Video: Professor Clive Hamilton on the “Anthropocene”

Interview with Professor Clive Hamilton on the “Anthropocene“, in the startlingly noisy cafe at the John Rylands Library (the first few minutes are the worst – it gets easier to hear as time goes on).

Of oil companies and #climate – let’s party like it’s 1997…

Some not-yet-jaded climate activists are getting quite excited that six European Oil companies recently wrote a letter to the United Nations requesting a carbon price and emissions trading scheme. Ever-so-kindly,they even offered to help design it…

This is part of the general flurry of activity in the lead up to the Paris climate change talks in November,  the 21st meeting of the “Conference of the Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That framework, signed in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, committed its signatories to avoiding dangerous climate change.  The intervening generation has not seen much activity. To quote Mark Moody-Stuart –

“I find it quite distressing that 18 years after major oil companies, such as BP and Shell, acknowledged the threat of climate change, and the need for precautionary action, and began to put in place modest steps to address it, that the world in general and the industry has made remarkably little progress.” [Carrington, 2015]

While the European companies are pro-actively seeking to guide the policy process,  US-based companies such as Exxon and Chevron are less enthused by the prospect of a carbon price. Chevron’s head told a recent OPEC meeting “It’s not a policy that is going to be effective because customers want affordable energy. They want low energy prices, not high energy prices.” (Hume and Clark, 2015).

So why should we party like it’s 199…7? History isn’t necessarily repeating herself, she never does. But she might be rhyming; this isn’t the first time that the oil industry has been divided on climate change.   In May of 1997 John Browne, who two years previously had become head of BP, gave an earth-shattering speech at Stanford University. Referencing the recently published Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he noted that there was;

“mounting concern about two stark facts: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising. And the temperature of the earth’s surface is increasing.”

Warning against the banning of fossil fuels, he invoked the image of a

journey taken in partnership by all those involved, a step-by-step process involving both action to develop solutions and continuing research that will build knowledge through experience.”

Both BP and Shell left the Global Climate Coalition. Despite its cuddly-sounding name, it had been set up by the US National Association of Manufacturers in 1989 with the purpose of derailing attempts to agree reductions of  greenhouse gas emissions.

Shell, bruised by the damage to its reputation caused by Brent Spar and its Nigerian operations, invested in renewables. In 1997 it announced a five-year, $500 million plan. By 2009 it announced it would drop wind and solar altogether, and invest in biofuels.

In July 2000 BP changed its logo and declared it was “beyond petroleum”  [For further analysis,see Beder, 2002],

Of course, the oil companies major investments were in oil exploration and takeovers. For example;

“Mr. Browne … built BP by taking over other oil companies, like Amoco in 1998, and then ruthlessly cutting costs, often firing the acquired company’s most experienced engineers. Taking shortcuts was ingrained in the company’s culture, and everyone in the oil business knew it.”

Since those heady years either side of the millennium Shell and BP have decided that renewables aren’t going to be where they make their profits in future. BP tried – and failed– to sell of its US wind energy division in 2013. Shell remains determined to drill in the Arctic, and has huge investments in Canadian tar sands.

Those enthused by the ‘carbon price’ letter would also do well to remember Shell’s recent successful lobbying to undermine European Union targets on renewable energy.

Oil versus coal

There aren’t just splits within the oil industry.  The fossil fuel industry generally has been thinking about which of the three strands (oil, coal, gas) might be most vulnerable.  Recently the head of Shell, Ben Van Beurden explained one obvious barrier facing Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). He

“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.”

While the head of Australian mining giant BHP understandably wants everyone to say that gas is cleaner than coal, the head of Woodside Petroleum clearly didn’t get the memo. Peter Coleman (the clue is not in the name) gave a speech to the World Gas Conference (also in Paris) last week has been described as ‘punch’ and included the immortal phrase –

“Give me a break – who coined ‘clean coal’ and why did we let that happen.” (Chessell, 2015)

It’s worth noting that when the Australian Gas Association was trying to get the Business Council of Australia to modify its anti-Kyoto, anti-emissions trading scheme 15 years ago, the uncertainties around the lower carbon intensity of gas were raised by coal’s supporters.

