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.
Australia has long been known for its environmental politics – movements, policy, and academic analysis. On Wednesday 11th December, four of the most well-known Australia-based academics of environmental politics from the University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, and Australian National University will convene to discuss and celebrate two recent books aimed at analysing and stimulating debate on the current and future state of environmental and climate politics.
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).
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.
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?
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.
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).
Last month we were lucky to have Professor Andy Hoffman from the University of Michigan visit the University of Sydney Business School and present a number of talks on climate change and business responses. Andy is one of the world’s leading experts on business and climate change and has published extensively on this topic.
Above is a short interview on ABC’s Business Today program hosted by Whitney Fitzsimmons, where Andy discusses some of the business implications of climate change and related regulatory and market changes.
‘Sustainability’ has become a pervasive part of social and business discourse. However getting down to specifics on sustainability is a much debated issue.
This is of particular relevance for climate change. In particular, how can we speak of, or imagine ‘sustainability’, given the underlying conflict that emerges between the pursuit of ‘economic progress’ defined in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services, and the ever escalating production of greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the things I’ve noticed in researching organizational responses to climate change is how often in an interview the person I’m talking to (typically a sustainability manager or consultant) will relate a particular event or story which symbolized the moment ‘they got’ climate change.
In an article Daniel Nyberg and I recently wrote in Organization Studies, we explored how sustainability managers develop different identities in negotiating between conflicting discourses and their sense of self. In describing how these identities arise, moments of realisation played a key part in these personal narratives.