners insisting their industry should get 100% of their ETS permits for free the only surprise is they only got 60% for free. Clearly the argument that short term costs negatively effect short term economics from a sector that contributes lots of royalty revenues is the sort of thing short term thinkers like governments respond to. Meanwhile where are the large scale renewable energy projects we so desperately need? I think we’ll see the coal sector get gov’t propping up way ahead of major clean energy projects getting a leg up.

  2. Thanks Ken. Good points. Some of the dialogue between some industry players and our government begs belief as do their outlandish expectations. Currently, carbon dioxide emissions are only counted where they are burnt … in this respect, by providing a huge percentage of coal used worldwide, Australia is certainly punching above its weight in terms of contributing to the climate crisis. Something to be proud of?

  3. Actually, Guy Pearse (of “High and Dry” fame) has written an excellent essay (Quarry Vision: Quarterly Essays, issue 33, 2009) which outlines the special relationship that the coal industry has had and continues to have with the Australian government … it is worth a read.

  4. I suppose what struck me about Australian Coal’s spokespersons on 4 Corners was that there was no acknowlegement, concession or admission that their industry must be curtailed in any way – quite the contrary, their continued, unhindered operation is treated as essential and in all respects good for Australia. There seemed to be a deliberate effort to sidestep climate issues entirely and to speak and act as if it weren’t worthy of a mention – short term economics and coal industry jobs trumping all. Unfortunately they appear to be judging the arguments Australia’s governments respond to quite well. Now, if they had demonstrated a genuine committment to Carbon Capture and Storage with real plans for it’s widespread introduction I might concede their industry should be allowed a long term future – if I thought CCS was anything more than greenwash that is – but no-one in mainstream politics is willing yet to speak aloud the need for Coal’s demise and, recalling the response from mainstream media to Sen. Brown saying it, we’ve got a long way to go before it becomes what it should be – the acknowledged and planned for biggest essential change necessary to deal with AGW.
    Ove, the little accounting trick that leaves export coal out of Australia’s GHG contributions has been something I’ve commented on before, here and elsewhere. Even if lots of Aussies hold to the fantasy that our contributions are small (and what we do or don’t do has little impact), I don’t expect the rest of the world has failed to notice that we are the world’s no.1 coal exporter.

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