Category Archives: Looting the Ivory Tower

Looting the Ivory Tower: “Acceleration of Urban Sustainability Transitions:A Comparison of Brighton, Budapest, Dresden, Genk, and Stockholm”

Heaps of good stuff – conceptually, methodologically, empirically, in here.  Useful for mice who want to bell the cat (though the article itself doesn’t suggest a particular way/particular ways).

The title: The Acceleration of Urban Sustainability Transitions:A Comparison of Brighton, Budapest, Dresden, Genk, and Stockholm

The authors: Franziska Ehnert, Niki Frantzeskaki , Jake Barnes, Sara Borgström , Leen Gorissen , Florian Kern , Logan Strenchock  and Markus Egerman

The journal: Sustainability

The DOI: doi:10.3390/su10030612

The abstract:

City-regions as sites of sustainability transitions have remained under-explored so far. With our comparative analysis of five diverse European city-regions, we offer new insights on contemporary sustainability transitions at the urban level. In a similar vein, the pre-development and the take-off phase of sustainability transitions have been studied in depth while the acceleration phase remains a research gap. We address this research gap by exploring how transitions can move beyond the seeding of alternative experiments and the activation of civil society initiatives. This raises the question of what commonalities and differences can be found between urban sustainability transitions. In our explorative study, we employ a newly developed framework of the acceleration mechanisms of sustainability transitions. We offer new insights on the multi-phase model of sustainability transitions. Our findings illustrate that there are no clear demarcations between the phases of transitions. From the perspective of city-regions, we rather found dynamics of acceleration, deceleration, and stagnation to unfold in parallel. We observed several transitions—transitions towards both sustainability and un-sustainability—to co-evolve. This suggests that the politics of persistence—the inertia and path dependencies of un-sustainability—should be considered in the study of urban sustainability transitions.

In plain English/tl:dr: 

“Everyone” wants to see a ‘take-off’ of sustainability projects (to use the outdated Rostow language). But we looked at a bunch of European cities and the truth is both messier and uglier. Turns out many cities have foot on brake at the same time they have foot on accelerator, and there’s lots of – in the words of Mr M. Loaf “going nowhere fast.

Also,  useful cross-country comparisons


Key concepts:  acceleration, acceleration mechanisms, messiness

Marc’s two cents

This one is worth a re-read or two.  Lots of data collection and careful thinking about what acceleration would MEAN, how it could be done, how it could go dreadfully wrong.  Ties in with the whole diffusion of strategic niche “successes” thing…

“These initiatives start to create new social networks and synergies, develop new narratives on the future of cities and become relevant actors in urban governance arenas [1,2]. These are dynamics that seem to differ from the earlier phases of sustainability transitions, which are focused on nurturing innovations in protected spaces. This raises the question if and how urban societies already move beyond the seeding of alternative experiments and the activation of community initiatives for sustainability action…. It is, therefore, important to examine local agents of change such as community initiatives and learn how sustainability in practice is further diffused and integrated into the life of cities [3,4]. So far, there is a limited understanding of the processes through which the innovations introduced by such transition initiatives (henceforth TIs) are taken up or transferred beyond the community that created, facilitated, and nurtured them.”

Our research addresses this theoretical gap and offers a new perspective on the understanding of the context-led and agency-led conditions that enable or hinder the acceleration of sustainability transition in city-regions. We do so based on in-depth empirical case studies and a cross-case comparative analysis of five European city-regions. In comparing the acceleration of sustainability transitions in five city-regions, we explore the following research questions:

  1. What are the conditions that enable and hinder the acceleration of sustainability transitions in cities from the perspective of local transition initiatives?

  2. What are the commonalities and differences between the dynamics in which the acceleration mechanisms unfold in the city-regions?


Upscaling is the growth of members, supporters, or users of a single transition initiative to spread new ways of thinking, organizing, and practicing

Replicating is the take-up of new ways of DTO of one transition initiative by another transition initiative or different actors to spread these alternative ways. Replicating is recognized as a process that changes the pace of change in diffusing and spreading innovative practices through interested and supportive actor-networks

Partnering is the pooling and/or complementing of resources, competences, and capacities of local TIs to exploit synergies to support and ensure the continuity of the new ways of doing, organizing, and thinking.

