In this current era of increasing climate activism, a key question that emerges is how the fossil fuel sector continues to avoid social and political sanction given the threat its activities pose to the future of human civilization? In a recently published paper in the journal Energy Research & Social Science, we investigated how the Australian fossil fuel sector has sought to maintain its political dominance in the face of growing social critique. Drawing on an analysis of media coverage and industry press releases during the period 2008-2019, we identified the core discourses underlying the Australian fossil fuel sector’s response to growing public concern over climate change and how these discourses stabilize the hegemonic project and defuse central themes of critique.
The following is a summary of the full article which can be viewed here.
During 2018 I travelled to Wellington in New Zealand to participate in the second Pacific Climate Change Conference hosted by Victoria University and located in the amazing Te Papa Tongarewa Museum. It was a fascinating inter-disciplinary conference featuring international climate scientists such as Professor Michael Mann from Pennsylvania State University, as well as a diversity of social scientists, community representatives and activists from across the Pacific.
Our paper focuses on how a growing political response to calls for dramatic decarbonization has been to downplay the role of emissions mitigation and emphasize local forms of climate change adaptation. We explore this issue through the example of corporate responses to the catastrophic coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef during 2016/2017 and the process of corporate political activity which encouraged a shift in public debate from climate mitigation to adaptation.
In particular, we identify how corporations create a hegemonic ‘common sense’ view of politically contested issues and how interests are politicized and enacted in public debate. Through these actions, corporate solutions and self-regulation become accepted as the logical response to the climate crisis. Despite the worsening impact of climate change, these corporate responses ensure the maintenance of business as usual.
“It was catastrophic, gut wrenching and incredibly disturbing. That was one of the most comprehensive hard coral cover sites on the Reef and all of the coral in the shallows was fully bleached. That’s when we knew that we’d lost that site.”
Our guide’s words cut through the sea breeze blustering over the stern of our dive boat. Our tour group of about thirty, were sitting in our wetsuits, warming ourselves after another dive on Opal Reef off Port Douglas, listening to Paul describe his reaction to that first coral bleaching event and trying to make sense of what we had just experienced: “In 2016, the world lost a lot of its living coral and the Great Barrier Reef was no exception. What’s causing it is global warming induced rises in water temperature.” That day we had seen stunning congregations of staghorn and branch coral, delicate sponges, vivid blue giant clams, large boulder corals metres across, and myriad fish coloured in reds and blues and greens darting in and out of our way. But we had also seen large swathes of dead coral on the top of the reef, their skeletal remains just discernible behind a shroud of algae.
Recently I started exploring the possibility of combining my decade-long research focus on the climate crisis with my passion for photography. This idea began to develop after several years of photographing climate protest rallies and environment related events at the University of Sydney. However, the idea of a dedicated photography project documenting Australia’s fossil fuel addiction and the physical, social and political consequences of climate change really started to gel as I stood on banks of the Hunter River in Newcastle a few months back watching another huge bulk carrier entering the world’s largest coal port to take on another load of climate destroying fossil fuel.
Human civilization has now irrevocably altered basic Earth systems. Two centuries of industrialisation and economic globalization based upon the rapacious exploitation of fossil fuels, and the destruction of forests, lands, oceans and cultures has disrupted the Earth’s atmosphere and ice caps and devastated the biosphere. This has occurred at such a scale and pace that Earth scientists argue we are leaving the Holocene geological epoch and entering the more volatile ‘Anthropocene’.
In the article we explore how ‘impact’ has become the buzzword of the contemporary university, and the value of academic research is increasingly judged by government, administrators and industry in terms of its contribution to economic growth and productivity. For example, the Australian Research Council (ARC)’s Research Impact Principles and Framework (2015) states that:
‘the Australian Government recognises the importance of research, science and innovation for increasing productivity and wellbeing to achieve long term economic growth for the Australian community’.
The cover of Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg’s Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations features the artwork Insatiable by Theodore Bolha and Christopher Davis. The image is dirty, brooding and apocalyptic. At its centre is a naked man, bent over and screaming. An industrial landscape weighs heavy on his back as black smoke pumps into the murky sky. As if about to fall to his knees and crawl, he follows a small group of wild animals all heading to a precipice, seemingly unaware of their impending doom. The image is suggestive of humankind’s bleak destiny wrought at the hands of its own creation yet seemingly beyond its own control. It is an ominous and pessimistic portrayal of the effects of an insatiable industrial machine. Continue reading Approaching the precipice? A review of Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations→
‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option. In this book, Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg probe the roots of the climate crisis and reveal the intractable relationship that capitalism has with the degradation of the environment. Publishing one year after Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, Wright and Nyberg echo the sobering refrain that the problem with climate change is not emissions but capitalism. Continue reading Environmental Politics Review of Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations→
Shortly after the election of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States in November last year, Jane Lê and I were asked by the University of Sydney Business School to imagine what the US would look like in 2019, two years into the new Presidency. So we cast caution to the wind and decided to record a ‘What If’ podcast imagining what Jan 2019 might look like in the US with respect to the environment, energy and climate change.
Originally published in 2000, A Friend of the Earth by T. C. Boyle is a gripping, humorous and emotional novel which charts the life of committed eco-activist Ty Tierwater and his battles to confront humanity’s destruction of nature. I first encountered an excerpt from this book several years ago when reading the anthology I’m With The Bears: Short Stories From a Damaged Planet. The chapter ‘The Siskiyou, July 1989’ was something of a revelation for me then, a powerful, slow-reveal vignette in which a man, his wife, young daughter and another set out under cover of night on an arduous and forlorn protest against the logging of the virgin Oregon forest. The horror builds as you realise not only of the protestors’ helplessness when confronted by the loggers and the local police, but also in the love of a father for his daughter as they endure the physical and psychological torment of their protest. Boyle captures both the comedy and torment of a father torn between the love of his daughter and his attempts to fight against humanity’s rampant ecocide. As I started to read A Friend of the Earth this last fortnight, I recalled this tale and realised that this was a novel that speaks directly to one of the key dilemmas of our time: how one makes sense of the destruction of the natural world. Continue reading Review of A Friend of the Earth→