Contradictory Decarbonisation and the Subsidisation of Encroaching ‘Catastrophe’

The following are some extracts from an article on RTE’s website titled €245m of funding for new research centres planned. Note in bold the reference to Tullow Oil:

The Government has announced details of five new world class scientific research centres, into which €245m of State and industry funding is to be invested…Two of the centres will be led by Trinity College Dublin, with NUI Galway, UCD and University of Limerick all leading one each. But in total, 14 academic institutions across the country will be involved in running the five centres….€155m of the funding will be invested by the Exchequer, with the €90m balance coming in cash and in-kind contributions from 165 industry partners, such as Google, Microsoft, Tullow Oil and FBD.

The Science Foundation Ireland (in many ways just another industry lackey) is the main body responsible for initiating this programme.

Leave aside for the moment the importance for democratic society of maintaining the autonomy of its academics; should the government and university institutions be fostering these kind of supporting relationships with the fossil-fuel industry? Bear in mind that another science body, the IPCC sets a trillion tonne cap on the total amount of carbon (including past emissions) we can let into the atmosphere if we are to maintain global warming at below 2 degrees. Now I know the IPCC is a flawed body whose predictions are far from perfect (if anything they are likely to be conservative) but surely its logic resonates with some of the scientists and academics that are to be found on the boards and committees overseeing the formation of these research centres.

Of course none of this should be too surprising when education in Ireland is but the handmaiden of the economy[1] and the Irish Government seeks first and foremost to promote economic growth. In actuality, despite many governments recognising the need to reduce carbon emissions, there is  a continuous schism in government policy.  For example EU ETS carbon permits were allowed to sink below junk-bond status as EU politicians refused to withdraw permits from an over-supplied market. Cap-and-trade countries have been exporting their emissions through importing goods from other countries with higher emissions per unit produced. Additionally, incentivising dispositions of self-interest, rather than seeking to change them (perhaps through emphasising the moral dimensions, promoting inclusive forms of engagement or supporting collective/community initiatives), may possibly be encouraging a “rebound effect”. This effect occurs where savings from incentivised carbon reductions goes towards other carbon intensive activities or where improved efficiency lowers costs and stimulates demand. Similar contradictions are evident in the patterns of global investment. Unconventional fossil fuel production, such as shale gas or tar sands oil, is expanding. Furthermore, many governments are still granting enormous subsidies to fossil fuel industries. A report by the IMF concerning 176 countries points to direct global subsidies in 2011 of $480 billion along with value-added tax exemptions of around $200 billion. Such contradictions stem from the discord between economic growth and pushing for large decreases in emissions that are the product of that growth.

All of which it seems are likely to leave an increasingly bystander-public with a debilitating image of a contradictory and deeply hypocritical decarbonisation.

 

1. As evident in the 2010 media furore that erupted when representatives of Google, Intel and Hewlett-Packard criticised the quality of Irish graduates. Commenting on the issue, the then minister for education Batt O’Keefe, spoke of the need to respond to boardroom demands, stating that “our approach to developing education policy must be strategic and more aligned with industry needs” (Flynn, 2010a, b). Since then business leaders have been given a “key role” in an agency setup to regulate third level academic standards (ibid).
 

Flynn S (2010a) Key role for business in academic standards body. The Irish Times March 5, 2010.
Flynn S (2010b) How Ireland dumbed down. The Irish Times.

 
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