Medical hubris and arrogance leads to “iatrogenic” agony…


“There was a period of about three years (1987-1990), however, when it became fashionable for physicians to reduce the rather long MR imaging times by using anisotropically shaped (i.e., non-square) imaging pixels in studies of the spine. As it turned out, this resulted in a prominent dark line appearing within the spinal cord. The dark line was a Gibbs ringing artifact. Unfortunately clinicians, not aware of this kind of artifact—for not being conversant with the mathematics used to transform the instrument signal into an image—at times interpreted this artifact as a disease process: a fluid-filled lesion known as a “syrinx” requiring aggressive medical treatment. Ultimately, the artifact was detected and explained by an individual (Bronskill, McVeigh et al. 1988) whose knowledge bridged medicine and physics. Unfortunately, this did not happen until a great many patients had been misdiagnosed and treated. Once the nature of the artifact was recognized, and its implications appreciated, later researchers identified it too as the cause of misdiagnosis of different disorders, for example, spinal cord atrophy (Yousem, Janick et al. 1990).”

Baird, D. & Cohen, M.: 1999, ‘Why trade?’, Perspectives on Science, 7, no. 2, 231-254.

Translation – a bunch of cocky doctors think they are clever taking short-cuts (to be fair, probably under-pressure from cheapskate hospital administrators).  They fall in love with their images.  And then the false positives mean a bunch of people undergo spinal taps (mildly painful) and get told they have spinal cord atrophy.

It’s almost as if we are a species that has fallen for our own propaganda, and have forgotten all the Greek myths etc that warn about hubris.

Methodology (process tracing), empirics (Kyoto) and theory (corporate power)

My academic background is, um, interesting.  I have the lumpy landscape of the autodidact who has fossicked here and there, but never built a proper opencast mine, with draglines and dumptrucks and so on.

For my thesis (and possible future career?)  I am going to need more methodology (how do we find out reliable and relevant information without just confirmation biasing), more theory (who has constructed what theories for explaining institutional, organisational and social change/stability) and of course empirics of the specific cases (who did what when why and how).

To this end, I’m going to read a little of each every day (rather than binging on one of the three to the exclusion of t’others for weeks on end).  And, of course, then do a timely write-up,…

So, today, 4 papers (including one – the Vennesson – that I read yonks back and then lost in a stack of read-but-not-written-about articles).

Barley, S. (2010) Building an Institutional Field to Corral a Government: A Case to set an agenda for Organization Studies Organization Studies 31 (6) 777-805.

Hall, P. (2013) Tracing the progress of process tracing European Political Science 20 -30.

Mascher, S. (1997) Australia’s National Greenhouse Response: Implications for the Energy Sector Australian Mining and Petroleum Law Journal, 16,2, 126-133

Vennesson, P. (2008) Case study and process tracing: theories and practices  in Donatella DELLA PORTA and Michael Keating (eds), Approaches and Methodologies in the Social Sciences. A Pluralist Perspective, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008, 223-239.

Methodology papers

Vennesson’s work should be dear to anyone who uses case studies and process tracing. He asks

 How can case studies be performed empirically, especially using process tracing, a research procedure intended to explore the processes by which initial conditions are translated into outcomes?

(Vennesson, 2008: 226)

points to the pitfalls and limits and is generally damn useful.

He identifies four types of case study- descriptive, interpretive, hypothesis-generating and theory evaluating. (This echoes the work of Robert Yin).

He talks epistemology (theory of knowledge) and points out that –

Researchers are not passive; they engage in ‘casing’, and in so doing they hope to overcome the epistemological obstacles that stem from conventional categorizations. Second, case studies are shaped by an explicit effort of theory construction. Third, case studies are not based only on assumptions about actors’ goals and preferences. An in-depth empirical investigation using different types of data-gathering methods and procedures, like process tracing, is a key component of case study research.
(Vennesson, 2008: 229)

So, you aren’t allowed to just spin theories.  Damn.


Political phenomena have clock-like (regular, orderly, predictable), cloud-like (irregular, disorderly, unpredictable) and interacting (creative, adaptive, problem-solving) characteristics; process tracing can help to uncover all three of them (Almond and Genco 1977; Jervis 1997). Process tracing also provides an opportunity to combine positivist and interpretivist approaches in the making of a case study (Lin 1998: 166–9), allowing the researcher to explore both the causal ‘what’ and the causal ‘how’.
(Vennesson, 2008: 232)

And in something that Hall (2013) will repeat, taking the viewpoints and mindsets of the actors (especially the ones that might be foreign to you) seriously is crucial –

The focus is not only on what happened, but also on how it happened. It becomes possible to use process tracing to examine the reasons that actors give for their actions and behaviour and to investigate the relations between beliefs and behaviour (Jervis 2006). Process tracing is a fundamental element of empirical case study research because it provides a way to learn and to evaluate empirically the preferences and perceptions of actors, their purposes, their goals, their values and their specification of the situations that face them. Process tracing helps the researcher to uncover, directly and indirectly, what actors want, know and compute (Simon 1985: 295).
(Vennesson, 2008: 233)

It’s not a bed of roses or a plug and play thing though.  There are, as mentioned, limitations…

Process tracing as such is no guarantee that one will successfully conduct an empirical investigation. Case study research in general and process tracing in particular face four main challenges: the reliance on pre-existing theories; the assumption that each case can be treated autonomously and that the cases are distinct from one another; the need for empirical data; and the pitfalls of cognitive biases (see also Collier and Mahoney 2006; Checkel 2006: 367–9). While these limits are not all specific to case study and process tracing, they are particularly relevant in this type of research. The first limit regards theories. In case study research, the case selection, the comparison, the within-case analysis and the empirical investigation are all theory-dependent. Case study research and process tracing presuppose the existence of theoretical frameworks.

These frameworks are supposed to guide the researcher in his approach, as in his empirical work. But time and again, case study specialists recognize that either those theoretical frameworks are lacking, or they are ill-suited, leaving the researcher vulnerable to an ethnocentric bias or forced to use an ill-adapted theory. When a theory does exist, it is often insufficiently specified and rarely tailored to the problem at hand. There can be elements of theories, dispersed or available in a primitive formulation, but they have to be rethought and redesigned. In such situations, which are fairly common, researchers are engaged in theory development and their contribution to case study and to process tracing remains significant.
(Vennesson, 2008: 236)

You also have to watch out for the “autonomy of each case” (p 237), since they might have common causes, unseen linkages.  You have to watch out that your data sources are accessible and reliable –

Process tracing can only work if a sufficiently high level of accuracy, and reliability, can be reached on specific processes and events. This is not a given, particularly for topics that involve confidentiality and secrecy, like a foreign policy decision or a counterterrorism policy. One can only highlight the importance of the diversity of empirical sources, and the need to allow sufficient time and resources in the research process for the collection and treatment of empirical data. It is also at this point that the knowledge and practice of various investigation techniques – content analysis, participant observation, interviews, statistical methods, and so on – become significant (see Bray, ch. 15; Checkel 2006: 366–7).
(Vennesson, 2008: 237)

And finally you have to watch out, as with any (social) science that your cognitive biases aren’t helping to fool you (and you are the easiest person to fool, as Feynman said).

Vennesson highlights three particular biases regarding process tracing and case study research. They are (drum roll please)

  • Confirmation bias
  • Results being too consistent with too many theories
  • Ignoring negative evidence

As he has said, “the key question here is: ;What else can it be?’ (p. 238)

How it fits my thesis:  Erm, I’m using process tracing! I am gonna make sure I don’t lose this article in that stack of papers again.


 Peter Hall is a bit of a big beast in the field, and you can see why in his extremely erudite but clearly written article that is part of a methodology symposium

The key characteristic of a theory is that it does not simply identify an empirical regularity, but adduces reasons as to why this empirical regularity should exist, and setting out those reasons usually entails outlining causal mechanisms associated with the phenomenon at hand (Waltz, 1979)…..
(Hall, 2013: 21)

But (and there’s always a but)

after we have gathered observations against which to test a theory, the results are almost always ambiguous. Our observations usually tend to support the theory in some ways, but incline us against it in other ways.
(Hall, 2013: 21)

leaving us to have to reject the theory or the observations (which might in fact be dodgy).

