Letter on #climate and business that the FT didn’t publish :(

Thank you for your coverage of the impending Business & Climate Summit, by the ever-reliable Michael Stothard and Pilita Clark (April 21). They quote Jean-Pascal Tricoire, CEO of Schneider Electric and one of the organisers, as saying

“The [carbon] price needs to be high enough to make a difference and not volatile, so companies can factor the price into their long-term planning.”

It is now 2015, with global concentrations of carbon dioxide at 400ppm.  They were significantly lower in May 1992, when, a carbon tax was mooted for Europe.  According a report in the Economist at the time “The proposed carbon tax has been subject to the most ferocious lobbying ever seen in Brussels.”

Two questions come to mind;

Will those responsible for the successful campaigns to block meaningful action when it still had some slight chance of success ever face justice?

Will our children forgive us allowing the victory of short-sighted selfishness and the deliberate creation of ignorance at the expense of their futures?

I suspect the word “no” suffices for both questions.

Emancipating who from what? Risky business around “emancipatory catastrophism” and #climate change.

Beck, U. (2015) Emancipatory catastrophism: What does it mean to climate change and risk society?  Current Sociology Vol . 63 (1) 75-88.

Didn’t like this.  Sorry to speak ill of the dead (and seriously, RIP Ulrich Beck), but this to me smacked of palimpsesting some wishful (millennial?) thinking onto the ugly “facts” (yes yes, Latour this, Haraway that blah de blah) of climate change.

Beck, who gave us “risk society” and “reflexive modernisation”

and much else was an interesting and fruitful thinker.  When I first heard of this article, I was intrigued and hopeful.  Here’s the complete abstract ;

The metamorphosis of the world is about the hidden emancipatory side effect of global risk. This article argues that the talk about bads produces ‘common goods’. As such, the argument goes beyond what has been at the heart of the world risk society theory so far: it is not about the negative side effects of goods but the positive side effects of bads.
They are producing normative horizons of common goods. This is what the author defines as ‘emancipatory catastrophism’. Emancipatory catastrophism can be seen and analysed by using three conceptual lenses: first, the anticipation of global catastrophe violates sacred (unwritten) norms of human existence and civilization; second, thereby it causes an anthropological shock, and, third, a social catharsis.

[Catharsis?  Well, there will be some letting of fluids.  Oil and blood mostly.  We’ve been doing it to other species and our own for a long time.  Now we are doing it to generations as yet unborn…]

Beck and his ilk, children and peddlers of the Enlightenment, need to believe, ultimately, that their fellow hairless apes will see the (secular) Light.  It’s a belief that helps them get out of bed in the morning and keep scribbling.

Perhaps the topos of climate change is even a form of mobilization thus far unknown in human history that breaks open a sanctimonious national autistic world with the vision of the impending apocalypse. The global climate risk, far from an apocalyptic catastrophe, is instead – so far! – a kind of ‘emancipatory catastrophe’.
(p. 79)

Which is merely, surely, the “information deficit model”.  Beck knew better than this, but apparently couldn’t bring himself to look the gathering storm in the eye.  Better to have your back turned?

He concedes that it won’t happen automatically –

The social catharsis, however, must not be misunderstood as something that automatically happens and is inherently caused by the event as such. It is the product of carrier groups engaging successfully in ‘cultural work’, in ‘meaning-work’, in transformative work of activists in witnessing the (distant) suffering of others (Kurasawa, 2004, 2007).
page 80

But is unwilling/unable to admit that the historical actor does not exist (or maybe he does.  The stuff at the top of page 82, “Verwandlung” and all that, becomes no clearer after multiple readings.)

There’s some interesting stuff where he drags up Karl Mannheim

Mannheim talked about utopia as a transformative force for generations. The difference is that global risk is dystopian vision, which, however, has a significant power of mobilization because it is about the existence of humanity. As discussed earlier, global risk has unintended side effects beyond ideologies and political programmes. The key to the ideas of global risk is that bads produce normative horizons of common goods…. However, what keeps the cosmopolitized fragmented generation together is the reflexivity and reflection produced by global risk. This reflexivity and reflection in the face of global risk, i.e. in the face of the existential threat to humanity, stands for what Mannheim calls ‘entelechy’.
(Page 85)

I’ll put this article aside, come back to it in a month or three and see if there’s more here than I currently think. If so, I’ll blog again, and link from here.