Instrumentalizing is tapping into and capitalizing on opportunities provided by the multi-level governance context of the city-region to obtain resources. Instrumentalizing is about capitalizing on opportunities and relies on the openness to change and transparent governance situations for taking place [1,30–32] and refers to moving from mission to action for sustainability transitions

Embedding is the alignment of old and new ways of doing, organizing, and thinking to integrate them into city-regional governance patterns. Embedding captures the connecting of issues and solutions to institutions as a way to spread and formalize new ways of doing, thinking, and organizing [15,19,24,35–38] and the extent to which local TIs strategically shape local governance dynamics

and later in the article –

“Embedding was observed in multiple forms: (1) embedding new ways of doing (i.e., practice), (2) embedding new ways of thinking (i.e., culture) and (3) embedding new ways of organizing (i.e., structure). Embedding occurred via the routinization and institutionalization of sustainable alternatives. The dynamics of embedding encompassed governmental institutions, economic enterprises, as well as community initiatives.” (p15)


These mechanisms operate not only separately, but can also reinforce each other to accelerate urban sustainability transitions. The proposed acceleration mechanisms are to be tested, validated, and improved through the comparison of the dynamics of sustainability transitions in five diverse city-regions

And the methodology

These interviews were complemented by workshops with all interviewees to discuss, validate and enrich our empirical findings.p 7

For our analyses, we recorded, transcribed and coded the interviews [52]. Our coding scheme included categories for the acceleration mechanisms upscaling, replicating, partnering, instrumentalizing and embedding, as well as the local governance patterns within the city-regions. Examining the empirical data, we foregrounded the obstacles and opportunities that arise from the varying settings within the city-regions. Page 8

The upscaling and continued existence of TIs often relied on a few individual enthusiasts who acted as mediators, networkers, and translators between different actors. A withdrawal of these mediators, networkers and translators often causes a TI to lose its drive, to change direction in unwelcome ways or to cease to exist entirely. This makes TIs quite fragile and vulnerable. 

And the various ways it can (will) go tits up…

Upscaling was confronted with the tension of the limits of growth. While replicating other TIs was a vital source of inspiration, it required the contextualization of the TIs to be attuned to local conditions. Partnering was accompanied by the tension between cooperation and the preservation of the core values of the TIs. This held especially if the TIs partnering spoke different languages and represented different world views. Partnering could lead to imbalances in the relationship between the TIs, especially if the burden of cooperation was distributed unequally among the partners. Instrumentalizing created a tension between the reliance on external resources and the protection of the autonomy of the TIs as it provided political leverage for donors to influence the TIs. Such capture of TIs by external donors can undermine their core values [56,57]. Embedding can develop a dynamic of “stretch-and-transform” or “fit-and-conform” [14,77]. While the former can fundamentally transform entrenched, unsustainable ways of DTO, the latter can diminish the innovative potential of TIs. It can rather be turned into a traditional policy implementation approach.These tensions suggest that more is not automatically better. What matters is the quality of how an acceleration mechanism evolves. Therefore, we propose a more nuanced understanding of these mechanisms of acceleration, entailing not only chances, but also challenges. Page 19

Should you read this?

Hell yes


Looting the Ivory Tower: “Energy democracy as the right to the city: Urban energy struggles in Berlin and London”

The title: Energy democracy as the right to the city: Urban energy struggles in Berlin and London

The authors: Soren Becker, James Angel, Matthias Naumann

The journal: EPA: Economy and Space

The DOI: DOI: 10.1177/0308518X19881164

The abstract:

In this paper, we argue that it is generative to link struggles around access to, control over, and the transformation of urban energy systems to the imaginary of the right to the city; and we explore the conceptual, empirical and political contributions of this connection. Our paper starts with two main questions: (1) what do we learn from reading attempts to reclaim urban energy systems from a right to the city perspective? (2)What can this analysis add to debates around the right to the city? We make two main arguments from our empirical engagements with initiatives seeking to remunicipalise urban energy systems in Berlin and London, each of which is premised upon calls for more just, democratic and ecologically sustainable forms of energy supply. First, we argue that these struggles need to transcend concerns around energy infrastructure to raise broader questions around the democratisation of urban space. Second, we contend that appropriating long-lasting urban infrastructure requires the creation of new and durable forms of democratic institutions, providing insights into the notion of self-management (autogestion) beyond more spontaneous and fleeting forms of protest and uprising addressed in much of right to the city literature. Overall, the paper hopes to put the question of autogestion and related strategies at the centre of conversations around right to the city moving forward.

In plain English/tl:dr: “So this “right to the city” notion goes back to 1968, alongside ‘autogestion’ which aligns more to ‘workers’/public control’ than to ‘nationalisation’. Meanwhile, energy democracy comes from the climate justice movement, more recently. How does all this play out when we look at Berliners and Londoners trying to make their energy provision systems less crap? We’re the first people to put all these concepts together, and we did loads of fieldwork – interviews, participation”

Key concepts:  right to the city, autogestion, energy democracy

Marc’s two cents: This is a good article. At the end they write

What is needed is a narrative about alternative imaginaries of social organisation in-against-and-beyond the state (Angel, 2017; Cumbers, 2015), and a strategic approach based on an analysis of promising anchor points for such an endeavour. This also implies not rejecting the local scale as the legitimate and feasible entry point for political projects for transforming wider social and technological systems; but surely while linking local issues to broader scale processes and not constraining action or thinking to a mystified local level.

