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.
Recently I started exploring the possibility of combining my decade-long research focus on the climate crisis with my passion for photography. This idea began to develop after several years of photographing climate protest rallies and environment related events at the University of Sydney. However, the idea of a dedicated photography project documenting Australia’s fossil fuel addiction and the physical, social and political consequences of climate change really started to gel as I stood on banks of the Hunter River in Newcastle a few months back watching another huge bulk carrier entering the world’s largest coal port to take on another load of climate destroying fossil fuel.
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’.
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→
Shortly after the election of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States in November last year, Jane Lê and I were asked by the University of Sydney Business School to imagine what the US would look like in 2019, two years into the new Presidency. So we cast caution to the wind and decided to record a ‘What If’ podcast imagining what Jan 2019 might look like in the US with respect to the environment, energy and climate change.
Originally published in 2000, A Friend of the Earth by T. C. Boyle is a gripping, humorous and emotional novel which charts the life of committed eco-activist Ty Tierwater and his battles to confront humanity’s destruction of nature. I first encountered an excerpt from this book several years ago when reading the anthology I’m With The Bears: Short Stories From a Damaged Planet. The chapter ‘The Siskiyou, July 1989’ was something of a revelation for me then, a powerful, slow-reveal vignette in which a man, his wife, young daughter and another set out under cover of night on an arduous and forlorn protest against the logging of the virgin Oregon forest. The horror builds as you realise not only of the protestors’ helplessness when confronted by the loggers and the local police, but also in the love of a father for his daughter as they endure the physical and psychological torment of their protest. Boyle captures both the comedy and torment of a father torn between the love of his daughter and his attempts to fight against humanity’s rampant ecocide. As I started to read A Friend of the Earth this last fortnight, I recalled this tale and realised that this was a novel that speaks directly to one of the key dilemmas of our time: how one makes sense of the destruction of the natural world. Continue reading Review of A Friend of the Earth→
‘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’→
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.
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).
‘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.
The following is a short piece published in The Conversation which I wrote with Andy Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan.
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.
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.