If you aren’t so theoretically inclined you could try “A Paradise Built in Hell,” a big fat hopeful book by Rebecca Solnit.  Meanwhile, the 2008 article  “Elites and Panic: More to Fear than Fear Itself” by Lee Clarke and Caron Chess, Social Forces 87 (2)  is a MUST READ.

Beck didn’t mention it, but this narrative of climate change as an opportunity for a radical transformation/renewal is an old narrative, stretching back far beyond Naomi “This Changes Everything” Klein all the way to the 1980s, when environmentalists saw it as a potential master narrative for replacing the anomie, sterility and wastefulness of suburban living and consumerism with something better.   They lost.  We lost.  And pretending or ignoring that we lost helps no-one and nothing, except perhaps the rich, clinging by their fingernails, bodyguards and pet States to their precipice. For now.

Questions I ask myself about “Responsible Research”

What gets researched (and by extension, what doesn’t)

Who does the research?

With what resources (and what strings attached – what’s the accountability)


When the results are “in,” how are they presented? When? Where? To who? Who is “allowed” to dispute the methodology, how?

What is then DONE with the results?

How do they feed into public discourse?

Are future generations and other species ‘at the table’ in any format at any stage? (Ombudsman etc)

As for innovation, well same questions, but – does this innovation help prop up unsustainable/unjust socio-technical systems (Sailing Ship effect etc) or does it (as far as anyone can predict!!) accelerate regime destabilisation and replacement by other niche actors  (That’s horribly reductive and binary a way of thinking…)

The bargaining phase and academics.

“Ecological Modernisation”, “(Ecologically) Sustainable Development,” “Stakeholder Engagement,” “Adaptive Governance,” “Co-design,” “Distributed Governance,” “Strategic Niche Management,” “New International Economic Order,” “New World Order,” “New Public Management,” “Social innovation,” “deliberate social-ecological transformations ,” “earth systems management,” “environmentally conscious manufacturing,” “closed loop” “circular economy” “steady-state”.   

I am sure you can come up with some of your own. The list goes on and on and on.  All magic incantation.

We are like the sorcerer’s apprentice, desperately word-salading out the spells in the hope that one of them will tame the beast, the “juggernaut” as Anthony Giddens called it in his book “The Consequences of Modernity.”

The juggernaut; the twins of 1) a cerebral cortex full of powerful abstraction and 2) opposable thumbs for gripping a femur or a space station.  Both in the service of a lizard’s brain, in a ‘civilisation’ that two hundred years ago, after binge-ing on occupied land, stumbled on fossil fuels.

What a species.


Of mobile phones and climate change – false hopes of transformative leaps…

jammedkeysChances are you are reading this on a device that has a “QWERTY” keyboard.  Is that the most ‘sensible’ format for fast and accurate typing? Probably not – the most common letters in English (AERTSNI)  should surely be clustered around the (right) index and forefingers.  Why do we have QWERTY?  Because back in the day of manual typewriters, typing too fast meant you’d get your keys all tangled up.  Not a problem now, but everyone got very very used to QWERTY, and the (mental) switching costs would be too high.  It goes, in the academic trade, by the names “path dependency” and “lock-in.”

Fascinating, but what has this got to do with global bloody warming, you may well ask.  This; we have gotten very used to burning carbon.  And switching is going to be harder than we hope.  That, in a nutshell, is the message in this short 10 year old article –

Unruh, G. and Carrillo-Hermosilla, J. (2006) Globalizing carbon lock-in Energy Policy 34, 1185-1197.

(Unruh wrote some rather good articles, and indeed came  up with the term “carbon lock-in”. You should defo read the first two (see below for details).  In the threquel,  he and his co-author put paid to the fantasy that developing countries might (easily) “leapfrog” the West’s polluting path and industrialise with solar panels and wind-turbines as their energy source.)

“After all, the ‘developing world’ did it with their telephone network.”  Which is true, but as disingenuous and hopelessly optimistic as the “we made an ozone treaty, how hard can it be to make a carbon treaty?” line that you used to hear for a few years after the 1987 Montreal Protocol.

