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.
Australia is siding with what I call the coalition of the selfish – those industrialised nations which are putting the welfare of their carbon-polluting industries and their workers before our welfare and survival as Pacific Islanders.
It would be nice to report that since then the Australian government’s position has changed and there is now a clear focus on the need to embrace rapid decarbonization and wind back our fossil fuel industries. But of course that hasn’t happened. If anything, the current Morrison government is doubling down on the fossil fuel bet with its “gas-led recovery” from the corona virus pandemic and proposed Senate inquiries into financial institutions shifting away from fossil fuel investments!
While fossil fuel multinationals pivot from explicit climate denial to a strategy of predatory delay, our Pacific neighbours are facing the very real likelihood of the physical inundation of their lands by rising oceans and worsening tropical cyclones. The Australian government at the behest of its fossil fuel donors seems oblivious to the suffering that will ensue in this “age of consequences”.
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.
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’.
‘Human activities have become so pervasive and profound that they rival the great forces of Nature’ (Steffen, et al., 2007)
Through the rapacious consumption of fossil fuels, industrial activities and the destruction of forests, oceans and natural resources, humans have fundamentally changed basic Earth systems. This has occurred at such a scale and pace that Earth System scientists argue we are leaving the Holocene geological epoch and entering the more volatile ‘Anthropocene’. This is a period in which human activity has discernibly affected the Earth’s global functioning to such an extent it is now operating outside the range of any previous natural variability (Crutzen, 2002; Hamilton, 2015; Steffen, et al., 2007). These changes reduce the ‘safe operating space for humanity’ (Rockström, et al., 2009), and include: a likely step-change in the average temperature of the planet this century of around 4 degrees Celsius (New, et al., 2011); the sixth great species extinction in the geological record (Kolbert, 2014); the acidification of our oceans; the disruption of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles; and the pollution of air and water with a range of chemical toxins (Whiteman, et al., 2013). Extreme weather events, sea-level rise, food and water shortages, and accompanying political conflicts and wars suggest that life this century for much of the planet’s population will be ugly, violent and precarious (Dyer, 2010). The implications for organizations and organizing could not be more profound. Continue reading Call for Papers: ‘Organizing and the Anthropocene’→
As many Australian readers will know, ‘energy security’ has become the latest buzzword in government and industry circles. Much of this new focus has been driven by the political fallout following October’s catastrophic storms in South Australia and a state-wide power blackout. In the political recrimination that followed, the Federal Government and some media outlets argued that state government policies favouring renewable energy were (in part) to blame. Both the Prime Minister and the Federal Energy Minister quickly labelled energy security their ‘number one priority’ and established an energy security review to be chaired by the nations’ Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel. Interestingly however, the meaning of the term ‘energy security’ is itself open to multiple interpretations. To a large extent this ‘framing’ of ‘energy security’ reflects a number of developments that are playing out globally in the areas of energy and environmental policy. Continue reading Energy Security: The New Black!→
As a growing number of studies have demonstrated, climate change poses a significant threat to future social and economic activities. Indeed, the language of ‘risk’ has become a perennial theme in discussions of future climate change impacts and a central construct for how businesses respond to and ‘manage’ climate change.
Recently Daniel Nyberg and I had an article accepted for publication in the journal Organization exploring how corporations have responded to climate uncertainties and threats as ‘risks’ (pre-print PDF here). Conventional cognitive-scientific depictions of risk see organisations as ontologically separate from the risk they act upon. The core assumption underlying risk management is that risk is ‘out there’ and it just has to be ‘found’ and ‘captured’ by professional experts using statistical tools and analysis.
So it has come to this. Despite a mountain of scientific evidence emphasising the catastrophic implications of human-induced climate change, governments seem unable to take any significant steps to break humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels. As Chris Hayes recently noted, having been confronted with the fact of our addiction we now are in the full throws of denial; ‘it’s not that bad’, ‘we need fossil fuels to prosper and grow’, ‘one more fossil fuel development won’t matter’, ‘how bad can it be?’ etc. For governments and politicians long inculcated in the interests of the market and short-term corporate profit, the maintenance of a habitable atmosphere now appears something we are willing to forgo.
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.
The complexity and pervasiveness of climate change sometimes make this a difficult subject to communicate. We are after all talking about the basic physics, chemistry and biology of our ecosystem and the way in which human activities are changing these in profound and fundamental ways; what some have termed a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene.
And yet, the physical and social implications of climate change are becoming daily more evident. One of the most powerful ways in which this can be conveyed is through visual imagery. For instance a growing procession of extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy and its impact upon New York City have provided a multitude of powerful images of the micro realities of extreme weather and how even the centre of global capitalism is no match for a ‘climate on steroids‘.
The other day I watched a powerful presentation by noted photographer Garth Lenz. Speaking at a TED event in Canada he outlined the appalling environmental destruction that is being unleashed by the tar sands industry.
I’ve been following the news coverage on Canada’s tar sands for some time now, given the huge implications of non-conventional fossil fuels for escalating greenhouse gas emissions and the ever worsening climate crisis. I’m also editing a forthcoming special issue of the journal Organization on climate change and future imaginings, which includes an excellent study of the discourses employed by companies in the Athabasca tar sands industry written by Jane Lê.
This morning, the Climate Commission released a report with the apt title ‘The Angry Summer’. The report reviews the recent extreme weather we’ve been experiencing here in Australia. In fact this has been the hottest summer on record and the Climate Commission’s report highlights the numerous weather records that have been broken (123 in 90 days); temperatures, rainfall, floods, drought, bushfires, tornadoes and cyclones.
While the media increasingly ignores climate change as a topic (even in the case of scientific evidence linking extreme weather events with climate change), there are good grounds for hypothesising that our personal experience of weather affects our awareness of climate change.