These intra-industry battles are useful to remember when reading comments like those by Peter Freyberg, head of Glencore Coal when he bemoans the lack of investment in clean coal technologies claiming  “global carbon dioxide emissions could have been cut by 2bn tonnes over a decade if all power stations built between 2000 and 2010 had used the best technology available.” (Smyth, 2015),

What does it all mean?

Various industry actors appear to be trying to ‘throw each other under the bus’. To use a more European analogy,  it’s a game of pass the parcel, and nobody wants to be left standing away from a chair when the music stops, because this isn’t just about who doesn’t get the present, but about whose multi-billion dollar investments lose their value.

Update: Think Progress has an excellent piece entitled “Why You Should Be Skeptical of Big Oil Companies Asking for a Price on Carbon“, which goes into detail on where the campaign contributions are going…


Beder, S. (2002) ‘bp: Beyond Petroleum?‘ in Battling Big Business: Countering greenwash, infiltration and other forms of corporate bullying, edited by Eveline Lubbers, Green Books, Devon, UK, 2002, pp. 26-32.

Carrington, D. (2015) Fossil fuel divestment is rational, says former Shell chairman Guardian , 4th June

Chessell, J. (2015) Woodside CEO slams coal industry: ‘Give me a break, who coined clean coal’ Australian Financial Review, 3rd June

Hume, N. and Clark, P. (2015) Chevron chief lashes out at European oil groups on climate change Financial Times 3rd June [paywall]

Nocera, J. (2010) BP Ignored the Omens of Disaster New York Times 18th June

Smyth, J. (2015) Glencore attacks anti coal lobby Financial Times, 4th June [paywall]

Suggested reading

Kolk, A., Levy, D., 2001. Winds of change: corporate strategy, climate change and oil multinationals. European Management Journal Vol. 19, pp 501–509.

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

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

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

Pulver, S. (2007) Making Sense of Corporate Environmentalism An Environmental Contestation Approach to Analyzing the Causes and Consequences of the Climate Change Policy Split in the Oil Industry Organization & Environment Vol. 20 no. 1 44-83

And yet it moves:  Social movements for/against institutional change

So, the latest symposium is almost here.  The three papers under discussion are –

Schneiberg, M. and Lounsbury, M., 2008, Social movements and institutional analysis, in: Greenwood, R., Oliver, C., Andersen, S.K. and Suddaby, R. (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism, CA: Sage, 650-672

Lounsbury, M., Ventresca, M., and Hirsch, P.M., 2003, ‘Social movements, field frames and industry emergence: A cultural-political perspective on US recycling’, Socio-Economic Review, 1(1): 71-104

Schurman, R., 2004, ‘Fighting ‘frankenfoods’: Industry opportunity structures and the efficacy of the anti-biotech movement in western Europe’, Social Problems, 51, 243-268

Imma take each in turn, and try to say something useful (cough, cough) about each.


Lounsbury et al (2003) look at how recycling became big business twenty plus years after social and environmental activists started doing it.

They’re really good on the “erosion and recombination of the elements in the then standard resource recovery frame” (p 73) – how the arguments about what counted as proper recycling (as opposed to incineration-and-getting-energy (a real concern in the late 70s, given the talk of ‘energy independence’ for the US.

This is a battle for whose stories make the most sense to (enough of) the right people, within what they call ‘field frames’.

‘Field frames emerge as a result of efforts by producers, trade associations, professions and government actors to make sense of practices and define norms of appropriateness. Field frames are forged [what an appropriate word!!] , maintained and eroded through discourse in policy forums such as Congressional hearings as well  as in industry media and events such as trade association annual meetings.”

(Lounsbury et al. 2003: 77)

Their methodology is one I had better pinch – interviews and close attention to trade journals and what does and does not get discussed (you always have to listen for the silences in this game).

