Visitors to this blog will know of my interest in climate futures, a subject I’ve published on in academic outlets. Recently I re-read British sociologist John Urry’s excellent article “Climate Change, Travel and Complex Futures”. I remember first reading this in 2008 and the future scenarios it outlined opened my eyes to the huge issue of climate change adaptation. Indeed, this article and Al Gore’s 2006 movie Inconvenient Truth were major influences in re-directing my research towards the issue of business responses to climate change (which this blog summarizes).
I stumbled on this debate on Twitter yesterday in a response by Clive Hamilton to a TED talk by Andy Revkin on ‘Charting Paths to a “Good” Anthropocene’. Andy’s talk stresses the potential for a more optimistic future by pointing to a number of cognitive and emotional strategies with which we can better adapt to the worsening climate crisis. Clive’s critique argues that this type of thinking is part of an emerging form of ‘ecopragmatism’ which promotes a hopelessly unrealistic vision of human capacity to adapt to the climate change pathways we will experience this century (this argument is further developed in an article that has just come out in Scientific American). Andy has responded, arguing that he doesn’t believe he and Clive are so far apart in terms of recognizing the very real dangers of the climate crisis and that he hopes those who have ‘bridled’ at his vision for a ‘good Anthropocene aren’t hoping for a bad one’!
We find ourselves in an era of what we might call creative self-destruction. We’re destroying ourselves – it’s as simple as that.
Economic growth and exploiting nature’s resources have long gone hand-in-hand, but as repeated warnings from scientists and reports such as the latest from the IPCC tell us, they now constitute the most ill-fated of bedfellows. Climate change, the greatest threat of our time, is perhaps the definitive manifestation of the well-worn links between economic progress and devastation.
Readers may remember that back in November, Queensland Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald caused some consternation when he characterised the ‘appalling’ situation of too much research funding being devoted to climate change! Explicit in the Senator’s statement was an argument that competitive grants had been subject to political influence under the former Federal Labor Government. As Senator Macdonald stated:
I also know that a number of scientists—and I have had personal interaction with some of them—who wanted to do research that did not follow the then government’s view of climate change would never ever get a grant from the Australian Research Council. That seemed to me, if that were the case—and I accept what was told to me—that the Research Council was actually following a dictum from the then government about climate change and climate change research.
That the social debate around climate change is a ‘culture war’ should come as no surprise to anyone observing current political debate in Australia, the US, UK and Canada. In contrast to much of the rest of the world where climate science is rarely debated, in the Anglo-Saxon world the culture war around climate change rages on with increasing vehemence.
Over the last year or so, Daniel Nyberg and I have been writing a paper exploring the role of political myths in underpinning corporate responses to climate change. The paper has now been published online in the journal Environmental Politics, and you can download a PDF of the article here. I’ve also presented the paper in a Sydney Environment Institute seminar (audio file below).
As the disconnect between political obfuscation and climate science continues, how might individuals respond to climate change?
One theme that has emerged in my research is how people are beginning to reconsider their jobs and careers based upon a personal realisation of the urgency of the climate crisis. For instance, last week I received an email from a scientist in a US environmental agency, who related the increasingly tough choices she was having to make in her job. She was involved in overseeing fossil fuel developments in coal and gas, something she found increasingly problematic. After much thought she decided to no longer work for organisations facilitating the extraction and use of fossil fuels. As she explained:
…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.
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?
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’.
Recently I’ve been pondering the worsening news on climate change, escalating greenhouse gas emissions (400ppm!), and the continued political obfuscation around this most critical of phenomena.
One response has been to get increasingly angry and frustrated at the lack of substantive and coordinated action in confronting climate change. Another has been to ponder why humanity fails to engage on this issue. Recently Daniel Nyberg and I have penned a paper seeking to explore how political myths underpin much of the current corporate response to climate change. I’m presenting the paper at the forthcoming European Group for Organization Studies (EGOS) 2013 conference in Montreal. You can read the paper here: Wright & Nyberg EGOS2013 Paper Final – be interested in your thoughts and feedback.
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.
Business corporations are key players in the on-going political debate surrounding climate change. In producing the goods and services of the global consumer economy, corporations are major producers of greenhouse gas emissions. However, corporations can also play a leading role in the mitigation of those emissions through increased efficiencies and the development of new technologies. As a result, the business response to climate change can often appear conflictual. ‘Corporate greening’ and innovation contrast with examples of business obfuscation and the organised funding of climate change denial (e.g. as this recent documentary outlines).