Hall then covers different ways that this problem is tackled (I do like Donald Campbell’s ‘portable truths’! – see p. 22), and unpacks the word ‘interpretation’, which can mean

an intrinsic coherence to behaviour or events that is not immediately visible to the observer.
(Hall, 2013: 23)

Or then again,

Here, interpretation is associated with Weber’s (1949) method of Verstehen and, in particular, with minimalist versions of it which specify that good explanations of actions have to be compatible with the meanings the actors themselves associated with those actions.
(Hall, 2013: 24)

Much more hermeneutic, no “false consciousness!!” hand-waving allowed…He warns that

political scientists should not rely nearly as much as they do on highly stylised models that deliberately avoid realistic depictions of how the historical actors thought or acted.
(Hall, 2013: 24)

Hall then usefully applies this to looking at institutional change, and the pros and cons for political scientists in using what he calls “causal process tracing.”

How it fits my thesis: See comments on Vennesson above – this one will be crucial!


Empirical paper

Switching away from the theory of methodology (or is that the methodology of theory?) to the very practical/empirical; how were Australian lawyers thinking about climate change in the lead up to the crucial target-setting meeting in Kyoto in 1997?

I totally stumbled on Mascher (1997) – it hadn’t turned up on a relatively systematic search I’d done a while back (sometimes you just have to surf aimlessly in hope), it seems.

The backstory is that the Hawke government had decided climate change was going to be important (electorally!) and set up an “Ecologically Sustainable Development” policy-making (sic) process, in part to contain the threat of the green lobby.  They ended up making commitments to emissions cuts/stabilisation that they had neither the intention nor probably the ability to meet. By 1997 this was becoming acutely obvious, embarrassing and potentially dangerous. The Clinton Administration had switched in 1996 to calling for targets and timetables for developed country emissions reductions. Australia, thanks to its reliance on coal for electricity generation and coal exports for dosh, would have been a relatively tight corner.

Mascher dutifully talks about the National Greenhouse Response Strategy that emerged from the aforementioned ESD process (once it had been tamed and gutted by pro-industry bureaucrats), without mentioning just what a meaningless paper exercise it had become (and this was clear by 1995 at the latest).

And as she drily notes

Many of the micro-economic and competition policy reforms which have taken place since 1992 in the energy sector, such as the development of an interconnected competitive electricity market in New South Wales, Victoria, ACT, Queensland and South Australia and the privatisation of publicly owned electricity and gas utilities, have been driven by the goal of improving efficiency and competitiveness. These goals are not necessarily consistent with improving greenhouse emission outcomes.37 While, on its face, a fully competitive energy sector allows renewable energies and co-generation services to compete, structural barriers such as the exclusion of externality costs in fossil fuel energy pricing continue to favour the supply of traditional forms of energy
(Mascher, 1997:132)

In her conclusion she makes the obvious point that

Ultimately, moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions raise the prospect of moving away from the use of carbon intensive fuels and towards renewable energy sources. The inescapable consequence is that the energy sectors dependant on fossil fuels will be affected. Even the “no regret” measures of low economic impact focused on in the first phase of the NGRS have such implications.
(Mascher, 1997:133)

And finishes plaintively –

Governments can also not afford to lose sight of the fact that the development of renewable energy sources may present significant long term financial and environmental benefits for Australia, both domestically and internationally. To that end, they must continue to pursue efficiencies within the energy sector reliant on conventional energy sources while fostering the development of renewable energy sources with at least equal vigour. It is only by taking this course, I believe, that Australia will truly have no regrets.
(Mascher, 1997:133)

Oh well….

How it fits my thesis:  Ah, the missed opportunities….  Also, that journal looks like a crucial resource!!!


Theory paper

The final paper, by Steven Barley, is an absolute humdinger. As crucial as yesterday’s Levy and Spicer (2013), I reckon.  If you are interested to know how the United States has been governed these last 50 years, you need to read this skilful synthesis of work from a variety of fields (history, political science, etc –

Here’s the abstract

Although organizational theorists have given much attention to how environments shape organizations, they have given much less attention to how organizations mold their environments. This paper demonstrates what organizational scholars could contribute if they were to study how organizations shape environments. Specifically, the paper synthesizes work by historians, political scientists and students of corporate political action to document how corporations systematically built an institutional field during the 1970s and 1980s to exert greater influence on the US Federal government. The resulting network, composed of nine distinct populations of organizations and the relationships that bind them into a system, channels and amplifies corporate political influence, while simultaneously shielding corporations from appearing to directly influence Congress and the administration.
(Barley, 2010: 777)

In plain English – the bosses got spooked that the State was being successfully pressured by groups that gave a damn about a habitable planet, other species and social justice.  And they got their act together and have succeeded in capturing the policy-making process and then insulating it from counter-attack. And giving themselves plausible deniability.

Barley starts with a gentle chiding of sociologists for not having written about corporate political activity (he doesn’t go full cynic and suggest that generally academics are very good at knowing what it’s better not to see and say).

Barley explains his methodology –

To develop my argument, I will draw on research by a potpourri of political scientists, historians, journalists, sociologists, and students of corporate political action. My modus operandi will be to sift through and reassemble their work with an organizational theorist’s eye, to make the case that we already possess concepts that could be aimed fruitfully at the problem. Specifically, I shall focus on the utility of concepts employed by organizational institutionalists because they seem particularly well tuned for the task (Greenwood 2008). My thesis is this: during the 1970s and 1980s American corporations built, partially intentionally and partially unintentionally, an institutional field for shaping public policy. By institutional field, I mean a set of organizational populations and the relations that embed members of these populations into a social system or network with a purpose.
(Barley, 2010: 780)

And delivers in spades.  He looks at Peak Organisations (the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Business Roundtable.)  They were extremely well networked and savvy

The Chamber’s renewal was strongly shaped by a memo written in 1971 byLewis F. Powell to the Chamber’s director two months before Nixon nominated Powell to the US Supreme Court. The memo, which remained secret until after Powell’s confirmation, advised the Chamber to battle for business’s image and interests by fighting the opposition in the courts, by funding reputable social scientists who would lend credibility to free market philosophies, by using the media to distribute pro-business perspectives, and by evaluating textbooks used in social science courses.
(Barley, 2010: 784)  [See this Greenpeace article for text and analysis of the Powell memo, MH]

And extremely good at what they did.

In 1977 [the Chamber] set up the National Chamber Litigation Center, a business-oriented, public interest law firm that ‘promote[d] the private enterprise viewpoint before courts and regulatory agencies’ (Levitan and Cooper 1984: 20). By 1980 it had set up 2,700 Congressional Action Committees, each composed of about 30 executives who knew their representatives or senators personally. In 1982 the Chamber launched the American Business Network, or Biznet, which served as a nationwide communication system to provide news and commentary and to promote lobbying and corporate political action. For instance, one of Biznet’s first programs was a four-hour closed circuit program beamed to 200 corporations that discussed Congressional races and handicapped candidates (Sabato 1984).
(Barley, 2010: 784)

He then describes Political Action Committees and then Government Affairs Offices. On Public Relations Firms (that do lots of astroturfing) he has a couple of bits worth quoting in depth-

in the fight against establishing the Consumer Protection Agency (1977–1978), the Business Roundtable hired the North American Precis Syndicate to:

‘produce negative articles, ads, cartoons and prepackaged editorials about the CPA that were distributed free to hundreds of small daily and weekly newspapers, which often published them verbatim without acknowledgment of the source. These published “grassroots” opinions were then collected and sent to legislators as evidence of negative public opinion.’ (Akard 1992: 56)
(Barley, 2010: 784)

Btw, in his book “Inside the CIA” Philip Agee describes the same tactic being used by the CIA in Latin America in the 1950s.  Get a “communist subversion” story written in Washington planted in a local newspaper in, say Bolivia, then use that clipping as evidence back in Washington of communist subversion.  They called it ‘surfacing’….  The game is the game.