Hmmmm, alternatively you could say what is needed is a hard look at what skills, knowledge, relationships, organisations and institutions would be needed to arrive at meaningful autogestion, and what (overlapping but distinct) skroi would be needed to sustain meaningful autogestion, to protect it from the usual depredations of the Animal Farm piggies.

But useful for thinking about social innovation (the creation of new organisations/institutions) and energy transitions, so, I’m happy.


Thus far, energy research and critical urban theory mostly appear as distinct fields (for an exception see Silver, 2015). Yet we believe that flourishing debates on energy justice (Jenkins et al., 2016; Sovacool and Dworkin, 2015) and, in particular, energy democracy (Becker and Naumann, 2017; Hess, 2018; van Veelen and van der Horst, 2018) could benefit from a stronger grounding in debates around the production of urban space more broadly; and, equally, that debates around the right to the city might be developed further through engagements with urban energy contestations. Our paper starts with two main questions: (1) what do we learn from reading attempts to reclaim urban energy systems from a RTC perspective? (2) What can this analysis add to debates around the right to the city?

Anthropologist Dominic Boyer (2014: 325), for example, targets the ‘genealogy of modern power . . . through the twin analytics of energy and fuel’ as linked with historic processes of state formation, expert rule and different biopolitical regimes.

“Others have stressed the deep entanglement between state power, industrial capital and imaginaries of technological progress necessary to develop and run nuclear energy (Jasanoff and Kim, 2009).”

“The notion of energy democracy originated in the German climate justice movement around 2012, and has since gained international recognition in activist contexts as well as in academic debate across human geography, sociology and other social sciences (Becker and Naumann, 2017; Hess, 2018; van Veelen and van der Horst, 2018). The term has since been taken on by a broad range of activist networks, trade unions and left-wing political parties, largely but not exclusively in Europe and the USA. The concept is framed loosely, incorporating an array of diverse political perspectives, from anti-capitalist de-growth claims towards more Keynesian arguments for green jobs (Angel, 2016). Broadly speaking, proponents of the term tend to advocate energy systems that are ecologically sustainable, socially just and democratically controlled.” Page 6

“Our analysis in this paper relies on intensive fieldwork by the authors undertaken in both cities from 2013 to 2017, which was updated consequently thereafter. Research methods involved interviews with key stakeholders in both urban administration and citizen initiatives for public energy ownership (a total of 19 in Berlin, and 13 in London), as well as participant observations at meetings, events and protests. This was complemented by a comprehensive media analysis continued until today.”

“Democratised municipal energy utilities, as demanded in Berlin and London, could become part of ‘the creation of a new urban common, a public sphere of active democratic participation’ (Harvey, 2003: 941). If the right to the city can work as a ‘“wakeup call” for democratic forces to endorse participation, challenge existing inequalities and injustice, and seek to repair the city’ (Rosen and Shlay, 2014: 949) energy democracy can do just this for transforming an energy sector still characterised by a rigid melange of state and economic power producing an array of social and ecological problems.


References worth tracking down (I am still in the kidding myself phase)

Angelo H and Wachsmuth D (2015) Urbanizing urban political ecology: A critique of methodological cityism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39(1): 16–27.

Becker S and Naumann M (2017) Energy democracy: Mapping the debate on energy alternatives. Geography Compass 11(8): e12321.

Belda-Miquel S, Blanes J and Frediani A (2016) Institutionalization and depoliticization of the Right to the City: Changing scenarios for radical social movements. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40(2): 321–339.

Boyer D (2014) Energopower: An introduction. Anthropological Quarterly 87(2): 309–333.

Creamer E, Eadson W, van Veelen B, et al. (2018) Community energy: Entanglements of community, state, and private sector. Geography Compass 12(7): e12378.

Cumbers A (2015) Constructing a global commons in, against and beyond the state. Space and Polity 19(1): 62–75.


Hall S, Foxon T and Bolton R (2016) Financing the civic energy sector: How financial institutions affect ownership models in Germany and the United Kingdom. Energy Research & Social Science 12: 5–15.


Jasanoff S and Kim SH (2009) Containing the atom: Sociotechnical imaginaries and nuclear power in the United States and South Korea. Minerva 47(2): 119–146.

Kipfer S (2018) Pushing the limits of urban research: Urbanization, pipelines and counter-colonial politics. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 36(3): 474–493.