Unruh and Hermosilla make two very good points about this

However, while the parallels seem to indicate energy technology leapfrogging is possible, the example of cellular telephony leapfrogging needs to be critically reviewed for its applicability to current energy situation. One of the keys to the rapid adoption of cellular networks by developing countries appears to be the fact that the technology had been substantially developed, refined and commercialized by industrial countries decades before the developing country investments.
(Unruh and Hermosilla, 2006:1187)

And that there is already an schema for existing ‘energy provision’ infrastructure (and some very-keen-to-sell-more-of-their-kit outfits)

In the case of the power supply equipment sector, the industry’s increasing returns driven, winner takes-most dynamic has lead to a consolidated, oligopolistic market dominated by a handful of transnational giants (Sagar and Holdren, 2002). The nature of supplying large technological systems tends to favor enterprises large enough to deliver complete packages of capital, expertise, manpower and financing. The core competencies of these companies reside in supplying relatively standardized hydrocarbon-based technology packages and projects that can be adapted to local conditions. Logically, such firms have a preference for marketing their existing profitable technologies rather than pushing for the adoption of alternatives. In fact, organizational studies have shown that large established companies are often incapable of commercializing alternative technologies that can make their current products obsolete (Ven de Ven, 1986; Leonard-Barton, 1992; Christensen, 1997).
(Unruh and Hermosilla, 2006:1188)

They also point out that

Many countries are promoting rapid industrialization through the adoption of policies, regulatory frameworks, and development strategies that have proven successful in industrial countries. An important element of this development approach is the accelerated construction of key industrial infrastructures, like energy and transportation networks. In this context, fossil fuel-based energy technologies appear to be proven, low relative cost solutions that can respond to the demands of rapid industrialization and quickly provide needed power. However, adoption can become a path-creating choice that can set a positive feedback cycle in motion leading to ongoing reinvestment in fossil fuel based energy technologies.
(Unruh and Hermosilla, 2006:1188)

They then go on to look at strategic niche management (which they like), carbon capture and storage (“meh”), capture-ready designs (“double meh”) and “air capture of carbon dioxide”  (artificial trees, basically).  It’s a good article. Should be read by anyone who wants to extinguish any irrational lingering optimism about the fate of the species.

Things from their reference list I should probably read
Degreene, K.B., 1981. Limits to societal systems adaptability. Behavioral Science 26 (2), 103–113.

Degreene, K.B., 1991. Large technology-based systems and the need for paradigm shift. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 39 (4), 349–362.

Degreene, K.B., 1994. The challenge to policy-making of large-scale systems—evolution, instability and structural-change. Journal of Theoretical Politics 6 (2), 161–188.

Lackner, K., 2000. A guide to CO2 sequestration. Science 300, 13 June.

Other articles you should at least be aware of.

Escaping carbon lock-in Energy Policy, Volume 30, Issue 4, March 2002, Pages 317–325 Gregory C. Unruh

Understanding carbon lock-in Energy Policy, Volume 28, Issue 12, 1 October 2000, Pages 817–830 Gregory C Unruh

A hard slog, not a leap frog: Globalization and sustainability transitions in developing Asia Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Volume 76, Issue 2, February 2009, Pages 241–254 Michael Rock, James T. Murphy, Rajah Rasiah, Paul van Seters, Shunsuke Managi

The politics of socio-technical transitions #03

Here’s the third post on this topic, ahead of a symposium on Monday. You can read the first one here and the second one here.

Mostly I’ll be extolling the virtues of;

Newell, P. and Paterson, M. (1998) A climate for business: global warming, the state and capital. Review of International Political Economy Vo.. 5 (4) 679-703.


Grazia Cecere, G., Corrocher, N., & Gossart, C. & Muge Ozman, M. (2014)Lock-in and path dependence: an evolutionary approach to eco-innovations Journal of Evolutionary Economics Vol 231: 1037-1065.

with a couple of digressions and notes-to-self.

This (Newell and Paterson) is my bread and butter, and though I’d read it yonks (about 6 months), I’d forgotten how good it is, both on the theory but also the rich series of anecdotes.

Here are some clippings.

