Metrics as a Proxy for Social Change: The Climate Cartel, Impact Funding, and the Abandonment of Struggle

Below is an Op Ed I wrote for Wrong Kind of Green on the eve of last year’s Paris meeting. The ideas in this piece are central to my critical analysis and while I normally prioritise pointing out the silence I realise these ideas need to be here.

Reblogged from Wrong Kind of Green

Metrics as a proxy for social change. That’s what the climate cartel trades in. What do metrics mean to the cartel? Funding. Impact philanthropy demands short time frames for outcomes and metrics to show what has happened in the messaging sphere. It’s an economy of attention aimed at behaviour change, false consciousness, and the enfeeblement of intellect. Money speaks most loudly in the messaging sphere. The struggle for peace, for an end to imperialism and the patriarchy, for true protection of the earth? These struggles, none of which can be abandoned, don’t optimise metrics or please the funder’s networks.

Yes. The climate cartel trades in metrics and messaging, and in the business of attention metrics amplification is the driver of innovation. But it is innovation within the constraints, party lines, omissions, and debilitating conflated logics passed down from the funders and their networks. The ambitious and self censoring go-getter devotes their intuition, their deeper senses to navigating their way to success, a success defined by the satisfaction of amplification lust. They give themselves to an horrendous discipline honed at the behest of the funders, their networks, and their many projects.

The Non Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) incubates a constantly expanding web of think tanks, institutes, NGOs, public thinkers, B corporations and media organs that serve to buttress the climate cartel’s messaging. They do much of this with silence, lines of inquiry best left alone, language that need not be unpacked lest some pointed questions get asked in the wrong places. They are blessed with amplification, access to the messaging sphere, and the certainty of support from allies within the NPIC including the liberal media.

Clean energy? This term is a euphemism happily embraced by the climate cartel and the liberal media. It’s used to mask the fact that ‘clean energy’ is an all-of-the-above strategy as long as some abatement/offsetting is involved.

100% renewable energy.? While this is a popular catch cry promoted by the climate cartel and their associated social movements, it comes with limited articulation of the obstacles that need to be surpassed to achieve it. The climate cartel maintain a firm silence on the greatest threat to achieving 100% renewable energy, the embedding of carbon capture and storage as a mitigation strategy within the modelling and assumptions on which our carbon budgets are based. This is a particularly diabolical manipulation that has everyone including governments and fossil fuel corporations working towards a massive explosion in new industrial and energy generating fossil fuel plants supplying CO2 for industry and undersea storage.

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, Stranded Assets Project, Carbon Tracker Initiative, and the Grantham Institute have all done their part to create a picture of a coal industry in structural decline, at risk of collapsing , and incapable of existing within our carbon budgets. Through their messaging they intimate that political will should see governments rejecting coal fired energy generation, but the reality is that they’ve done more than anyone to help develop a future for fossil fuels. The Grantham Institute is particularly important as it has developed and quietly disseminated plans for carbon capture and storage in the UK and Europe with their ‘Bridging the Gap’ report. While, the climate cartel lauded Carbon Tracker and the Grantham Institute for their ‘Unburnable Carbon’ report which established the idea of carbon budgets embraced by UN climate negotiators and fossil fuel industry leaders alike, they’ve stayed silent about the Grantham Institute’s material support for the ambitions of Shell and their plans for new gas plants and North Sea CO2 storage.

Unabated coal? There is a clear party line which is understood by the mainstream and liberal media along with the think tanks and NGO mouthpieces. It is aimed at masking the energy directions embedded in the modelling assumptions behind our carbon budgets – never unpack the political will for carbon capture and storage. UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd’s recent speech on a “new direction” for UK energy policy specified a commitment to phasing out “unabated coal”, yet the media interpreted this as a commitment to a complete coal phase out. My questions to key pundits and mouth pieces about why the word “unabated” was excluded from headlines and escaped examination were left unanswered. Some perfectly valid questions. Why did Amber Rudd specify unabated coal? Why did Chancellor George Osborne, just a week later, drop funding for carbon capture and storage in favour of nuclear power? The answer to both questions is that pushing hard with objectionable nuclear power helps manufacture consent for the negative emissions technologies that will keep fossil fuel interests happy. The classic neo-liberal push. Calling for ‘clean coal’ suddenly looks a lot more reasonable.