Barley has a long quote (clearly doesn’t have the same supervisor as me!) from Ken Silverstein about how PR firms run grass roots campaigns:

‘At a 1994 conference attended by dozens of corporate “gassroots specialists” … a public relations executive…claimed her outfit could parachute into a community and within two weeks “have an organization set up and ready to go” … The key to success is looking local. “It’s important not to look like a Washington lobbyist. When I go to a zoning board meeting I wear absolutely no make-up, I comb my hair straight back in a ponytail, and I wear my kids’ old clothes”…Speaking to the same conference was John Davies of Davies Communications … [who] explained how his telemarketers produce “personal” letters from real folks: “We want to assist them with letter writing. We get them on the phone, and while we’re on the phone we say, ‘Will you write a letter?’ ‘Sure.’ ‘Do you have the time to write it!’ ‘Not really.’ ‘Could we write the letter for you? I could put you on the phone right now with someone who could help you write a letter. Just hold, we have a writer standing by!’ “We hand-write it out on ‘little kitty cat stationery’ if it’s an old lady. If it’s a business, we take it over to be photocopied on someone’s letterhead. [We] use different stamps, different envelopes.” Getting a pile of personalized letters that have a different look to them is what you want.’ (Silverstein 1998: 90–91)
(Barley, 2010: 788-9)

Barley then turns to Law Firms and Lobbying Firms, Ad Hoc Organisations, Foundations and Think Tank and finally Administrative Appointments and Advisory Committees.

So what does the resulting field look like?  This figure will hopefully help you figure it out –

2010barleyfigure2institutioanlfield focorporate political influence

Barley closes out by pointing out that the United States might be an outlier, but that doesn’t mean the questions he’s raised are pointless.  There is a VERY rich research agenda right there, and I wonder if I could ever get a post-doc.  Have to get the doc first, of course…

How it fits my thesis:  You can’t think of climate change as an issue de novo. By the time it finally punched through in 1988, the corporates were ready for it, thanks to their political mobilisation during the 70s and 80s.  They may have been caught flat-footed for a year or so, but they were able to draw on accumulated folk knowledge, and –crucially – a thick network of organisations with deep interconnections with policy-makers and the media.   The Global Climate Coalition was nowt new, just the same old (successful) repertoire.

Once you see the world like that, it’s easier to explain just why radical mitigation action on the scale called for by scientists was kept off the agenda so successfully for so long (and still is today).

Of dinosaurs, Gramsci, Aussie polluters and #climate change: 5 easy pieces

I appear to be Learning.  Instead of 13 articles to synthesise, this one only goes up to five.

They’re listed below, and I’ll take them in the order I read them, which is mostly chronological.

Dobel, A., Westberg, K. Steel, M. and Flowers, K. (2014) An Examination of Corporate Social responsibility Implementation and Stakeholder Engagement: A Case Study in the Australian Mining Industry Business Strategy and the Environment Vol. 23, 145-159.

Levy, D. and Spicer, A. (2013) Contested imaginaries and the cultural political economy of climate change Organization Vol .20 (5) 659-678.

Macintosh, A. (2014) Mitigation Targets, Burden Sharing and the Role of Economic Modeling in Climate Policy Australian Journal of Public Administration Vol. 73, (2) pp. 164-180

McLean, D. (1978) A Terminal Mesozoic “Greenhouse”: Lessons from the Past Science Vol. 2011, Number 4354 pp. 401-406.

Wang, L., Li, S. and Gao, S. (2014) Do Greenhouse Gas Emissions Affect Financial Performance? – an Empirical Examination of Australian Firms Business Strategy and the Environment 23, 505-519.

First up, the geologist Dewey McLean (1978) – ‘A Terminal Mesozoic “Greenhouse.”

It starts “Human combustion of the fossil fuels coal, oil and gas and of forest clearing is measurably increasing the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere.”  And then in a few pages, with headings such as “Late Maestrichtian Extinctions”, ”Body Size and Heat Dissipation” and “Human-Generated Carbon Dioxide : A Modern Trigger?”  he basically says ‘be afraid, be very afraid.’

Fwiw, I found this one by following breadcrumbs (e.g. this) from George Monbiot’s latest excellent “we really are screwed” piece in the Grauniad.  I have a bit of a fascination for early (ignored) warnings.  Earlier in 1978 Nature had published a piece by John Mercer warning that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could go (and guess what, it probably is).  Of course, ‘early’ is relative. Revelle, Keeling and Bolin (among many others) had been banging on about anthropogenic climate change since the late ‘50s.  Btw, my fascination has led me to set up a very depressing website called “All Our Yesterdays, 365 Climate Histories.”  But I digress…


Next up is the extraordinarily rich piece by David Levy and Andre Spicer.  This really is a Must Read.

[How did I find it? A hat-tip here to my friend Christopher Wright, who has co-authored a book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations coming out in September with Daniel Nyberg. I’ve read the first few chapters and they’re dead good]

Levy and Spicer use the concept of “imaginaries”, which they describe as providing

“a shared sense of meaning, coherence and orientation around highly complex issues. Imaginaries are closely linked to the ways in which institutions and economic activity are organized and structured, and the ways people think they ought to be organized and structured.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:660)

They outline four core climate imaginaries – ‘fossil fuels forever, ‘climate apocalypse’, ‘techno-market’ and ‘sustainable lifestyles’

And throw in some thinking from dead Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (very cool guy) and Bob Jessop too.  They describe Jessop as arguing that “we are at a selection stage where

“more radical imaginaries that fundamentally question capitalism, or seek to revive Keynesianism and a stronger state, are losing plausibility within the coordinates of neoliberal capitalism.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:662)

My money is on neoliberal capitalism to win all the battles and lose the war (what, with Mother Nature batting last and all).

So, the imaginaries have to duke it out, but it’s not of course a fair fight. Some organisations have deeper pockets than others, and are going with the grain of human ‘progress’ and promethean self-conception…

Levy and Spicer outline how different imaginaries have gained pre-eminence at different stages over the last 30 years,


(and this gibes well with the Schlichting, (2013) that I discussed in the last summary. They also reference Unruh’s (2000) under-used concept of the Techno-Institutional Complex .

And give some great concrete examples of the fossil-fuel industry’s unsympathetic  counter-rhetorical strategies (Ibarra and Kitsuse, 1993) around telling anecdotes, and insincerity –

“This linkage of climate to class politics was expressed powerfully in a 2008 CEI television advertisement targeting Al Gore’s alleged hypocrisy regarding energy. The narrator begins: ‘Here’s the electricity we use at home. Al Gore uses 20 times as much’. Against a backdrop of Al Gore greeting other celebrities and receiving his Oscar for the film, An Inconvenient Truth, the narrator continues: ‘Mr Gore’s friends use lots of energy, too, but Al Gore wants to cut our energy use, putting our jobs and our future in jeopardy. Mr Gore’s future, on the other hand, couldn’t be brighter’. Reprising themes from earlier advertisements, the narrator warns: ‘But what will happen … if we restrict energy use? Some people may have a bright future, but don’t kid yourself–without affordable energy, hundreds of millions of people won’t have any future at all’. The final scene is a destitute black child wrapped in rags.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:671)

There’s also the concept of a “value regime” (adapted from Appadurai) which I have to think about more. It

“refers to the broader political-economic settlement linking an imaginary with specific set of technologies, production methods and market structures.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:673)

They point out that

“locating the fossil fuels forever imaginary within a broader value regime helps explain its resilience. Even as the imaginary eroded as a motivating vision, it remained anchored to economic and technological foundations, reinforced through everyday practices of energy intense lifestyles, just as institutional logics are reproduced through routines (Lounsbury et al., 2003; Seo and Creed, 2002). Moreover, the sector remained politically powerful, with substantial profits to fund lobbying, advertising and other efforts to defend the value regime.”
(Levy and Spicer, 2013:674)

Some of the articles imma need to read (see below for learning – it’s all a bit Pascal’s sphere of ignorance/knowledge)

Callon, M. and Muniesa, F. (2005) ‘Economic Markets as Calculative Collective Devices’, Organization Studies 26(8): 1229–50.

Leahy, T., Bowden, V. and Threadgold, S. (2010) ‘Stumbling Towards Collapse: Coming to Terms with the Climate Crisis’, Environmental Politics 19(6): 851–68.

Levy, D. L. and Egan, D. (1998) ‘Capital Contests: National and Transnational Channels of Corporate Influence on the Climate Change Negotiations’, Politics and Society 26(3): 337–61.

Levy, D. and Scully, M. (2007) ‘The Institutional Entrepreneur as Modern Prince: The Strategic Face of Power in Contested Fields’, Organization Studies 28(7): 971–91.

Morton, A. D. (2007) Unravelling Gramsci: Hegemony and Passive Revolution in the Global Economy. London: Pluto Press.

Rabe, B. (2008) ‘States on Steroids: The Intergovernmental Odyssey of American Climate Policy’, Review of Policy Research 25(2): 105–28.

Wynne, B. (2010) ‘Strange Weather, Again: Climate Science as Political Art’, Theory, Culture, and Society 27(2–3): 289–305.


