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

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