Paul F (2018) Deep entanglements: History, space and (energy) struggle in the German Energiewende. Geoforum 91: 1–9.

van Veelen B and van der Horst D (2018) What is energy democracy? Connecting social science energy research and political theory. Energy Research & Social Science 46: 19–28.


Should you read this?


Hell yesProbably, yup


Academic article on social tipping dynamics – or “Oh for cockpity’s sake…”

Ignore my snark later on – this is a good article, that you should take the time to read.  Crucially though, understand that the authors – like most academics – are addicted to trying to play what Haraway calls “the God Trick” and has also been called “cockpitism“.  To be expected, I guess, since the authors have hundreds of years between them of making detailed warnings to policymakers who… ignore them. Those authors know the depth of the shit we are in, and in order to cope with their fear, double down on being able to “see” and “advise.”

Also though – STIs?  Really? Was there not a better acronym, especially when you’re talking about things being contagious? (and yes, I will go again with that joke my wife mysteriously does not like: “What’s the difference between true love and herpes?”  Answer – herpes lasts forever.”)

The title: Social tipping dynamics for stabilizing Earth’s climate by 2050

The authors: Ilona M. Ottoa,1,2, Jonathan F. Dongesa,b,1,2, Roger Cremadesc, Avit Bhowmikb,d, Richard J. Hewitte,f, Wolfgang Luchta,g,h, Johan Rockströma,b, Franziska Allerbergera,i, Mark McCaffreyj, Sylvanus S. P. Doek, Alex Lenfernal, Nerea Moránm,n, Detlef P. van Vuureno,p, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

The journal: PNAS

The DOI:

The abstract:

Safely achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement requires a worldwide transformation to carbon-neutral societies within the next 30 y. Accelerated technological progress and policy implementations are required to deliver emissions reductions at rates sufficiently fast to avoid crossing dangerous tipping points in the Earth’s climate system. Here,we discuss and evaluate the potential of social tipping interventions (STIs) that can activate contagious processes of rapidly spreading technologies, behaviors, social norms, and structural reorganization within their functional domains that we refer to as social tipping elements (STEs). STEs are subdomains of the planetary socioeconomic system where the required disruptive change may take place and lead to a sufficiently fast reduction in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The results are based on online expert  elicitation, a subsequent expert workshop, and a literature review. The STIs that could trigger the tipping of STE subsystems include 1) removing fossil-fuel subsidies and incentivizing decentralized energy generation (STE1, energy production and storage systems), 2) building carbon-neutral cities (STE2, human settlements), 3) divesting from assets linked to fossil fuels (STE3, financial markets), 4) revealing the moral implications of fossil fuels (STE4, norms and value systems), 5) strengthening climate education and engagement (STE5, education system), and 6) disclosing information on greenhouse gas emissions (STE6, information feedbacks). Our research reveals important areas of focus for larger-scale empirical and modeling efforts to better understand the potentials of harnessing social tipping dynamics for climate change mitigation.

In plain English/tl:dr: We asked  a bunch of our academic mates who work on this stuff what it would take to stop us from continuing on the same tragic trajectory to dystopian hellholeness.  They came up with a bunch of “tipping points” and feedbacks.

(But nobody really said who was gonna bell the bloody cat)

Key concepts:  Social tipping points/elements/dynamics/interventions.

“In this paper, we examine a number of potential “social tipping elements” (STEs) for decarbonization (27, 28) that represent specific subdomains of the planetary social-economic system. Tipping of these subsystems could be triggered by “social tipping interventions” (STIs) that could contribute to rapid transition of the world system into a state of net zero anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The results reported in this study are based on an online expert survey, an expert workshop, and an extensive literature review”

Fine. You asked a bunch of your cockpitty mates. And cat-bellers? How many of them did you ask?

The social tipping dynamics of interest for this study are typically manifested as spreading processes in complex social networks (35, 36) of behaviors, opinions, knowledge, technologies, and social norms (37, 38), including spreading processes of structural change and reorganization (34). These spreading processes resemble contagious dynamics observed in epidemiology that spread through social networks (39). Once triggered, such processes can be irreversible and difficult to stop. Similar contagious dynamics have been observed in human behavior (35, 36), for example in assaultive violence (39), participation in social movements (40), or health-related behaviors and traits (36), such as smoking or obesity (41, 42).

btw, (40) is  P. Hedström, Contagious collectivities: On the spatial diffusion of Swedish trade unions, 1890–1940. Am. J. Sociol. 99, 1157–1179 (1994).