Dobele et al. (2014) was, a slight case of feeling on the receiving end of bait-and-switch.  The case study dealt not so much with mining but with a (failed) shale gas project in Queensland that had come acropper for a variety of reasons (hubris, local relations going tits up when the plant began to pong, and the arrival of Greenpeace.  Dobele et al. point out that the company did itself no favours by retreating, in PR terms, to Sydney.  Not a good look.

They’re good on the point that actors should see themselves as part of an actor network – “a company is not the centre of the stakeholder network; the network has a life of its own, regardless of a company’s involvement or non-involvement’

Still, for my purposes, there were some useful references, perspectives on CSR etc.

And I will need to track down;

Barlow, K. (2004) The Environmental group Greenpeace alleges that the Federal Government offered a multi-million dollar Subsidy to a private oil company in Exchange for Taking Legal Action Against Greenpeace, Australia, Radio National.

Sounds interesting, and should be compared with the farce in the Cheney-Bush Whitehouse when functionaries on the inside were encouraging a think tank to sue the administration to gum up the works) –

[wikipedia] On August 11, 2003, Maine Attorney General G. Steven Rowe and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in a press release[8][9] called on United States Attorney General John Ashcroft

to investigate whether officials at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) solicited a conservative Washington think tank to sue the federal government in order to invalidate a government document warning of the impacts of global warming.The two state attorneys general obtained an email document through a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed a great intimacy between CEQ and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) on strategizing about ways to undermine the United States’ official reports and the authority of its officials.

[…] It appears that certain White House officials conspired with an anti-environmental special interest group to cause the lawsuit to be filed against the federal government.


Wang et al. (2014) is just plain depressing. If they are right, and I am reading them right, then it turns out that there is “a positive correlation between GHG emissions and corporate financial performance.”  [Translation: trashing the planet makes you money].  They speculate that the “positive correlation found in this study could be explained with reference to the unique economic structure and development of Australia, particularly its dominant mining industry.” [Translation: “we’re China’s spare coal mine and we’re too busy counting the dollars to be counting the carbon, suckers.”]

Levy and Spicer would probably nod and point to the “fossil fuels future” imaginary, and the “climate impasse” from 2009 onwards. (Australia avoided the Global Financial Crisis, and the entire soap opera of bringing in weak emissions trading scheme, at the second attempt, and then abolishing it, has played out between 2010 and 2014.)


Finally Macintosh, (2014).  He’s written a LOT of good stuff on Australian climate policy, including on land-clearance, which is what he addresses here.  The gist of what he is saying is that despite getting a ridiculously good deal out of Kyoto (by threatening to leave, basically), the Australians persist in saying the sky will fall if they have to even reduce the rate at which they accelerate digging up carbon and selling it to everyone they can.

There’s lots of very controlled (and thus more effective than my-style-of-ranting) stuff about the political purposes to which economic modelling can be put –

Given the significance of targets to sovereign and political interests, there is the added difficulty that there are strong incentives for parties to skew the analyses in their favour (Putnam 1988; Christoff 2005). This would not be overly problematic if the analyses were transparent but the complexity of the modelling and circumstances in which it is typically undertaken often shield it from scrutiny and leave it vulnerable to manipulation. Governments can shape the scenarios to produce results that support their negotiating and domestic political positions safe in the knowledge that most people will be bamboozled by the numbers, graphs, maps and other material that typically accompanies the analysis. Bycontrolling the release of information, governments can also prevent meaningful scrutiny of the underlying assumptions and outputs (McKibbin et al. 2009; Ergas and Robson 2012).
(Macintosh, 2014: 166)


The treatment of LULUCF in the modelling that has been done for policy purposes in Australia highlights the problems with burden sharing approaches that use economic projections to determine national targets. Put simply, economic modelling is too unreliable, too subjective and too vulnerable to manipulation to provide a reliable and objective basis from which to set caps. Economic modelling has its uses, including in relation to the formulation of climate policy. The danger lies in exactly how it is used.
(Macintosh, 2014: 176)

There is a long history of the use of economic modelling to ‘frame’ debates on climate mitigation in Australia, back to the late 80s and early 1990s.  You can read about it in my thesis (probably only a footnote!  In the meantime, check out  Diesendorf (1998) and Henman (2002).


So, what do we learn? That I am Learning.  That there aren’t enough hours in the day to read closely all the excellent articles out there AND enter the relevant factoids and concepts in your secret database AND do some thinking and writing (not necessarily in that order). AND have a wife, sorry, life.

Last word though goes to the oldest of the articles.  McLean closes (and this is 197-bloody-8, mind you) with this

A critical problem for humans is to avoid arriving inadvertently at a critical threshold that might trigger an abrupt accelerated warming of the climate beyond their capacity to control, or to adapt to, it. The duration of such a “greenhouse” would, in human terms, last an interminable period, and its impact on life would be incalculable. Animals today are generally adapted to relatively cool conditions, as were faunas prior to the terminal Mesozoic extinctions. A sudden climatic warming could potentially impose on us conditions comparable to those that terminated a geologic era.
(McLean, 1978:406)

Diesendorf, M. (1998) Australian economic models of greenhouse abatement Environmental Science & Policy Vol. 1, (1), pp. 1–12.

Henman, P. (2002) Computer Modeling and the Politics of Greenhouse Gas Policy in Australia Social Science Computer Review Vol. 20 (2) 161-173.

Ibarra P. and Kitsuse. J.I. (1993) “Vernacular Constituents of Moral Discourse: An Interactionist Proposal for the Study of Social Problems.” Pp. 21-54 in Constructionist Controversies: Issues in Social Problems Theory (SocialProblems and Social Issues), edited by D.R. Loseke, and J. Best. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

Schlichting, I. (2013) Strategic Framing of Climate Change by Industry Actors: A Meta-analysis, Environmental Communication, 7:4, 493-511

Unruh, G. (2000) Understanding carbon lock-in Energy Policy, Vol. 28, 12, pages 817-83

Misognynist pop lyrics, no comment required

It ain’t rappers who invented misogyny in popular music, is all I’m saying-

Who wants yesterday’s papers
Who wants yesterday’s girl
Who wants yesterday’s papers
Nobody in the world

Rolling Stones “Yesterdays News”

and that “happy” In the Summertime –

You got women, you got women on your mind
Have a drink, have a drive
Go out and see what you can find

If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal
If her daddy’s poor, just do what you feel

Mungo Jerry “In the Summertime” 

If only there were a word that described the relentless assault on the worth of women…. No, wait….

13 academic articles on corporate political strategy and … #climate change

[Update: I got it down to five papers for the next one, and four for the one after that!]

Hmm, let this be a lesson to me.  Nobody, probably even me, is going to read all of this.  I need to do write-ups every three or four articles (which, given the amount I read, means daily, not bragging).  I also need to be systematic in what I read (clustering papers where possible).  Below there’s an alphabetical list of the papers I look at, but the discussion of them will be clustered “logically,” around

  • issues (framing, salience etc),
  • US corporate responses to (environmental) pressures,
  • corporate political strategy,
  • corporate climate change strategy internationally,
  • then closing out with specific papers about Australia and the USA.

Papers discussed

Bonardi, JP and Keim, G. (2005) Corporate political strategies for widely salient issues Academy Of Management Review, Vol.30(3), pp.555-576

Entman, R. (1993) Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm Journal of Communication 43 (4)

Griffiths, A. Haigh, N. and Rassias, J. (2007) A Framework for Understanding Institutional Governance Systems and Climate Change: The Case of Australia European Management Journal Vol. 25 6, pp. 415-427

Hillman, A. and Hitt, M. (1999) Corporate political Strategy formulation: A model of approach, participation and strategy decisions Academy of Management Review Vol 24, 4,

Hillman, A, Keim, G. and Schuler, D. (2004) Corporate Political Activity A Review and Research Agenda Journal of Management, Vol.30 (6), pp.837-857

Hoffman, A.  (1999) Institutional Evolution and Change: Environmentalism and the U.S. Chemical industry Academy of Management Journal 42, 4, 351-371.

Jones, C.and Levy, D. (2007) North American Business Strategies towards climate change European management Journal Vol 25, 6, pp. 428-440.

Kolk,A. and Pinkse, J. (2007) Multinationals’ political activities on climate change Business and Society, June 2007, Vol.46(2), pp.201-228

Kolk, A. and Pinkse, J. (2008) A perspective on multinational enterprises and climate change: Learning from “an inconvenient truth” Journal of International Business Studies 39, 1359-1378.

