Quatrevalet: Sham participatory democracy in the energy domain

The following essay, dated June 14, was published in the online publication Contrepoints, which is published by the Liberaux organization.

The essay was written by Michel Quatrevalet, who is described thus:

Holding a B.Sc. in electrical engineering, Michel Quatrevalet spent 25 years in various operational positions in the industry. Over the last twenty years he has held various management and expert positions in multinational companies and in professional organizations in the areas of the environment and energy.

Original in French, my translation, corrections welcome.

PPE: Sham participatory democracy in the energy domain

Ms. Jouanneau [sic, this probably refers to Chantal Jouanno, president of the CNDP, -YG] allotted 400 participants for a one day workshop on the multi-year energy plan (PPE). Have the conditions been met for this experiment in participatory democracy to work?

The debate around the PPE was “enriched” by an experiment in participatory democracy. Ms. Jouanneau allotted 400 participants for a one day workshop on the multi-year energy plan.

We don’t know much about the procedure, we don’t know the names of the 10 moderators, nor which documents were provided to the participants. During the written debates on the site of the Commision for Public Debate, several participants complained that some essential points of view were missing, such as the conclusions of the 2012 Percebois‑Grandil taskforce or the opinions of the Academy of Sciences and Technology.

The conclusions will be presented on June 29th, that is at the end of the consultation period, at which point it would be no longer possible to dispute them.

A sham process

Such activities of “allotted citizen panels” could be productive but only if three necessary conditions are met:

  • An in-depth preparation of the participants that would make them sufficiently knowledgeable on the subject (energy is a highly technical subject),
  • A detailed verification by an organization independent of the parties involved (including independence of the government) that the information provided is factual, complete and objective,
  • A transparent process of nomination of the moderators and of the drawing up of the synthesis of the debates.

In reality, none of these conditions seems to have been observed. We can even fear the worst, reading the shamelessly biased report of the project’s management. The comments posted on the site of the debate were not heeded. Here are a few of them.

A partial report

We read in the press release: “It is quite evident that a clear difference in judgement emerged sometimes at the G400 between the expressed opinions [“postures”, in the French original, -YG] of some subject experts and citizens who are very demanding and anxious that we accelerate the pace with regards to the transition in order to meet the targets set by the law.”

When in a class, if the teacher says that 5+6=11, while the majority of students think that 5+6=56, should we consider a-priori, as does the press release, that the “subject expert’s” assertion is an opinion? The targets set by the law (50% nuclear energy by 2025, reduction in CO2) were not met because the directions laid out and the objectives the were set were incompatible from the outset. How are we to arrive at a PPE where the objectives would have a minimal chance of being met if we deliberately decide from the start to ignore the opinions of subject experts?

Another comment:

You are speaking of the opinions of some experts, that is quite a serious accusation. Who are those experts and what are their opinions?

If their positions are nothing but opinions rather than a facts-based conclusion, then why would be think that these people are really experts? And if they are not really experts, why did you present them as such to the panel?

If those people are really experts, and if their well-founded conclusions do not correspond to your personal convictions, aren’t you exposing yourself to accusations of partiality in the debate that you were charged with organizing?

Another comment:

The phrasing of the report titled “Great success for the G400” is ambiguous. The use of word “opinion”, which in this context has a rather negative meaning, indicating that the “very demanding” citizens thought that “certain experts” were not really experts, and the fact that the raw data were provided to the participants but not made public until the end of the public comment period on June 29th do not bode well for the impartiality of the debate.

Questions:

  1. Why wait for the end of the consultation period before releasing the results?
  2. Can we know, if not the names of the 10 moderators, at least the name of the NGOs and companies which they represent?

The standard response by the management of the project: answers will be provided later. There can be nothing more to say…

The trap

Paradoxically, the formal process and the good organization of the online debates by the commision for public discussion snare the government in a trap.

The comments and points of view form a corpus of observations, facts, studies, and questions of incredible richness.

  • The government can take account of those in order to improve its project: it will therefore have to explain why all of its predecessors have taken a false path. But the primary reason for the incoherence of the program is in the law of ecological transition itself, which has become a sort of a sacred cow.
  • Or it can choose otherwise, but the internet is harsh. All the material remains more or less available and no doubt there would be a backup of the essential elements. The government will not be able to erase the warnings which it had received, well before harrowing revisions become necessary when facing an ugly and unpleasant reality: windmills produce nothing without wind, solar power is not available several hours a day and do not know how to store electricity at the needed levels.

A cruel dilemma…

5 Responses

  1. The French government already used sortition as a strawman to impose their measures. See the Parcours Sup sad story. Last year they used a “random” dark process to select student from high school to university. This year they said they use a better system using a “classic” selection process.

    Like

  2. So obvious. The lottery ‘sanitises’ the process of selecting the Citizen Jurors, but does nothing to stop them being manipulated afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Conall,

    True, the best one can hope is that they are manipulated in a public and even-handed manner, as is the case with trial juries. It is a mistake is to believe that an impartial selection mechanism will return impartial people.

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  4. Conall,

    > The lottery ‘sanitises’ the process of selecting the Citizen Jurors, but does nothing to stop them being manipulated afterwards.

    But if the jurors are empowered to control their own procedures, agenda and sources of information then the representativity (“sanitization”) of the jurors is leveraged into representativity of the entire process. If, as in the case above, the jurors are merely spectators in a set-up that is essentially completely determined by the organizers, then claims of bias are unavoidable.

    (That said, Quatrevalet’s complaints about an anti-expert bias seem to merely reflect his background as an industry insider, of course.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. >the representativity (“sanitization”) of the jurors is leveraged into representativity of the entire process.

    Only up to the point of selection. There is no reason to believe that the procedures, agenda and sources of information adopted by a group of “jurors” would match the preferences of the target population (as the LLN does not apply to the speech acts of a small group). And referring to such an all-powerful group as a “jury” is an abuse of language.

    Like

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