The structure and organisation of the climate cartel can be compared to a toadstool. is the cap of the fruiting body, very visible, poisonous, and laden with spores, This Changes Everything (TCE); book, social movement, and documentary form the stalk expanding and reinforcing key messages, and TckTckTck/Global Call for Climate Action (GCCA) – a coalition of 20 key international organisations including Avaaz, WWF, and Greenpeace form the mycelium stretching vast distances and connecting to other fruiting bodies and other vast networks. The soil it has grown from is the NPIC with it’s phalanx of institutes and think tanks feigning care for the earth while plotting the future for the oligarchs..

The title of this piece derives from a talk ‘Does art change the world? Lessons from the emerging field of ‘impact producing” given by Katie McKenna the engagement lead for TCE. Her candid acknowledgements that the “foundations” did their“due diligence” in asking for proof of “social change” when considering funding, are quite telling. I am left with three key questions. How has the imperative to achieve significant and particular metrics shaped the project? Who stands to benefit from reducing centuries of struggle down to the imperative to reduce CO2 emissions?


Amber Rudd’s speech on a new direction for UK energy policy

TckTckTck: The Bitch is Back

Financing “The Message” Behind Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ Project

Bridging the gap: improving the economic and policy framework for carbon capture and storage in the European Union

Unburnable Carbon

We Suspect Silence. Nobody gets paid to look at this stuff: Selling Us the Poison and the Remedy

UK to close all coal power plants in switch to gas and nuclear


My message to on divestment and direct action.

Below is the message I provided today with my 1 star Facebook review of Market Forces, the Australian divestment campaign group who work closely with, Lock the Gate Alliance, and Greenpeace.

“Is this what has become of activism? Eliciting cheers for too-big-to-fail banks with continuing and massive fossil fuel investment? I once worked beside you guys, we’ve both been labelled extremist. Divestment is a disease vector carrying with it the promise of a shinier business-as-usual. You are engaged in a program incubated and conceived by petro dollar rich elites. They want us to stay consumers, but for us to feel as if the world is changing for the better. Divestment is crowding out the air space for coverage of direct action. This is happening everyday on BigGreen social media. The same radical direct non violent action that all BigGreen leaders call for is being overshadowed by a content and messaging imperative.”

A friend called my reviews of green groups using the star rating functionality “social media arbitrage” after I discovered that Greenpeace Australia Pacific had removed their star rating functionality following my comments. Star ratings can’t be removed if they don’t breech standards, if you really don’t want the public to see a comment you have to remove the functionality altogether which is what Greenpeace Australia Pacific did.

Big greens like Greenpeace and don’t like to engage in discourse. They are happy to have Kumi Naidoo and Bill McKibben declare that it’s time for civil disobedience and then preside over a bunch of well promoted proof-of-concept actions, but when it comes to frontline action they are fundamentally exploitative. If you don’t believe me you just have to compare the social media feeds between Frontline Action on Coal and their alliance partners. BigGreen have caved in to main stream media’s dislike of content from the frontline where people are materially slowing the progress of mining.

One of the very many Market Forces Facebook memes. Some of these have congratulated HSBC, CitiBank, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Barclays, Morgan Stanley, Credit Agricole, and so on.

Australia’s climate movement has been bought for a pittance.

If you follow the money in the Australian environmental scene you will find that at the end of many a cul-de-sac and dark alley there is a cluster of unaccountable American foundations. The two most prominent of these are the Rockefeller Funds and the Pew Charitable Trusts, both founded on big oil money back in the early 20th century. They represent ultra wealth transferred from corporations designed to turn a profit to foundations designed to last forever. These American foundations and their Australian counterparts like the Poola Foundation are designed, we are told, to support innovation in the non-profit sector.

My intuition tells me that many foundations exist to capture the resistance, to stymy militantism, and to feed into the messaging sphere ideas that are anti-revolutionary. After 20 years of wondering why the environmental movement was so profoundly ineffective, and being a person who always tried hard to do the right thing, I joined the action only to have my spidey senses constantly tingling. The last few years have been both strange and exhilarating. I have a sense that in my small, militant, volunteer group I am working with good and fearless people, but I also have a sense that in the wider movement I am surrounded by a herd of captives to climate alarmism. I have come to believe quite firmly that foundation money catalyses ineffectiveness, that self censorship has constrained innovation and militancy at the behest of conditional funding.