These groups have adopted a number of arguments to defend their hostile position towards action on climate change.

They have emphasized remaining scientific uncertainties concerning global warming, in order to suggest that the scientific evidence is inadequate as a basis for limitations on CO2 emissions.

They have engaged in what most commentators regard as highly misleading campaigns in the mass media, suggesting that there is no evidence for global warming.

They have argued that the costs of emissions to industrialized economies of limiting emissions will be very high, and will significantly reduce GDP.

They have also argued that this will have other economic consequences, in terms of large job losses, with a high degree of regional concentration in areas involved in, for example, coal mining, oil extraction and processing, or car production.

They have also tried to construct transnational alliances with other states, particularly with OPEC states with which they have clearly consistent interests, but also with developing countries in general, trying to persuade them that the adoption of emissions limitations by industrialized countries would have severe economic impacts on them, primarily through increases in prices for energy and manufactures (Johnson, 1997).
(Newell and Paterson, 1998:683) (emphasis added


Oil companies are often also gas companies, and in the short term can cushion any impacts of limits on oil use with increased gas sales, in transition towards an economy based on renewables. (Shell, for example, anticipates in its internal models an entirely solar economy by the end of the twenty-first century.) Coal companies, by contrast, have no such cushion.
(Newell and Paterson, 1998:692-3)


US concern to protect its energy industries again surfaced at the third meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change (INC) in Nairobi in September 1991, where the USA showed itself sensitive to the energy sector being singled out and proposed that agriculture be cited as well (ECO, 1991b: 3).15 Concern for these industries on the part of governments explicitly worked its way into the text of the Climate Convention. Article 4 (part 10) states that special consideration should be given to those countries whose economies are ‘highly dependent’ on producing or consuming fossil fuels, the very economies whose transition to a post-greenhouse economy is most urgently required (United Nations, 1992: articles 4.10 and 4.8). The World Coal Institute (WCI) and other groups were instrumental in the drafting of this proposal in collaboration with such states as Australia. The fact that the negotiations witnessed governments anxiously protecting the very industries that contribute on a large scale to the greenhouse effect bears testimony to the particular strength of the energy lobby and brings into focus the problem of expecting states to regulate sectors of industry with which they share key interests.
(Newell and Paterson, 1998:687)

I had less time, oddly, for Moore, M.-L., O. Tjornbo, E. Enfors, C. Knapp, J. Hodbod, J. A. Baggio, A. Norström, P. Olsson, and D. Biggs. 2014.Studying the complexity of change: toward an analytical framework for understanding deliberate social-ecological transformations. Ecology and Society 19(4): 54. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-06966-190454 I say oddly because I used to really like the Social-Ecological Systems way of looking at things.  But it seems too abstract, too biologically driven.  I could be wrong…

The Cecere et al. paper was interesting too, and good on the differences between eco-innovations and standard innovation, evolutionary economics (naturally, given the journal it appears in!) and the types of path-dependence.

The extent to which lock-in and path dependence generate costs and inefficiency to the economy has been more carefully discussed by Liebovitz and Margolis (1995), who distinguish among three forms of path dependence. The first-degree path dependence is a situation whereby the influence of some initial events on the final outcome does not create any inefficiency in the economy. The second-degree path dependence is characterized by the scarcity of information in the initial phases of decisional process, which leads to regrettable outcomes that are not remediable. Finally, the third-degree path dependence refers to situations in which an inefficient outcome could have been avoided because of the existing better alternatives.Witt (1997) also suggests that the (detrimental) effects of lock-in need to be considered in light of the existing conditions – e.g. effective availability of better alternatives. In particular, the original model of Arthur (1989) relies on the assumption that technological lock-in amounts to foregoing wealth increases.
Cecere et al. (2014:1042)

It’s good on “cost-related factors, technological niches and complexity” “role of stakeholders” etc
Overall, this seems to be a comprehensive (disclaimer – I am not as on top of this field as I one day hope to be) overview. The glossary of terms “Definitions of eco-innovation” at the end though, IS really helpful

So, what have I learnt/what would I add from the reading?

1) blocking coalitions are a Crucial Thing

2) Cobb and Ross “Agenda Denial”

agenda denial-page001

and the counter-rhetorics way of thinking.