BUT  some useful for my immediate purposes stuff on energy –

STIs in the energy production system. The technological development in the energy production system is a dominant element of the decarbonization discussions in international institutions (55, 56) and business partnerships (57). The results of our expert elicitation confirm that technology development is likely to play a key role, however, not in the sense of yet-to-be invented technological solutions, but rather in the adaptation of existing carbon-free technology primarily in the power sector and by facilitating a smarter utilization of energy. The main control parameter that drives the adaptation of fossil-fuel–free energy technology is associated with the financial returns of its adoption (58). Our expert group believed that the critical condition needed to trigger the tipping process is the moment when fossil-fuel–free energy production yields higher financial returns than the energy production based on fossil fuels. The empirical data show that this critical threshold is about to be reached; the prices of renewables have dropped sharply in the last few years, and they have already become the cheapest source of energy in many world regions. The average cost of onshore wind dropped by 18%, and offshore wind fell by 28% (59).

TYPICAL BLOODY ECONOMISTS.  BELIEVING THAT CONSUMERS, OR INVESTORS, ARE “RATIONAL” and that there is not an enormous issue around social acceptance of (energy) technologies.  Plug anxiety etc etc Sigh. But this is useful –

2050 tipping points

Finally, the urgency and complex character of climate change require transdisciplinarity and engagement with social movements, knowledge brokers, and change leaders (151). More research is needed on understanding the required social processes and the drivers and incentives for short-term engagement of diverse coalitions of action around concrete solutions and strategies at various governance levels (152).

Indeed.  But how? And to what effect?  In what languages (I don’t mean English or German).  As a dialogue? Who facilitates? For how long? With what ‘outcomes’? Who is not in the room? Whose intellectual labour will get looted (probably the women of colour, if history is any guide).


Marc’s two cents

They almost lost me in the second sentence – “It is also an indispensable prerequisite for achieving sustainable development.”  That, my friends, is a tautology – show me a dispensable prerequisite. And why two words with so many syllables right next to each other? What are you trying to prove, and to who?

But, yes, we need the big picture thinking.

2050 tipping points pretty picture

But we also need much better answers to the “how will civil society get up on its hind-legs and STAY ON ITS HINDLEGS when the tear gas disperses and the neo-liberal think tanks move back in…?”


Should you read this?

Hell yes

Probably, yup – but with your ‘academics are waffling’ sensors set to kill.


Probably not

Defo not (unlikely to publish a review)


And on cat belling

Tribal barriers to cat belling

Economists, the post-coronavirus world and that cat in need of belling

The 4Cs- coronavirus, capitalism, climate and cats (belling of)

Academic article: “Between innovation and restoration; towards a critical-historicizing understanding of social innovation niches”

So, as promised, I am going to start “looting the ivory tower” for useful work on social innovation (despite my reservations about the term – see here and here).

First up, well – a brilliant article …

The title: “Between innovation and restoration; towards a critical-historicizing understanding of social innovation niches”

The authors: Bonno Pel & René Kemp

The journal: Technology Analysis & Strategic Management,

The DOI:

The abstract:

Social innovation (SI) is gaining attention as an innovation category. However, the SI concept proves vulnerable to stereotypical understandings. Next to the radically novel, diffusion-oriented and thereby manifestly innovative social ‘niches’, it is important to also acknowledge the rather latent SI phenomena of restoration and shielding. This paper therefore develops a critical-historicizing perspective that highlights the social construction of innovations in social relations. Building on scholarship in Strategic Niche Management, grassroots innovation and critical innovation studies, four ‘shapes of social innovation’ are distinguished. Substantiating and deepening this conceptual classification through empirical evidence on 20 SI initiatives, the analysis highlights how social innovations may take on several of the theorised appearances throughout their existence in society (shapeshifting). Disclosing overlooked SI phenomena, this critical historicizing understanding informs more comprehensive and balanced SI research and practice.

In plain English/tl:dr: “Social innovation” is the latest label policymakers and their remorseless remorafish pals are throwing around.  But it is also about going backwards to old ways (restoration) and protecting the Too Big and Stale to Fail brigade, incumbents who make the party donations, control the purse strings (shielding). So, learn from history and previous thinking, they come up with four kinds of “social innovations” and then test it against twenty projects with that label in their titles. The four types of innovation can all appear in one project – it isn’t either/or.  We should be super careful about this term “social innovation” else we end up just concept-mongering while the planet literally fries.

Key concepts:  

They come up with a 2×2 matrix (one of the oldest hacks in the academic toolkit, but it’s an oldie because it keeps on working).

social innovation four types

(Later in the article they do the same diagram with dual direction arrows between most of the circles, trying to capture the interplay and essential wibbly-wobbliness of Real Life.)

