…many have pointed out that my position allowed me to protect the environment. But that never sat well with me, especially as it relates to fossil fuels with their broad and wide externalities. After much introspection, and a couple of tears, I realized that an opinion like that is a flat view and it ignores the fact I have enabled interests that are contrary to human existence. It’s the enabling that drives us nuts. To this end, I now flatly refuse any work that deals with fossil fuels interests. It makes life much simpler for me and I suspect it will for others.
Who will be the business ‘winners and losers’ from the repeal of the ‘carbon tax’ under Australia’s new conservative Federal Government? This was a question I was asked in a recent interview for ABC TV’s The Business. You can see the resulting report here.
The ‘winners’ in this story should come as no surprise – mining and energy companies -especially those involved in fossil fuel extraction and consumption, which would no longer be required to pay for their greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, the ‘losers’ were seen as those groups promoting renewable energy and seeking to wean us off our fossil fuel addiction. However, what struck me in participating in this interview are the incredibly short-term time horizons business people frame their decision-making within. ‘Winners’ are defined in terms of the immediate financial savings that result from changed legislation, rather than the strategic implications of continued high carbon emissions in a changing world.
Well the IPCC‘s latest scientific report has come out confirming what many of us have suspected – that anthropogenic climate change is on track with previous worst-case scenarios and the future prognosis is bleak. Given the IPCC is by its nature a conservative organisation, it seems likely that as before, the current report may well underestimate some climate impacts. Be that as it may, this is startling and confronting to read given the import of its conclusions.
A commitment to sustainability has become an essential component of any modern-day corporation’s public face. Visit the homepages of major organisations in any sector, from building to banking, from cola-making to coal-mining, and you’ll find their ‘green’ credentials front and centre.
This might be viewed as a predictable and entirely well-intentioned response to mounting concerns over climate change, deforestation, declining biodiversity and other environmental issues. Yet it is vital to note that an innate component of that response has been to further incorporate the environment within market capitalism.
Climate change has rapidly emerged as a major threat to our future. Indeed the increasingly dire projections of increasing global temperatures and escalating extreme weather events highlight the existential challenge that climate change presents for humanity.
In popular and political discourse, climate change is depicted as an environmental or ‘natural’ problem that requires ‘rational’ responses based on scientific evidence. However, there is also a need to view climate change as a social and politically embedded phenomenon, linked to patterns of production and consumption and the ideological assumptions that underpin the economic system and our collective sensemaking processes.
In the decade ahead, Australia and the world will face environmental, social and financial challenges of an unprecedented scale. These include tensions between economic growth and environmental degradation, a need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in response to climate change, and pressure to improve social inclusion and equity in a world of significant poverty and inequity. Businesses are clearly key players when it comes to responding to these challenges, but can businesses look beyond their short-term bottom line and better balance their economic needs with social and environmental priorities?
The last few weeks has been full of news of extreme weather events from across the world. One of the best sources for keeping up to speed on the Anthropocene’s new climate ‘normals’ is Faun Kime’s great blog site, which includes weekly pictorial updates on weather disasters unfolding around the world.
Last week the extreme weather news hit our family in a way that really resonated. No, not one of our increasingly regular Australian extreme weather events, but something happening on the other side of the world, in a place we had visited a few months ago and fallen in love with: Yosemite National Park in California, USA.
So here’s the thing. Despite decades of debate and a scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is a real and present danger to not only our societies, but our future as a species – greenhouse gas emissions continue their inexorable rise. This year we passed the symbolic 400 ppm CO2 concentration levels (not seen on Earth for several million years) and we now appear destined to exceed the politically constructed fiction of a 2 degree limit on global warming. The house is on fire, the experts are screaming ‘do something!’, and yet we remain oblivious, addicted to the distractions of hyper-consumption and tech-toys. Which brings me to the topic of this post: can our political systems actually deal with the challenge of climate change?
How well do humans respond in a crisis and how we will react in the ‘new normal’ of on-going climate crisis? This is a question I’ve been pondering more and more in thinking about the human and organizational dimensions of climate change.
Climate change is often characterised as a ‘crisis’ but is it more accurately understood as a ‘catastrophe’? This is a question I’ve been pondering during the last few days at the 8th International Conference in Critical Management Studies at the University of Manchester. Along with colleagues Christian De Cock, Daniel Nyberg and Sheena Vachhani, I’ve been involved in organising a conference stream which pondered the meanings of catastrophe under the somewhat mischievous title ‘We’re Fucked! Conceptualising Catastrophe’.
Last night I attended Bill McKibben’s first public Australian lecture at the University of Sydney. It was sell-out event and the Seymour Theatre was full as young and old crammed in to hear what one newspaper has termed the “rock star of the global warming movement”. Waiting for the doors to open it did have that feeling of a big event – a performance by someone who has been willing to call-out the elephant in the room – our convenient but ultimately suicidal race to change the physics of the Earth in the name of “business as usual”. People were hungry to see and hear the unassuming American who has become the most prominent public face of the fight against global warming.
In March this year, the Sydney Network on Climate Change and Society in association with the University of Sydney Business School organized a one-day symposium exploring how businesses as social actors have responded to the emerging climate crisis. The symposium featured a keynote address by Professor Andy Hoffman, the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, followed by contributions from other influential academic writers on climate change, and insights from a range of business practitioners at the leading edge of corporate environmental sustainability.
Recently I did an interview with radio station 3CR’s Beyond Zero program about my research into business responses to climate change. You can hear the interview and my thoughts on the problems of engaging business on this critical issue at the link below:
This interview coincided with the visit by Professor Andy Hoffman to the University of Sydney, where he spoke about developments in US industry on climate change action. You can hear the full interview with Andy here.