Pinkse J. and Kolk, A. (2012) Multinational enterprises and climate change: Exploring institutional failures and embeddedness Journal of International Business Studies 43, 332-341.

Schlichting, I. (2013) Strategic Framing of Climate Change by Industry Actors: A Meta-analysis, Environmental Communication, 7:4, 493-511

Weidenbaum, M. (1980) Public policy: No longer a spectator sport Journal of Business Strategy 1, 1

Yoffie, D. (1988) How an Industry Builds Political Advantage Harvard Business Review May-June 82-89

Let’s start with Entman (1993), since that sort of ‘frames’ (hoho) my interest here. Short ‘theoretical’ papers can be the most fun to read. No methodology to slog through, no analysis of data sources to quibble with, just “pure” thought.  Entman wants to tidy up the loose use of ‘framing’, which is “often defined casually, with much left to an assumed tacit understanding of reader and researcher” (Entman,1993: 53).

Key quote is  –

Framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described. Typically frames diagnose, evaluate, and prescribe, a point explored most thoroughly by Gamson (1992).
(Entman,1993: 52)

Salience Entman defines as

making  a piece of information more noticeable, meaningful, or memorable to audiences. An increase in salience enhances the probability that receivers will perceive the information, discern meaning and thus process it, and store it in memory (see Fiske & Taylor, 1991).
(Entman,1993: 53)

Cranberry scare - 1959_1111_mirror_cover smallSo, timing is everything. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” (1962) benefitted not just from great writing and research, but the great cranberry scandal of 1959. Similarly, climate change ‘arrived’ in 1988 thanks not just to the Jim Hansens and Al Gores of this world, but the drought of that year and the ozone hole of 1985.  People were ‘softened up’, to use a military term.

One last quote from Entman, who strikes me as pretty smart, radical and (therefore) gloomy.

[The] theory, along with that of Kahneman and Tversky, seems to raise radical doubts about democracy itself. If by shaping frames elites can determine the major manifestations of “true” public opinion that are available to government (via polls or voting), what can true public opinion be? How can even sincere democratic representatives respond correctly to public opinion when empirical evidence of it appears to be so malleable, so vulnerable to framing effects?

Salience is something Bonardi and Keim (2005) are particularly strong on.   They use the concepts of ‘information cascades’ (with busy inexpert people taking their cues on what to worry about and what to think about the issues of the day from their own leaders [newspapers, organisations etc]  – so-called ‘rational herding’ and ‘reputational cascades’ where people who want to be opinion formers more or less following the herd most of the time on most issues.

The interesting thing for me here is on how it might be possible to interrupt information cascades and distort reputational cascades within what Cobb and Ross (1997) would call ‘Agenda Denial’.

Bonardi and Keim define widely salient issues as ones that might matter to voters.

Politicians generally react in two ways to issues that become more salient to a larger number of voters: (1) either they wait for the issue to be widely salient and act only when they feel constrained to do so or risk having their re-election jeopardized, or (2) they act as entrepreneurs in the political arena, identifying early opportunities related to an issue’s becoming widely salient and using it as a way to compete against other politicians.
(Bonardi and Keim, 2005:559)

[So, see battles between Environment Minister Graham Richardson and his shadow, Chris Puplick, for the crucial green vote in Australia at the 1987 and 1990 Federal elections]

It might be possible to keep an issue from becoming salient if you can maintain a sense of doubt/controversy. The tobacco industry refined this tactic, and it continues down unto today, with the attacks the “97% consensus” meme….

And researchers and reporters can be carrot-and-sticked to be on message of course –

Sanctions or rewards imposed on experts can be of various sorts, among them the following: being ostracized in conferences or by others in the field, being hindered in the development of one’s career, having papers rejected for publication, or finding it difficult to acquire research support. Rewards given to or sanctions imposed on reporters are easier to identify, in the sense that reporters need to attract a wide audience to promote their career (Bovitz, Druckman, & Lupia, 2002).
(Bonardi and Keim, 2005: 562)

One is reminded of the Solomon Asch “which line is longer” stuff.

One efficient way by which firms can attempt to increase this variance in experts’ opinions regarding an issue is by providing support and financing to research centers and interest groups opposed to established positions. This encourages dissent among experts.
(Bonardi and Keim, 2005:568-9)

Bjorn Lomborg and University of Western Australia, much?

Bonardi and Keim continue –

One of the key conclusions of the literature surveyed in the first section of this paper is that well-organized interests with converging views are often an effective way to impact public policy decision makers. In the context of rivalry to raise the saliency of an issue, however, it is better to divide in order to stand. For several environmental issues, over which firms compete with activists and interest groups trying to raise these issues’ salience, firms have successfully prevented policy decisions by generating multiple views of the policy and promoting dissension.

These actions were largely the cause of the demise of a proposed European carbon tax in 1992, as well as the process to create a regime to control emissions of atmospheric greenhouse gases (Levy, 1997).
(Bonardi and Keim, 2005: 569)

They do a nice line in explaining “threshold modification” – basically shifting the tipping point at which attention starts to be properly paid to the issue that they want off the agenda.

Threshold modification is possible by firms financing interest groups with research activities that may support the firms’ views or create alternative views calling into question earlier results, threatening the stability of the previous cascade. New research results can have three positive effects. First, they can create new incentives and new research/career opportunities for those investigating issues related to firms’ interests.

Second, they can free the experts who feel constrained for reputation purposes to embrace the general opinion, therefore pushing down the threshold distribution. Third, they can ultimately impact reputation cascades to the point of threatening the stability of cascades previously supported by reporters.
(Bonardi and Keim, 2005: 571)

Finally on the framing/salience thing, Schlichting (2013) has an extremely useful paper with an overview of industry framing strategies around climate change. For now, the abstract can suffice –

This study uses framing theory to analyze 38 studies on industry actors’ climate change communication between 1990 and 2010. It identifies three consecutive phases, each characterized by one dominant master frame: in the early and mid-1990s the US fossil fuel and coal industry pushed the frame of scientific uncertainty. With the rundown to the Kyoto negotiations in 1997, the strategy shifted toward the socioeconomic consequences of mandatory emission reductions, particularly in the USA and Australia.

At the same time, European industry actors started to promote industrial leadership in a climate protection, which today dominates across all the world regions. The study discusses potential triggers for the regional differences as well as the implications for further research.

Oh, go on, here’s a quote from the article that bears on t’PhD;

Another important sponsor was the Australian mining industry. Pearse (2007) found out that single corporations usually did not directly sponsor the frame in Australia, but Australian associations and think tanks ‘‘all expressed doubt about the science of global warming’’ (Pearse, 2007, p. 148). Newell (2000) argues that the adoption of the uncertainty frame was triggered by the US PR firms teaming up with the Australian industry to search for new allies outside America (Newell, 2000, p. 110).

Three intriguing papers on US industry and its relations to policy-makers and regulation.

Weidenbaum (1980) manages to paint a picture of industry as Gulliver, becoming helplessly enmeshed in a web of Lilliputian snares, with expanding environmental regulation causing a “second managerial revolution”, stripping capitalists of their power to decide how and where to invest..  It’s redolent of Ayn Rand at her most florid.   At no point does he point to the – by the time of writing already well underway – active and effective measures taken by industry to reassert itself (see Barley, 2010).  His paper is interesting because he then became a figure(head) in the first Reagan Administration, and because it captures the tone of victimhood that industry occasionally goes for.

More interesting, and useful, is Yoffie (1988). In what I think is a seminal paper (or should be) he looks at how the semi-conductor industry learned, after several false starts, how to build a trade association that could play the Washington game and win.  (Trade associations fascinate me.  I defo need to read “The Political Mobilization of Firms and Industries” Edward T. Walker and Christopher M. Rea Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2014. 40:281–304

Yoffie makes a series of good points –

Companies need a united front. Small industries must develop and maintain alliances among competitors, suppliers, and customers. Such ties expand the range of affected constituencies, increase the resources available for political action, and defuse potential sources of opposition.
(Yoffie, 1988:83)

And unity needs to be created and enforced, with punishment for potential deserters… (see BCA struggles over Kyoto and emissions trading under Howard government)

A politician evaluating a proposal from business usually searches for answers to several basic questions: What will the proposal cost? What sectors of the economy benefit? What sectors lose? No politician wants to help one industry if it means antagonizing three others. That’s why coalitions are so important from a strategic perspective. Just as powerful suppliers and customers squeeze profit margins in the marketplace, unrestrained political competition among rivals, suppliers, and customers usually reduces everyone’s influence.
(Yoffie, 1988:84)

And so a trade association can’t just concentrate on the policy-makers, but also think about what “competing” business actors might do, what vetoes they might have and how they can be finessed into silence/acquiescence if not active support.

