In this current era of increasing climate activism, a key question that emerges is how the fossil fuel sector continues to avoid social and political sanction given the threat its activities pose to the future of human civilization? In a recently published paper in the journal Energy Research & Social Science, we investigated how the Australian fossil fuel sector has sought to maintain its political dominance in the face of growing social critique. Drawing on an analysis of media coverage and industry press releases during the period 2008-2019, we identified the core discourses underlying the Australian fossil fuel sector’s response to growing public concern over climate change and how these discourses stabilize the hegemonic project and defuse central themes of critique.
The following is a summary of the full article which can be viewed here.
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.
In the article we explore how ‘impact’ has become the buzzword of the contemporary university, and the value of academic research is increasingly judged by government, administrators and industry in terms of its contribution to economic growth and productivity. For example, the Australian Research Council (ARC)’s Research Impact Principles and Framework (2015) states that:
‘the Australian Government recognises the importance of research, science and innovation for increasing productivity and wellbeing to achieve long term economic growth for the Australian community’.
The cover of Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg’s Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations features the artwork Insatiable by Theodore Bolha and Christopher Davis. The image is dirty, brooding and apocalyptic. At its centre is a naked man, bent over and screaming. An industrial landscape weighs heavy on his back as black smoke pumps into the murky sky. As if about to fall to his knees and crawl, he follows a small group of wild animals all heading to a precipice, seemingly unaware of their impending doom. The image is suggestive of humankind’s bleak destiny wrought at the hands of its own creation yet seemingly beyond its own control. It is an ominous and pessimistic portrayal of the effects of an insatiable industrial machine. Continue reading Approaching the precipice? A review of Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations→
‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option. In this book, Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg probe the roots of the climate crisis and reveal the intractable relationship that capitalism has with the degradation of the environment. Publishing one year after Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, Wright and Nyberg echo the sobering refrain that the problem with climate change is not emissions but capitalism. Continue reading Environmental Politics Review of Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations→
Book Review: Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations. Processes of Creative Self-Destruction by Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg, Capital & Class, 40(2), pp.394-396, doi:10.1177/0309816816661148n
Marc Hudson, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester.
In December 2015 world leaders gathered to proclaim climate change was a threat that they were (finally) going to do something about. After two weeks of speeches and haggling, the deal was done, the world saved. Never mind that the text was silent on fossil fuels, and that in the following week the UK government expanded fracking, the US rescinded a forty year old ban on oil exports and Australia gave new permits for coal mines. Those are minor pesky details; corporate capitalism has the best interests of everyone – rich, poor, black, white, the unborn generations to come, other species – at heart. Continue reading Capital & Class Review of Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations→
In researching the climate crisis and our civilization’s inability to respond in any coherent, rational form, I’ve been struck by the way literature (both fiction and non-fiction) often provides insight into our demise.
It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.*
Internet shopping; social media; consumerism; celebrity TV shows; fast food; cheap air travel…they have all been a part of our lives for so long that it’s increasingly difficult to remember a time when this wasn’t our landscape. Perhaps that’s partly why it seems to be so impossible to ingest the realities of climate change, and what it means for our society – our hyper-materialism has thrived for decades, and scaling back now seems incomprehensible. Things will change – they are changing already – and experts are telling us in unison that we cannot keep consuming natural resources at the same rate. Still, though, action remains elusive.
Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations is a brilliantly accessible analysis of the realities of the Anthropocene, and the barriers corporations erect to prevent us from…
Corporations are the most organized segment of society that actually believes the message of faith-based economics, although cracks have appeared in the façade. For example two business professors, Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg, have just published a book, (Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-Destruction) that provides a detailed and well-documented account of how corporations are destroying civilization by keeping that faith: the standard business-school/Wall Street message that climate disruption, a result of market success in turning natural resources into stuff and waste, can only be cured by business as usual. Faith-based economics requires continued exploitation of natural resources and continued growth of the global economy. As Wright and Nyberg say:
“…corporate capitalism frames business and markets as the only means of dealing with the crisis, rejecting the need for state regulation and more local democratic options. In essence, the prevailing corporate view is that capitalism should be seen not as a cause of climate change but as an answer to it. A problem brought about by overconsumption, the logic goes, should be addressed through more consumption.”
There is a disconnect between ever more alarming scientific projections of anthropogenic climate disruption and the contrasting conservatism of mainstream ‘business as usual’ political discourse. This wholly irrational future is the focus of our new book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-Destruction (Cambridge University Press, 2015). It is a disjuncture that makes imagining economic, let alone social or environmental futures a somewhat bizarre enterprise. Nevertheless, let’s consider the conventional view of our future world as presented by mainstream business and political commentators. Continue reading Challenging ‘Fossil Fuels Forever’→
Global businesses, many of them now larger and more powerful than nation states, exhibit enormous sway on humanity’s response to the climate crisis. Indeed, in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks later this month there is growing media focus on so-called business “leadership” on climate change. For instance, just last month Royal Dutch Shell, General Electric, BHP Billiton and management consultancy McKinsey & Co. announced the establishment of a committee to advise governments on how to combat global warming while strengthening economic growth. This follows other announcements such as Unilever’s chief executive officer, Paul Polman, emphasising the need for private sector mobilization to close the shortfall in emission commitments made by governments, as well as Virgin’s CEO Richard Branson who has argued that “our only hope to stop climate change is for industry to make money from it.” Continue reading Corporations and climate change→
The interview is a good outline of many of the core arguments in our book. As the summary accompanying the interview outlines:
With climate change an impending reality it seems the world has a problem with overconsumption. But according to two business professors we are failing to address the very cause of climate change – capitalism.
Neoliberal economists argue that climate change – a market problem, is addressed by a market solution. But according to Professor Christopher Wright and Professor Daniel Nyberg more consumption is not the solution in a society where the environmental model is often traded off for a business model. Can we have our cake and eat it too?
You can hear the full interview (about 10 minutes) here.