Marc’s two cents

This is great – super useful. An intuitive typology that doesn’t claim too much for itself, is humble about the empirical gaps.  Will cause useful (more light than heat) debates
And reference list to die for (I have cherry-picked particularly interesting looking ones below. Won’t be able to read all, of coruse)

Various quotes-

“Social ‘niches’ can be radically novel or restorative, and oriented towards diffusion or shielding.”

“An important ideological line of division has emerged between individualistic, social entrepreneurship-oriented understandings, and the rather collectivist understandings focused on social movements”

“Defined in critical-historicizing and non-essentialist fashion, SI is understood as the introduction of ‘new’ ways of doing, organising and thinking (Avelino et al. 2019b) that gain this innovative significance through their contrast with prevailing social relations (Haxeltine et al. 2017b). Following this definition, a very broad range of social phenomena could qualify as SI (Jaeger-Erben, Rückert-John, and Schäfer 2015). Crucially, this comprises not only the manifest shapes of SI (with an obvious, pronounced innovative profile), but also their relatively latent counterparts.”

“Particularly insightful has been the account of the ‘restorative niche’, characterised by the ‘absence of any strong diffusion push’ (Ziegler 2017, 349) and by ethical motivations. Struggling for survival against the societal current, the associated innovative agency resides largely in the construction of shelter. This active shielding may entail particularly creative work (Ziegler 2017, 341).”

References of particular note

Avelino, A., J. Wittmayer, B. Pel, P. W. Weaver, A. Dumitru, A. Haxeltine, R. Kemp, Michael S. Jørgensen, Tom Bauler, Saskia Ruijsink, and Tim O’Riordan. 2019b. “Transformative Social Innovation and (Dis)Empowerment.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change 145: 195–206.

Ayob, N., S. Teasdale, and K. Fagan. 2016. “How Social Innovation ‘Came to Be’: Tracing the Evolution of a Contested Concept.” Journal of Social Policy 45 (4): 635–653.

Cajaiba-Santana, G. 2014. “Social Innovation: Moving the Field Forward. A Conceptual Framework.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change 82: 42–51.

Collier, D., J. LaPorte, and J. Seawright. 2012. “Putting Typologies to Work: Concept Formation, Measurement, and Analytic Rigor.” Political Research Quarterly 65 (1): 217–232.

Dóci, G., E. Vasileiadou, and A. C. Petersen. 2015. “Exploring the Transition Potential of Renewable Energy Communities.” Futures 66: 85–95.

Edwards-Schachter, M., and M. L. Wallace. 2017. “‘Shaken, but not Stirred’: Sixty Years of Defining Social Innovation.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change 119: 64–79.

Haxeltine, A., B. Pel, J. Wittmayer, A. Dumitru, R. Kemp, and A. Avelino. 2017b. “Building a Middle-Range Theory of Transformative Social Innovation; Theoretical Pitfalls and Methodological Responses.” European Public and Social Innovation Review 2 (1): 59–77.

Jessop, B., F. Moulaert, L. Hulgård, and A. Hamdouch. 2013. “Social Innovation Research: A New Stage in Innovation Research?” In The international handbook on social innovation: collective action, social learning and transdisciplinary research, edited by Moulaert, et al., 110–127. Cheltenham, United Kingdom: Edward Elgar.

McGowan, K. A., and F. Westley. 2017. “Constructing The Evolution of Social Innovation: Methodological Insights From a Multi-Case Study.” European Public & Social Innovation Review 2 (1): 93–109.

Pel, B., and J. Backhaus. 2018. “Realizing the Basic Income; Competing Claims to Expertise in Transformative Social Innovation.” Science & Technology Studies.

Pel, B., and T. Bauler. 2017. “A Transitions-Theoretical Perspective on the Social Economy; Exploring Capture Dialectics in Flemish ‘Insertion’ Practices.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics 88 (2): 279–298.

Pel, B., J. Dorland, J. Wittmayer, and M. S. Jørgensen. 2017a. “Detecting Social Innovation Agency; Methodological Reflections on Units of Analysis in Dispersed Transformation Processes.” European Public and Social Innovation Review 2 (1): 110–126.

Pfotenhauer, S., and S. Jasanoff. 2017. “Panacea or Diagnosis? Imaginaries of Innovation and the ‘MIT Model’ in Three Political Cultures.” Social Studies of Science 47: 783–810. doi:10.1177.0306312717706110.

Pol, E., and S. Ville. 2009. “Social Innovation: Buzz Word or Enduring Term?” The Journal of Socio-Economics 38: 878–885.

 Scott-Cato, M., and J. Hillier. 2010. “How Could we Study Climate-Related Social Innovation? Applying Deleuzean Philosophy to Transition Towns.” Environmental Politics 19 (6): 869–887.