The [Semi-conductor Industry Association] and individual companies floated several initiatives against Japan during the late 1970s, and political leaders did what political leaders invariably do. They sought the reactions of other players in the industry as well as outside constituencies. In this case, the key outside constituency was the biggest buyers of chips-giant computer builders like Hewlett-Packard and Digital Equipment. The users’ primary concern was maintaining reasonable prices and flexible supplies. Invariably, they opposed SIA initiatives, which effectively doomed the proposals.

A string of defeats convinced semiconductor leaders that they had to expand their base of business support.
(Yoffie, 1988: 85)

Think. Dialectically….

On the last page of this packs-a-punch article, Yoffie writes –

The work of the semiconductor industry in Washington is not over. For government to be a reliable ally and partner, the relationship must be stable and ongoing. A shotgun approach to politics-get what you want and don’t return until you need something else-simply won’t suffice.
(Yoffie, 1988: 89)

This is what Hillman and Hitt (1999) refer to as the difference between a transactional approach and a relational one. But we’ll come back to that…

The final “US industry and (environmental) pressures” paper is a doozy.  Hoffman (1999) It’s got loads of theory geekery about institutional theory, neo-institutional theory (firms have to respond to wider pressures beyond their control – “rules, norms and beliefs that describe reality” and lots of clear explanation about ‘regulative’, ‘normative’ and ‘cognitive’ pillars, fields and “disruptive events”.  Hoffman then applies these theories to how the US chemical industry has changed (as in, has been dragged kicking and screaming and whining) away from their initial position that ‘DDT is good for you and anyone who says otherwise is a communist’ to a vague sense that there’s money to be made, and reputations to be maintained (and competitive advantage to be had) in not throwing excessive amounts of chlorine in the gene pool and then tossing in customers’ twitching corpses. Or something.  Rachel Carson, eh?  That’s what a heroine looks like.

Hoffman uses trade journal data to good effect, using some content analysis tools I will have to get my head around.   Nice progression of organizational fields (page 359) through from resistance/ignorance to regulatory, to normative to cognitive positions and generally lots of meaty goodness. Earlier this year I’d read Hoffman’s 1997 “From heresy to dogma” book, but this one paper might have been more useful for me…

Right, Hillman and Hitt – this is a seminal paper, I think.  Really really good stuff on corporate political strategy.  They seem to have read everything (several of the papers in this discussion I ‘found’ via the references), and they write clearly indeed, explaining who thought what and why it matters.

There’s far too much here to do full justice (you should read this paper).  For now, this –

Many firms, however, pursue political strategies over the long term, rather than on an issue-by-issue basis. This represents a more relational approach to political strategy. Instead of monitoring public interest and becoming involved only in specific issues, firms using a relational approach attempt to build relationships across issues and over time so that when public policy issues arise that affect their operations, the contacts and resources needed to influence this policy are already in place.
(Hillman and Hitt, 1990: 828)


Several variables may affect a firm’s decision to adopt a transactional versus a relational approach to political action. We examine three prominent ones: (1) the degree to which firms are affected by government policy, (2) the level of firm product diversification, and (3) the degree of corporatism/pluralism within the country in which firms are operating.
(Hillman and Hitt, 1990: 829)

Hillman, Keim and Schuler (2005) do a sterling job on outlining types of corporate political activity, and the research on it, outlining proactive versus reactive types, typologies within the “proactive” type, approaches (the aforementioned transactional/relational), participation level, strategy types – see Geels (2014) for an expansion of their information/financial incentive/constituency building typology).

This is one of those papers you have to know the field before you get the full value, and you can’t learn the field until you have read a bunch of the articles they cite.  It’s almost as if doing a PhD is hard-fricking-work and not a hobby.  Insert unsmiley emoticon here….

Three papers by Ans Kolk and Jonatan Pinkse, both at University of Amsterdam Business School, are also worth a close reading.

Kolk and Pinkse (2007) “Multinationals’ political activities on climate change” open with the contrast between Exxon’s white-anting of the Bush administration (or rather, collusion with it) on minimising climate reports and proactive business activity.  In June 2005, in one of history’s little jokes, the exposure of the first came the day before the launch of the latter.

They use Hillman and Hitt’s (1999) work on corporate political strategy and Bonardi and Keim (2005) on issue salience as the theoretical underpinning to look at the (self-reported) behaviour of global firms who had responded to various surveys/reporting outfits like the Carbon Disclosure Project.

It’s all good stuff, but an editing error means that Table 2, that “displays the main types of political activities of MNCs on climate change, with an example for each category that illustrate what a few firms report on these activities” is… missing.  Meanwhile, they conclude –

The findings show that the type of political activities that multinationals currently pursue in response to climate policy for one part can be characterized as the adoption of an information strategy to influence policy makers that give direction to the climate change debate. However, instead of trying to withhold policy makers from doing something against rising GHG emissions, most firms have taken a more cooperative approach by aiming to push policy makers in the direction of market-based solutions such as emissions trading and voluntary programs. The other part of corporate political activity for climate change is characterized as a strategy of self-regulation. Unlike an information strategy, which is predominantly targeted at policymakers, self-regulation involves a broad range of other political actors, such as business groups, environmental NGOs, and international institutions.

The process by which multinationals engage in political activities is mostly one of collective action….
(Kolk and Pinkse, 2007:225)

Kolke and Pinkse (2008) look at whether and how firms can exploit “green” activities for increased profit and market share – the answer seems to be very much “it really depends”… on which countries they are operating in, are the activities transferable, recombinant etc.

‘It’s complicated,’ basically –

The role that a global sustainability issue plays in MNE strategy is not merely a matter of dealing with local regulation, but is usually part of a broader conglomerate of factors involving not only govern mental but also societal and market forces, and at different levels, national, regional and/or international. Because of this whole variety of geographically dispersed forces that influence the development of a global sustainability issue, meet ing all stakeholder demands essentially forms a moving target for MNEs. What is expected from MNEs constantly changes, because public opinion, regulation, competition and scientific evidence on global sustainability issues usually follow a rather fitful course.

So, not everything that “saves” carbon is a “firm-specific advantage”, nor a “competence-enhancing discontinuity”.  And while the car industry might – with luck and good judgement, manage to reorientate, it won’t be so easy for the fossil fuel industry –

For firms that more heavily rely on the production of coal, climate change is a driver to develop other transition technologies. BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, which have strong positions in the production of coal, are both investing in clean coal technology and technologies to offset emissions by geological sequestration (the capture and storage of emissions in underground reservoirs). Oil firms such as Statoil and BP have also started to invest in carbon capture and storage, but are doing this cooperatively to spread the risk, thus creating a shared capability instead of an FSA.
(Kolke and Pinkse, 2008: 1367)

Well, yes, indeed. But it might be worth quoting the Shell CEO, speaking in May 2015, on this –

Van Beurden insisted that he had his hands tied from investing more heavily in renewables or CCS because they would not produce the high financial returns that investors had been used to from oil and gas. “I would lose my job over it if I just threw a few billions away [on CCS] … CCS is essential for society and … is ultimately important for our company, but listen, I have great difficulty to have shareholders focus on the quarter after next.”