Other things I defo should read –
“Business and the genesis of the European Community carbon tax proposal”
“The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of business in the regulatory process associated with the carbon tax proposal. The first part of the paper describes the Community’s climate change policy, noting first the essential features of Community environment policy-making, the role of consultation with industry and the significance of the ‘subsidiarity’ principle. This part of the paper moves on to examine the carbon tax proposal and its evolution since 1990. The second part of the paper addresses the specific role which business played in influencing the development of the carbon tax proposal. The general strategy of business was to block the proposal entirely. The paper identifies the potential impacts of the tax on business, implications for corporate strategies and the specific channels through which business influenced the tax proposal, by participating in public debates, through representations to different directorates of the European Commission or by making a case to national authorities. The final part of the paper attempts ta draw some lessons about: the business position in relation to large scale environmental problems such as climate change; business responses to economic instruments such as the carbon energy tax; and the wider relationship between public authorities and business in regulatory processes. The question of whether this relationship has entered a new phase or whether there is still ’business as usual’ is addressed.”
Ikwue, T. and Skea, J. (1994) ‘Business and the genesis of the European carbon tax proposal’, Business Strategy and the Environment, 3(2): 1–10.
How does that compare to Australian coal industry (and broader capitalist sectors) successful efforts  to scupper a carbon tax in the early 1990s?

What would I write about if I could (had the time) around the politics of socio-technical transitions

  • The failings of social movement organisations (and what – in theory- to do about it) as niche actors/regime co-creators
  • The collapse – generally – of responsive states. Policy-making has become ever-more-insulated, more neo-liberalised. States stripped of their capacity, their confidence, their legitimacy.  (In the Anglo-Saxon world).

Counter-rhetorics and sympathetic strategies…

This below is from page 62-4 TABLER, R. (2008 ) The social construction of a special needs program for hurricanes PhD thesis University of South Florida.

It is, imho, a better way of thinking about state-corporate rhetoric and agenda denial, than the standard “legitimacy” framework devised by Lindblom and so on (though those are good!)

Counterrhetorics are approaches taken by the community to argue against the depictions made by stakeholders (Ibarra & Kitsuse, 1993). Here the community either makes an attempt to deny the problematic status of the condition and/or prevent the call to action. Using sympathetic counterrhetorics, the community accepts that there is a problem in part or whole, but will block the request for corrective activities.

There are five categories of sympathetic counterrhetorics (Spector & Kitsuse, 1987): naturalizing, cost involved, declaring impotence, perspectivizing, and tactical criticism.

In naturalizing the problem, the community accepts the existence of the problem, but there is no call to action because the problem is accepted as inevitable.

When the cost involved in correcting the problem outweighs the perceived benefits, there is no call to action due to budgetary constraints.

A community declares impotency, when it really does want to solve the problem but cannot due to lack of resources.

When perspectivizing, the community takes the stance that the claim is the claimmakers opinion, separate from the actual state of affairs.

Using tactical criticism, the community acknowledges the claims made but object to the methodss used in communicating the problem.

The community uses unsympathetic counterrhetorics, when denying that there really is a problem and there is no need for corrective activities. There are four categories of unsympathetic counterrhetorics: antipatterning, telling anecdote, counterrhetoric of insincerity, counterrhetoric of hysteria (Spector & Kitsuse, 1987).

Using antipatterning, the community maintains that the claim identifies isolated incidents, not a full-blown social problem.

When using a telling anecdote, the community denies the generality of the problem.

When the community uses counterrhetoric of insincerity, it is suggesting that there is a hidden agenda.

By using counterrhetoric of hysteria, the community is implying that the claimant’s claims are not rational or are emotional bases, rather than being based on a proficient evaluation of the state of affairs.

Citations are – Spector, M., & Kitsuse, J. I. (1987). Constructing social problems (2nd ed.). Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

Ibarra, P. R., & Kitsuse, J. I. (1993). Vernacular constituents of moral discourse: An interactionist proposal for the study of social problems. In J. A. Holstein & G. Miller (Eds.), Reconsidering social construction: Debates in social problems theory (pp. 25 – 58). New York: Aldine De Gruyter.