Shove, E. 2012. “The Shadowy Side of Innovation: Unmaking and Sustainability.” Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 24 (4): 363–375.

Smith, A., and R. Raven. 2012. “What is Protective Space? Reconsidering Niches in Transitions to Sustainability.” Research Policy 41 (6): 1025–1036.

Smith, A., and A. Stirling. 2017. “Innovation, Sustainability and Democracy: an Analysis of Grassroots Contributions.” Journal of Self-Governance and Management Economics 6 (1): 64–97.

Strand, R., A. Saltelli, M. Giampietro, K. Rommetveit, and S. Funtowicz. 2016. “New Narratives for Innovation.” Journal of Cleaner Production 197: 1849–1853.

Suchman, L., and L. Bishop. 2000. “Problematizing ‘Innovation’ as a Critical Project.” Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 12 (3): 327–333.

Wittmayer, J. M., F. Avelino, J. Backhaus, B. Pel, T. Strasser, and L. Zuijderwijk. 2019. Narratives of Change: How Social Innovation Initiatives Construct Societal Transformation, Futures.

Ziegler, R. 2017. “Citizen Innovation as Niche Restoration – A Type of Social Innovation and Its Relevance for Political Participation and Sustainability.” Journal of Social Entrepreneurship 8 (3): 338–353.

“What else by the author(s) looks good?”

Well, the Pel stuff below in the reference list. And Rene Kemp – he’s one of  major guys in the whole field…

The institutionalization of Transformative Social Innovation;: A comparative case study on institutional bricolage and mainstreaming B Pel, F Avelino, A Smith

Unpacking the social innovation ecosystem: an empirically grounded typology of empowering network constellations B Pel, J Wittmayer, J Dorland, M Søgaard Jørgensen Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 1-26

Mainstreaming Renewable Energy Prosumerism:: Directionality of an ongoing Transition B Pel, JM Wittmayer, T De Geus, S Oxenaar, F Avelino, M Fraaije


Should you read this?

Hell yes

Probably, yup


Probably not

Defo not (unlikely to publish a review)

Looting the Ivory Tower “The work after ‘it’s too late’ to prevent dangerous #climate change

lootingivorytower(Blog posts about academic articles and what value they might have for activists.)


Moser SC. The work after “It’s too late” (to prevent dangerous climate change). WIREs Climate Change. 2020;11:e606.


If you have read much on social and psychological responses to climate change you will have come across the work of Susanne Moser

In this paper, part of a special issue on whether it’s too late to avoid 1.5 degree of warming she says (sort of – I paraphrase)

“We may or may not be toast (probs yes – but that the question is now legitimate is an interesting thing), but there’s stuff to be learnt from previous and ‘smaller’ endings. Meanwhile, we gotta do mitigation as if every degree mattered, and that means resilience building, “transformational adaptation” and “inner work.”

The argument in a tweet: (220ish characters)

It may be “too late”, but we gotta mitigate, adapt, do mitigation as if every degree mattered, end separation + ‘inner work’. #lootingivorytower

Should activists pay attention?  

Yes, this is a good pointer to recent literature and a contribution in its own right
The stuff on psychological responses to endings (section 3) is particularly neatly done. Also this-

4.3 | Resilience-building and transformational adaptation

With costly and deadly flooding in many countries, droughts expanding in time and space, wildfires consuming entire cities, and real-world adaptation limits increasingly recognized (IPCC, 2014), endings have become palpable. Calls for stepped-up resilience-building efforts and transformational adaptation are gaining in urgency because many adaptive efforts continue to be stalled by persistent barriers and most still aim at maintaining the status quo (Atteridge & Remling, 2018; IPCC, 2018; Juhola, Glaas, Linnér, & Neset, 2016; Moser, Coffee, & Seville, 2017). The work after “too late” requires serious grappling with what resilience actually means, conceptually and in practice (Moser, Meerow, Arnott, & Jack-Scott, 2019). It demands that meanings of resilience and desirable outcomes of resilience building are negotiated (Harris, Chu, & Ziervogel, 2018; Ziervogel et al., 2017). It means that the deep drivers of vulnerability, social injustice and environmental destruction must be challenged (Gillard, Gouldson, Paavola, & Van Alstine, 2016; Moser et al., 2017; Patterson et al., 2018).

How convincing is their methodology?

Moser has read heaps, cites lots of the recent stuff

What else could they have said?
Re: scientists and display of emotions –

  1. The self-censorship by scientists – well, there’s Orwell’s (ironically suppressed) introduction to Animal Farm
  2. And more recently/on point is Brysse et al. 2013 on scientists erring on the side of less drama.
  3. Though it is dubious, the whole ‘Spiral of Silence’ stuff too
  4. Hope versus courage – Kate Marvel
  5. Joanna Macey, especially the early stuff on ‘despair and empowerment in the Nuclear Age’
  6. Oh, and Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach” about how to face The End.