And in the “research agenda” stage

The exploration of the climate change issue clearly raises a number of questions and several insights into MNE strategy and FSA-CSA configurations that may also be interesting for scholars working on more “mainstream” topics in international business. Climate change is an exemplary, perhaps even unique, issue to investigate how MNEs respond to socially relevant issues of sustain ability, because it involves fossil fuel production and consumption. Many MNEs (particularly in energy-intensive industries) recognize the strategic impact and, accordingly, mention activities that seem to hint at initiatives to develop green FSAs or change key FSAs. The study of climate change thus forms a research “frontier” that also clearly illustrates the complexities and societal relevance of international business in the current epoch.
Kolk and Pinkse, 2008: 1375-6)

Yes, we can document the bumpy slide towards the apocalypse.  Ho hum. By the time of the next work, Pinkse and Kolk (2012), Nopenhagen had happened.  Thus the abstract goes –

This paper explores how climate change affects multinational enterprises (MNEs), focusing on the challenges they face in overcoming liabilities and filling institutional voids related to the issue. Climate change is characterized by institutional failures, because there is neither an enforceable global agreement nor a market morality. Climate change is also a distinctive international business issue, as its institutional failures materialize differently in different countries. As governments are still highly involved, MNEs need to consider carefully their strategies to cope with non-market forces, including their embeddedness in multiple institutional settings. Using some illustrative examples of MNE responses to climate-related components in stimulus packages, we explore MNEs’ balancing act concerning their institutional embeddedness (or lack thereof) in home, host and supranational contexts as input for further research on the dynamics of MNE activities in relation to climate change.
(Pinkse and Kolk, 2012:333-4) (emphasis added)

And there’s good stuff on “market morality” etc –

“market morality”, that is, “the set of ethical norms that the vast majority of MNEs would attempt to practice, because, other things being equal, adopting  such moral practices are either necessary for economic survival or confer advantages that enhance the MNE’s prospects for success” (Bowie & Vaaler, 1999: 165–166). Self-imposed codes of conduct guiding moral behavior and other voluntary corporate initiatives adopted to fill institutional voids (Kolk & Van Tulder, 2005) have been only the first steps in addressing the problem, as they suffer from ineffective monitoring and enforcement mechanisms (Pinkse & Kolk, 2009). What further complicates matters is not only that MNEs have been slow in taking into account their impact on climate change, and in setting norms, but also that consumers have proven unwilling, or at least unable, to act upon climate change concerns by adjusting their purchasing behavior (Lorenzoni, Nicholson-Cole, & Whitmarsh, 2007).
(Pinkse and Kolk, 2012:333-4)

So what does it all mean for “my” two countries?  I’m glad you ask…

Griffiths, Haigh and Rassias (2007)

propose that there is a relationship between different governance systems and climate change outcomes in terms of the institutional framework, policies developed, capabilities developed to innovate and speed of adaptation. The case of the Australian approach to climate change is used to highlight the responses that occur in political and institutional environments characterised by a plurality of actors and the difficulties associated with developing a coherent national response.

With admirable understatement they comment that

Climate change approaches are seen as a cost rather than an opportunity, and institutional governance systems focus on protecting access to resources (Griffiths and Zammuto, 2005). For instance, in Australia, coal companies and industries associated with the production of energy from coal, lobby significantly for financial compensation and for protection from a range of measures associated with the introduction of carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes. Such a governance system has characterised much of the national debate on climate change in Australia.
(Griffiths et al. 2007: 417)

There’s lots of useful specific info for background about laws, policy, schemes etc.  The authors were writing just as the various pressures in Australia created an imperfect storm, that forced industry to change its tune –

there has been a recent and sudden shift in the institutional governance system in Australia, as the national government has made commitments to implement a cap and trade carbon trading scheme after 2011. The development of such a system has now become the battleground for lobby groups and major carbon emitters. Particularly, there has been a shift by the major mining and energy users to influence the creation and design of such a market. On the other side, it has signalled to business groups that they have an adjustment period to implement efficiencies to reduce their carbon emissions and encourages them to find innovations in technology and investment. Similarly, the shift in institutional governance systems, via the creation of a national framework for emissions trading, will create the conditions that will reduce differences between the individual state governments renewable energy targets and carbon sequestration strategies, thereby reducing corporate uncertainty.
(Griffiths et al. 2007: 424)

Of course, it’s all gone horribly wrong since then, with the long and bloody fight to get even a minimal emissions trading scheme leading to the scheme’s general friendlessness and easy removal by the new conservative government in 2013-4.  This will be hard to explain to future generations.

Finally (!) Jones and Levy (2007) look at business strategies in North America. Their abstract (emphasis added) sums it up.

Business has become a key part of the fabric of global environmental governance, considered here as the network which orders and regulates economic activity and its impacts. We argue that businesses generally are willing to undertake limited measures consistent with a fragmented and weak policy regime. Further, the actions of businesses act to create, shape and preserve that compromised regime. We examine three types of indicators of business responses in North America: ratings by external organizations, commitments regarding emissions, and joint political action. We find business response to be highly ambiguous, with energetic efforts yielding few results.

This one folds back neatly to the Schlicting (2013) article on ‘framing’, and also the sense of difficulty for corporate strategy in Kolk and Pinkse (2008).

Jones and Levy point out that

Companies also face considerable ‘competitive risk’, as changes in prices, technologies, and demand patterns disrupt sectors and entire supply chains. Investments in research and development are highly risky, as low-emission technologies, such as those for renewable energy, frequently require radically new capabilities that threaten to undermine the position of existing companies and open the industries to new entrants (Anderson and Tushman, 1990; Christensen, 1997).
(Jones and Levy, 2007:430)

They point out that companies got their fingers burnt before –

Moreover, several large American companies had lost substantial amounts of money in investments in renewable energy and electric vehicles in the 1970s, and the painful lessons of that earlier era had become institutionalized in the companies.
(Jones and Levy, 2007:430)

They show that by the late 1990s the initial closed industry front was fracturing –

The growth of new organizations committed to a climate compromise further undermined the [Global Climate Coalition]’s claim to be the voice of industry on climate. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change, formed in April 1998, provides not only a channel of policy influence for member companies, but also a vehicle for legitimizing the new position.
(Jones and Levy, 2007:431)

Jones and Levy were writing before Nopenhagen, but they could see the writing on the wall –

The review of corporate strategic responses to climate change sheds some insight into the paradoxical coexistence of a beehive of corporate activity on climate change yet with few tangible outcomes. Of course, it might simply be too early to evaluate the impact of corporate efforts; some investments in innovation are unlikely to yield short-term gains, and preparations for establishing the infrastructure for carbon trading are bound to take some time. Nevertheless, the results reported here suggest that business responses, especially in North America, are uneven and rather ineffective, at least in relation to the scale of action needed. Corporate responses tend to be directed toward organizational changes rather than emissions reductions per se. Here we argue that these corporate responses can be understood in the context of the emerging GHG regime. To the extent that a global regime can be said to exist, it is fragmented, and carries very weak price signals, and outside of Europe is still largely voluntary. The emerging GHG regime is simply not up to the task of a radical restructuring of energy and transportation markets.
(Jones and Levy, 2007:436)

And in their conclusion they point out

Given the prospect of a flexible and fungible carbon regime with weak caps, high transaction costs and low, if unpredictable, carbon prices, it is perhaps unsurprising that companies are currently placing more emphasis on management processes, policy influence, and market image than on major investments in risky low-emission technologies. Ahead of any mandatory caps, especially in advance of setting any baselines, investing in emissions trading infrastructure has a greater potential return than investing in reducing emissions. Firms seem to be responding to a vast, bureaucratic, complex GHG system, but one that does not actually require much in the way of emissions reductions.
(Jones and Levy, 2007:436)

Nowt’s changed since they wrote that, except the atmospheric concentration of C02 and the amount of carbon-intensive infrastructure on t’planet.  And both of those have been moving… in very much the wrong direction….

There are of course more recent articles. This was just an attempt to force myself to actively engage with the material, to read it and start to draw connections.  I will do better with better habits…


Cobb, R and Ross, M. (1997) Cultural Strategies of Agenda Denial: Avoidance, Attack and Redefinition Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press

Geels, F. (2014)  Reconceptualising the co-evolution of firms-in-industries and their environments: Developing an inter-disciplinary Triple Embeddedness Framework Research Policy 43, 261– 277

Remington Steele and Carbon Capture and Storage. No, honestly.

remingtonsteeleThere was an episode of the 80s guilty-pleasure private eye show “Remington Steele” (starring Pierce Brosnan avant la 007) that has something to say about neo-institutional theory and economic sociology. Sort of.

The episode, called “Steele Knuckles, Glass Jaws” (the titles always had a pun on steel/still) has a boxer is trying to stay in a fight that he is supposed to throw, and needing advice.  Unfortunately, Remington Steele is not at the ringside, and his colleague can only recite Steele’s earlier generic advice.

“You just have to go back in there and hit him. You look for weaknesses, unprotected areas and wait for chances to score-”

The boxer needs something specific for the circumstances, but the expertise just is not present…

In the TV show, you’ll be shocked to learn, Steele turns up, gives the necessary advice and thus justice and order are restored before the final ad break.

In real life? Not so much.