The ‘failure’ of ‘many early experiments with non-profit, volunteer recycling’ (p.83) is unsurprising, given the difficulties in maintaining volunteer projects, apathy/loss of momentum and the actions of incumbents. And they could have added that anything that doesn’t go with the grain of capital accumulation (and neoliberalism’s latest needs – see Mirowski et al, 2013) is going to be attacked.

Basically, the industry managed to frame recycling as about solid waste retrieval (p 84-5), in the same way the US auto industry was able to frame car safety as about driver behaviour, roads, and enforcement of rules (rather than their death-trap cars, unsafe at any speed).

And municipal officials are fonder of dealing with Big Business – get all contracts sorted in one go, and might even get a nice non-executive directorship or three once you’ve ‘retired’ – more than those smelly grassroots types will ever be able to offer.  And

As Paul Kelly, administrative director of the Illinois Recycling Association said, ‘my gut feeling is that municipalities don’t want to deal with an advocate as a contractor’. (p 95)

There’s good stuff on what is now called ‘field configuring events’ – (bottom page 88) and on  focussing events (the Mobro 4000 and the EPA’s 1989 publication ‘The Solid Waste Dilemma’)

And the concluding questions are good

Does institutional change merely involve a reconfiguration of elite resources, or do social movements offer any possibilities for altering cultural conceptions of privilege. Another important question that should be investigated has to do with the relationship between contentious and routine politics and the study of social movement outcomes. Do institutional challenges by disenfranchised groups merely dissipate or get co-opted, or do they lead to successful reformist social movement organizations?
(Lounsbury et al. 2003: 97)

The answer to both is surely ‘depends’.  What is clear is that the incumbents are becoming extremely good at defending the neoliberal state from popular pressures.  I mean, really REALLY good at it.

The take home – there is a treadmill of production, and it will eat ecological modernisation for breakfast.  We’re toast.

Surprisingly absent from the bibliography-

Hoffman (1999)  – on the US chemical industry’s responses to environmental activism) and Yoffie (1988) – on how trade associations learn to play the game.

Usefulness for my thesis: The way support for an “existing”/incumbent industry can crowd out the alternative.

Articles I should read

Brulle, R. JL (2000) Agency, Democracy, and Nature, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Campbell, J.L. and Pederson, O.K (2001) The Rise of Neoliberalism and Institutional Analysis, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Davis, G. F. and Thompson, T. 91994) A Social Movement Perspective on Corporate Control Administrative Science Quarterly, 39, 141-173

Davis, G.F. and McAdam, D. (2000) Corporations, Classes and Social Movements after Managerialism Research in Organizational Behaviour 22, 195-238.

DiMaggio, PJ and Powell WW (1983) The Iron Cage Revisited: institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields American Sociological Review, 48, 147-60.

Mohr, J and Duquenne, V. (1997) The Duality of Culture and Practice: Poverty Relief in New York City, 1888-1971 Theory and Society, 26, 305-56.


Scheiber and Lounsbury (2008) do one of those incredibly useful overview-y things, which you probably need to read three or four times during the course of your (early) career to fully ‘get’.

The “chapter focuses on how engaging collective mobilization and social movement theory has inspired new work in institutional analysis.” (Schneiberg and Lounsbury, 2008:649)

The writing is academic (doh!  This is an academic publication), but imho clear nonetheless –

This bit is on how change happens – from top down or bottom up.

Consider two canonical formulations in neo-institutional analysis. In the two-stage model of institutionalization, the emergence of new paths or fields is a ‘bottom up’ phenomenon: (1) organizations or states adopt structures or policies in response to local problems, politics or characteristics, which then spark (2) processes of mimesis, theorization and diffusion, eventually crystallizing a broader community of practice around a core set of principles or models…..

Both models shed light on key institutional processes: (1) mutual monitoring, mimesis and the diffusion or transposition of practices across organizations; (2) theorization, codification or the endorsement of best practices by professional associations; and (3) interventions by states to ratify, redraw or reject field boundaries and emerging solutions (e.g., Strang & Meyer 1993). Yet both tend to neglect the origins of new ideas and practices as well as the sources of disruption, leaving key players and processes unanalyzed. However, in many canonical cases featuring isomorphism, the instigating shocks or motivations for adoption were the direct and deliberate results of social movements – municipal reformers and progressives fighting corruption in city government, civil rights activists demanding state intervention to end discrimination, and agrarian populists contesting corporate consolidation.

