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).
The social and political debate over climate change continues unabated, despite an ever worsening procession of extreme weather events and increasingly dire scientific climate projections (on track for a 4 degree warmer world).
While there is a significant over-estimation of the extent of climate change denial within society, those who reject the phenomenon of anthropogenic climate change appear to have become even more strident, despite the overwhelming weight of climate science.
Despite the widespread scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate change, ideological rhetoric dominates the global political discourse. This is preventing the development of clear policy frameworks that companies need for long-term investments. In spite of this, there are signs of progress at the international, national and corporate levels.
With the announcement that our next federal election will be on Saturday September 14 2013, there has been renewed commentary on the likelihood of a possible future federal Coalition government repealing the Clean Energy legislation.
In the last few weeks there have been a number of commentaries on the shifting nature of climate change activism. These include:
- the Sierra Club’s announcement that it will for the first time in its history engage in civil disobedience in the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline;
- an article in The Pheonix by Wen Stephenson profiling climate activist Tim DeChristopher and drawing parallels with the nineteenth century abolitionist movement against slavery; and
- a recent piece by Andrew Winston in The Guardian pointing to the same theme of a new abolitionist movement around climate change action (you can nominate your favourite ‘climate change abolitionist’ here).
Andrew is the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. Within this role, he also serves as Director of the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.
Professor Hoffman has written extensively about corporate responses to climate change; how the interconnected networks of NGOs and corporations influence change processes; and the underlying cultural values that are engaged when these barriers are overcome. His research uses a sociological perspective to understand the cultural and institutional aspects of environmental issues for organizations.