Self censorship is a powerful force, the result of the misapplication of intuition and the imperative to self aggrandise. Self censorship means choosing not to pursue the truth, a form of pragmatism that has helped activists maintain employment by satisfying an organisational remit communicated through funding arrangements and alliances with similarly funded groups. It leads to many important things being unsaid, many independent lines of inquiry being left unpursued. It is what is unsaid by key public figures like Greenpeace CEO David Ritter that signify a lack of real commitment to uncovering the truth. Silence around key issues makes me suspicious. In exploring this apparent inability to speak forthrightly about political will and the pervasiveness of political corruption and crony capitalism I have observed the same kind of structured obfuscation that delivers plausible deniability to the very powerful. David Ritter’s op-ed pieces of late display a kind of flaccid populism while avoiding the heart of the failure to achieve what it seems the general public want, real action. Last month in his response to the #australiansforcoal campaign he argued that the coal industry was in “values freefall”. This assertion implies that the coal industry recently held to values lofty enough to fall from and achieve terminal velocity. Given that the coal industry is arguably one of the top three dirtiest industries in the history of industry – right behind oil and war – it seems crazy to assert they ever held values – other than the profit imperative – that weren’t imposed on them through regulation. Clearly missing from his message was the pervasive political corruption, collusion, and obfuscation displayed by both the ALP and LNP. He has since included this messaging in his twitter feed but it seems the flaccidness remains.

David Ritter is the target of my derision because of the position Greenpeace holds in the fight against big coal in Australia. Greenpeace, while ostensibly being funded by a passive supporter base, are the hub in a wheel spoked with foundation funding. Greenpeace claims independence but maintains profound and enduring relationships with the Rockefeller funds. While working for Greenpeace, John Hepburn the current executive director of The Sunrise Project helped craft the master plan for the fight against coal mining in Australia. The ‘Stopping the Coal Export Boom’ funding proposal was produced with the generous support of the Rockefeller Family Fund along with the home-grown Graeme Wood Foundation. This master plan has seen Bill McKibben’s which is funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund insinuate itself quite rapidly in Australia. Bill McKibben is known for deflecting questions about his funding and for his reluctance to speak up on absence of political will. has as its purpose the channelling of activism toward reinforcement of carbon economics through generalised resistance against fossil fuels. In the minds of members climate trumps all other concerns because “if we destroy the world there will be nothing to save”. This argument is both absurd and powerful, a very unfortunate combination.

Climate messaging has taken over the environmental movement in Australia and it is foundation funded entities with the assistance of Greenpeace and its ‘proof of concept’ corporate militantism that have made this possible. Greenpeace recently commissioned a report on the investment prospects in the Galilee Basin coal mines. They engaged the partly Rockefeller funded Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis who produced a report that is designed to impact on market sentiment. The reports authors Tim Buckley and Tom Sanzillo argue that Galilee Basin coal mines are unviable, but what they and those promoting the report don’t speak about is the political will of governments, business, and their cronies. It seems that the Queensland government’s repeated commitment to getting these mines up is less relevant than the assertion carried by a report delivered from the same font of funding that feeds the collective effort.

Activists used to fight fossil fools to protect habitat, fauna, water, and rural livelihoods. Now climate activists who once-upon-a-time would support communities to power down with low energy light bulbs etc now engage in fighting fossil fools to get brand exposure and to reinforce the perceived need to fall in line with the latest IPCC report. Climate activism, now that we all know how to use less energy, is about achieving a modified business as usual.

So how much is a pittance? At a guess 6 to 10 million AUD, a mere drop in the ocean. The coal lobby and their media cronies describe the anti-coal campaign as “well funded and resourced”, this is clearly not true. Funnily enough the small, true grassroots groups struggle to get even meagre funding. John Hepburn’s The Sunrise Project caps grants for grass-roots groups at $5000 AUD with the condition that funds are used to “protect our land, water, community health and the global climate from the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry”.

Sadly the modern climate activist is working to reinforce ideas and messaging that may or may not lead to some real action. We need real action!

Cronies Corrupt

Here are what I think are the most honest, powerful, soulful, and inspiring thoughts, ideas, and actions around these issues:

Tim DeChristopher – “The Climate Movement Right Now Does Not Value Truth”

MacDonald Stainsby – What We Talk About When We Talk About Foundation Funding

Charles Eisenstein challenges our obsession with climate change at the expense of all other values.

Train blockade: Maules Creek protesters take campaign to the coal port

Derrick Jensen – Beyond Hope