(Schneiberg and Lounsbury, 2008:651)

The story of consumer watchdoggery is similar to the previous story of recycling – of radical notions of citizenship and workers’ control being watered down –

 Rao (1998) shows how the consumer watchdog agencies and product rating schemes that are now taken-for-granted in the US were the product of consumer mobilization and contestation over whether scientific testing and the power of informed consumers should be blended with the role of labor, unionization and concerns about products. At first, consumer groups fought for two different logics of market reform, one that blended consumer advocacy with unionism and one that focused more narrowly on the consumer. But broader political dynamics eliminated the more comprehensive radical change frame from the path, segregating ‘consumer’ and ‘worker,’ and ensuring the dominance of a consumer-only impartial testing logic.
(Schneiberg and Lounsbury, 2008:652)

In a bit that reminded me very much of Octavia Butler’s extraordinary novel “Dawn”, the authors write

Research by Morrill, Creed, Scully and colleagues, and Moore on the institutionalization of alternative dispute resolution, domestic partner benefits, and public science likewise document how movements operate as forces within mainstream institutions, de-emphasizing confrontational tactics in favor of their role as mobilizers of multiple logics and as agents or vehicles for recombination, assembly, translation and diffusion.
(Schneiberg and Lounsbury, 2008:656)

Texas is trying to ban local bans on fracking.  That’s what states (and industries) do-

But the more peripheral, agrarian states proved more open to populist pressures, enabling agrarian and independent producers to assert statist regulatory measures in the insurance field, disrupt markets, and organize mutuals. Insurers tried to close off access entirely by suing in state and federal courts to void states’ rights to regulate insurance prices. Yet, that strategy backfired when advocates of regulation found an unexpected ally in the US Supreme Court, which opened the door for further intervention in states by ruling that insurance was ‘affected with a public interest’ and thus subject to the states’ authority.
(Schneiberg and Lounsbury, 2008:660)

And THIS looks fascinating, as a piece of clever proxying –

Ingram and Rao (2004) also think in terms of movements and counter-movements, but elaborate a different research strategy, analyzing the passage and then the repeal of legislation banning chain stores as indicies of populist mobilization and chain store countermobilization over the rise of new market forms. In this way also, the capacities of movements to promote change or new path creation rests not just on size, resources or movement strength, but also on the structure and dynamics of the political and institutional context.
(Schneiberg and Lounsbury, 2008:660)

They then turn to “measuring and modelling movements” which is extremely difficult of course.  Nice to see a distinction between movement strength and activity (p. 661) which needs further exploration.

They’re not practitioners though, and I think they underestimate the morale and stamina needed for social movements to stay ‘in the game’, and just how easily exhausted, diverted and co-opted they are.

Still and all, it’s all very very messy, and they are big enough to admit this –

Overall, the approach to movements and institutions that we advocate celebrates the heterogeneity of actors, multiple logics and practice variation. A focus on such multiplicity revises the isomorphic imagery of the canonical two-stage diffusion and punctuated equilibrium models (e.g., Tolbert & Zucker 1983). Such a perspective concentrates less on the contagion of unitary practices or a singular rationality, but rather on multiple forms of rationality that inform the decision making of actors in fields (Bourdieu 1984), and provide foundations for ongoing struggle and contestation. This conceptualization of institutionalization and fields as multiple, fragmented and contested (Schneiberg & Soule 2005; Washington & Ventresca 2004;Lounsbury 2007) is a crucial ontological starting point for a new wave and generation of institutional scholars.
(Schneiberg and Lounsbury, 2008:665)

There are a ridiculous number of articles in the bibliography that merit closer attention.  Here’s some

Frank, D.B., A. Hironaka and E. Schofer. 2000. Environmentalism as a Global Institution. American Sociological Review, 65: 122–127.