The  coal industry has been getting a discursive pummelling from the scientists (stand up Jim “Coal-fired power stations are death factories. Close them” Hansen).  The burning of coal to generate electricity is thickening the blanket of carbon dioxide that is heating the planet.  In response to this charge of ecocide, from about 2003 to 2010 – with a peak in 2008, the industry and its political and ideological help-mates were keen on

“using technological promises to confer legitimacy or delay regulation”  (Geels, 2014: 269-70),

specifically around the long-touted hope of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

That hope has of late rubbed up against various physical and financial realities.  The Queensland venture ‘Zerogen’ folded in 2010 because the physical geography was wonky. The US ‘Futuregen’ project had its Department of Energy funding pulled (for the second time) in February 2015.

Rather like the hapless colleague in the TV show, the coal industry is still propounding unhelpful lines (see various speeches by Rio Tinto and BHP figures), because in terms of technological innovations that could keep the rule-making politicians and social movements at bay, what else have they got?

They could really do with a Remington Steele. Sadly, he’s as fictional as our hopes of a habitable planet 50 years hence…

[What do we learn from this?  I have a brain that retains all sorts of useless crap from 30 years ago.  It’s a drupal system designed by a demented monkey and maintained by an Alzheimic immortal goldfish.  So it goes.]


Geels , F. (2014) Reconceptualising the co-evolution of firms-in-industries and their environments: Developing an inter-disciplinary Triple Embeddedness Framework Research Policy 43 (2014) 261–277

For “success”? Timing and conformity as key. Barry Jones, #Keynes and #climate

Barry Jones was the Australian Science Minister between 1983 and 1990, and a key figure in the coming of climate awareness to that country.  He is also a pretty smart guy (didn’t help him as a politician, naturlich).

barry jones timing is everything

Keynes said something different but similar –


We needed to be transruptive [another of my shoddy neologisms], but we weren’t.  Now we get to watch it (habitable planet, formal freedoms) all judder and spasm on a jagged downward trajectory, a kind of horizontally mirrored Keeling curve….

To quote myself (cough cough) from Facebook – Herd species. “Had to be, or else you’d get eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger or whatever. Stone age brains in space age bodies in a carbon (c)age of our own devising… Oh well. #funwhileitlasted

Of the Australian Coal industry, the US secret service and kill zones. No,honestly.

The US Secret Service spends a lot of time thinking about how to keep the people they protect alive.  Overall, they’re pretty good at it.  I remember reading an interview with one of them once, where she emphasised one of the core things.

If you are being attacked, do NOT focus on winning the fire fight. Get your asset/package OUT of the kill zone.  That’s what victory is.

I think the same logic applies to the coal industry in Australia.  The last thing they wanted in the early 1990s  was to have a stand –up row with environmentalists about carbon emissions. For one thing, it would keep the issue “hot.”

For another, the mining industry’s utter intransigence on Aboriginal Land rights (“Shrinking Australia” etc) had made it a pariah. It had zero credibility, and was basically walking around with a sign that said “kick me” stuck to its back.

And therefore the thing it wanted to protect (the plans for ever-growing coal exports) would be sitting there in the kill-zone.

Instead, then, despite it being intensely irritating, get the issue off the table by bogging it down in the Industry Commission this, the ESD that, the Resource Allocation Commission the other.  Set up some elite lobbying outfits like the AIGN.  Don’t fight on the science – that’s the pariah-zone.

In this they were helped mightily by bureaucrats and politicians who were VERY pro-coal (which they perceived as a way of Australia paying its way in the world).

Of course, I am imposing retrospective logic on events, that the participants would only have felt lightly if at all.   But the smarter among them would have figured out – when you are in a hole, stop digging.

For Millicent?

“Why so sad?” she said, as I walked towards her in a cloud of gloom.

Millicent (not real name) is a young woman who works somewhere I go a lot. I don’t know what kind of contract she is on. It’s probably not zero hours (yet).  She probably has shit terms and conditions that leave her vulnerable to all sorts of subtle (and not-so-subtle) pressures.   She’s probably on minimum wage or not much more.

“The election results” I ventured.

“Really, that makes you sad?  Why?”

“Because of what is coming.”

She gave me an apologetic smile “I don’t know much about it. I know I should pay more attention…”

I hesitated.  I don’t know her very well, just to say hello to maybe half a dozen times a month. If I came over all apocalyptic she could bin me as a weirdo.  I was about to explain about zero hour contracts, the NHS, and maybe climate change (the reverse of my actual concerns) when she was saved the rant by her bus arriving.

And as I crossed the road, her bus overtaking me, I thought about how “we” (see footnote)  – the parties, the unions, the social movement organisations – have been failing the Millicents – the decent, ‘hard-working’™ people just getting through the weeks, for decades and decades.

Because, what if Millicent DID come to a meeting?

She’d be asked to sit in a row, and she’d listen to someone give a litany of how bad things are (which she kind of knows). Then she’d hear a bunch of “speech-questions”  from angry people spouting various kinds of jargon (mostly Marxist).  She’d be told that the next demonstration was a) really important and b) likely to make a big difference.

Nobody would ask her why she came, what she already knows, what she feels she needs to know, what she feels she might have to offer.  If she missed the next meeting, she wouldn’t know how to find out where things were up to.

And Millicent, who absolutely should – for her own benefit, let alone the “movement’s” be involved, almost certainly won’t come back for seconds. Why should she?

And that, to me, is the central dilemma.  Thousands of Millicents – intelligent, (com)passionate, talented – pass by the movement organisations, and are not able to be involved without becoming full-time hacks.

And what do I do, in an incredibly safe (Labour) seat?  I have certain talents and abilities. I would like to offer them to an effective organisation that is working credibly and steadily for the sorts of social and environmental change we need.  I am all ears.

I will find a food bank to volunteer at. When I am in the city I will make sure I always have fruit for the growing (and set to grow more) numbers of rough sleepers.  To salve my conscience.  Am open to other suggestions.


I (believe that I) am fully aware of the race, class and gender dynamics here. I do not want to be a white (male) saviour. Which is a good thing, since nobody else wants that either. What I DO want is a way for people to be able to get involved in controlling their own destinies, in fighting back against those who are exploiting them, and will – unless stopped – exploit them even more on this dying planet.

How to defend your interests (shame about the lack of a habitable planet, but what can you do?)

Chap called Gavin Gilchrist wrote some corking articles back in the mid-90s, the documented the nuts and bolts of how the Howard Government took over the Keating/coal industry-inspired Australian climate retreat and turbo-charged it.

The piece I am quoting from below  [Gilchrist, G. (1996) “Climate Changes: Why We Are Seen As Rebels” Sydney Morning Herald 8th July] was published during the second lot of international climate negotiations in Geneva. (In “COP1” Berlin in 1995, chaired by Angela Merkel, everyone except Australia and Saudi Arabia had agreed that actual emissions cuts were needed.  The third meeting, in Kyoto in 1997 was the deadline, and Geneva a crucial staging post).

Australia was busy demanding special treatment for itself (given its coal exports and high domestic per capita emissions – that’s what happens when you also burn coal for ‘leccy.)

Gilchrist writes

Federal Cabinet’s decision on the greenhouse issue a month ago was a triumph of strategic long-term lobbying by the Business Council of Australia, which represents Australia’s biggest 100 firms, and about 20 other industry associations.

More than five years of intensive lobbying behind the scenes in Canberra paid off spectacularly.

He then details some of the tactics used (clever and strategic ones. These are not stupid people), and then gives an overview.  Imma quote a whole chunk, because it bears repeating;

A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The Australian position has changed from being a very wide one that recognised the science, the need to be putting new technologies into developing countries and giving them financial assistance, and that recognised the need for adaptation strategies but also included trade concerns. “Now, instead of the holistic approach, we’ve zoomed in on the bottom line and trade is the only driving consideration.”

Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter, a major natural gas exporter, and a major exporter of aluminium smelted using vast amounts of electricity from coal-fired power stations. That makes Australia one of the world’s highest producers of greenhouse gases per capita.

Canberra insiders say the final position of the Howard Government on greenhouse shows that when lobbyists for vested interest groups succeed in winning over bureaucrats, they invariably win the policy debate.

“If a bureaucracy and a lobby group are as one mind, it’s almost impossible for governments to receive alternative advice,” said Mr Bob Gordon, managing director of Australian Business Links, a business consultancy which represents companies with renewable energy interests. “In which case, the interests of the public can be a major casualty.”