Ingram, P. & Rao, H. 2004. Store wars. American Journal of Sociology, 110: 446–487.

Minkoff, D.C. 1993. The organization of survival: Women’s and racial-ethnic voluntarist and activist organizations, 1955–1985. Social Forces, 71: 887–908.

Moore, Kelly. 1996. Organizing integrity: American science and the creation of public interest organizations, 1955–1975. American Journal of Sociology, 101: 1592–1627

Schneiberg, M. & Clemens, E.S. 2006. The typical tools for the job: Research strategies in institutional analysis. Sociological Theory, 3: 195–227.

Schofer, E. & A. Hironaka. 2005. The effects of world society on environmental protection outcomes. Social Forces, 84: 25–47.

Stryker, R. 2000. Legitimacy processes as institutional politics: Implications for theory and research in the sociology of organizations. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 17: 179–223.

Zald, M.N. & Berger, M.A. 1978. Social movements in organizations: Coup d’etat, insurgency, and mass movements. American Journal of Sociology, 83: 823–861.


Final paper is about something I sorta lived through – the successful-ish attempt to beat back GM food from Europe.
Shurman sets out her theoretical contribution as

This article analyses  how a new social movement against genetic engineering in agriculture managed to turn a major industry upside down. While the social movements literature has long recognized the importance of external context for the success of social movements, it has paid little attention to the institutional logic and features of targets other than the state. Here I argue that an undertheorized aspect of external context, namely, industry structures , is a primary factor explaining why the anti-biotech movement in Western Europe was so effective. As conceptualized here, industry structures are composed of economic, organizational, and cultural features, and function to enhance or constrain social movements’ efforts to change industry behavior. Bringing these structures into our purview and recognizing their significance for activist struggles can significantly advance our understanding of social movement efficacy in this age of globalization and increased corporate power.
(Shurman, 2004:243)

She identifies ‘four key elements of the industry/corporate environment that social movements face’ (p. 245)

These are;

  • The economic and competitive behavior of firms in an industry
  • The relationships among actors in an industry’s larger “organizational field” or system.

[Where fields are – In Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell’s classic formulation, an organizational field refers to “those organizations that, in the aggregate, constitute a recognized area of institutional life: key suppliers, resource and product consumers, regulatory agencies, and other organizations that produce similar services or products” (DiMaggio and Powell 1983).]

  • Corporate cultures
  • The nature of the goods and/or services that an industry produces

Basically she says Monsanto basically stuck a big ‘kick me’ sign on itself, and the NGOs obliged.

an executive from the British biotech company Zeneca, Simon Best, flew to Saint Louis to meet with Monsanto CEO, Robert Shapiro. Drawing on his own experience introducing the first GM product into the British market (a genetically modified tomato paste), Best urged Shapiro to label RoundUp Ready soy before he shipped it to Europe, and to advise consumers it would be coming. At harvest time, however, Monsanto and U.S. grain processors ignored Best’s advice, combined the GM soy with conventional soy, and sent it to Europe unannounced and unlabelled (Charles 2001). According to one anti-biotech organizer, the activist community was outraged and interpreted Monsanto’s decision as purposely flouting Europeans’ desires to know what they were eating (Schweiger 2001).
(Shurman, 2004: 252-3)

I think she undersells the fact that we (the UK NVDA crew) seemed to have the wind at our backs, having just fought the roads industry to a standstill in the UK, and climate change hadn’t yet emerged as the big screaming buzzkill that it now is.  And we weren’t too busy summit-hopping yet to do some crop decontaminations.

Usefulness for my thesis:  Lots of rich pickings about the sorts of pressures companies do and do not come under (especially the consumer-facing links in the chain)

Usefulness for my ‘activism’: Arrogant American companies eh, donchajustlovethem (Monsanto, Peabody etc).  The difference is, everyone has an opinion on food and food quality, few people care how the electrons get to their fridge/plasma screen TV.  Food is personal in the way that the Keeling Curve isn’t. Hohum.