What else would a critic say?

Doesn’t engage with the long history of people saying ‘there may be trouble ahead’ on climate (see Lydia Dotto’s Thinking the Unthinkable from 1987) (but space is limited!)
Doesn’t really go into what we have been doing WRONG these last thirty years.

What are the implications for (Manchester-based/climate) activism?
Not so much specifically, but all grist for the mill.

What papers/books to do these people refer to that looks (or is) interesting?

Heaps – these leapt out at me

O’Brien, K., Selboe, E., & Hayward, B. M. (2018). Exploring youth activism on climate change: Dutiful, disruptive, and dangerous dissent. Ecology and Society, 23, 42

Patterson, J. J., Thaler, T., Hoffmann, M., Hughes, S., Oels, A., Chu, E., … Jordan, A. (2018). Political feasibility of 1.5 C societal transformations: The role of social justice. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 31, 1–9

Sawin, E. (2018). The magic of “multisolving.” Stanford social innovation review, 16. Retrieved from

Scheffer,  M.  (2016).  Anticipating  societal  collapse:  Hints  from  the  stone  age. Proceedings  of  the  National  Academy  of  Sciences, 113(39), 10733–10735.

Woodbury, Z. (2019). Climate trauma: Toward a new taxonomy of trauma. Ecopsychology, 11(1), 1–8.   (sadly, paywalled)

Who should read this?
Pointy headed academics Yes
Activists wanting to get beyond the smugosphere Maybe
The (mythical?) generally curious and concerned citizens maybe

Looter: Dr Marc Hudson.

Depending on how relevant they are, these lootings may be posted on one or more of the following sites –,,

Excellent Event: Ambiguous Transformations: Governance, Democracy, #Climate Transitions

Here’s the gist of a very long blog post. A senior academic  (Professor Karin Bäckstrand) gave a very clear summation of the relative importance of the Paris Agreement, the distinctions between ecological democracy and environmental democracy and the (possible) path of transformation that Swedish society is undergoing. She did this in the context of an academic workshop in Vienna called ‘Transition Impossible.” What follows is a blow-by-blow account of her talk, the panel discussion afterwards and the questions from the floor (which were, on the whole, skeptical about the likelihood of a “deep” transformation. My comments – with minimum snark – are in [square brackets and coloured highlighting.] Then my editorialising is at the end of this very long blog post. A disclaimer – In no way am I doing this blog post at top speed to demonstrate my ability to absorb, synthesise and assess information while seeking out additional sources to show that I would be an excellent post-doctoral candidate. Cough. Cough. Especially given that my PhD has been about the under-studied politics of socio-technical transitions, a lack noticed during the talk and the Q and a.. Cough. Cough.

Professor Bäckstrand began her talk, titled “Ambiguous Transformations: Governance, Democracy, Climate Transitions” with a thanks to the organisers for “a very timely conference”. The workshop, entitled “Transition Impossible? Ambiguous Transformations and the Resilience of Unsustainability” was, she said, “at the heart of what I and many colleagues are researching.”

Bäckstrand admitted that – based on what she’d seen of the conference so far (it’s the end of the first day) – admitted that she was more optimistic than the average participant about the possibilities for transition, but admitted that being from Sweden may have shaped that.  [The author of this blog is ever-so-slightly more pessimistic. Being from Australia/UK, he is shaped by that]

Bäckstrand said that ecological democracy etc is the key question – (how) we can bring radical societal transformation towards decarbonisation and make them compatible with principles of green ecological democracy.

Admitting to being a ‘COP junkie’ she began with a Paris Agreement (PA) recap. While admitting that PA will by no means transform the world, she said that it nonetheless sets out a framework… 179 countries, each with “Nationally Determined Contributions” and climate plans [Very very few industrialised countries are on track, and Paris would lead to 3.4 degrees of warming in any case. As for Australia, do not talk to me about Australia. As for Paris, see my cod-psychology explanation of the hype/hope]

She also mentioned having been at the recent Global Climate Action Summit, 13-14 September in San Francisco. Planning for it started with Governor Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg back in November 2016 after Trump won the election (with 3 million less votes than Clinton. Some would say a lot of greenwashing, but also a reaction whereby cities and regions take on commitments, new alliances shaped, which is critical for transformation.

Bäckstrand then turned to Sweden, which aims to become one of the world’s first nations to go 100% fossil fuel free  [See a blog post by me and my brilliant colleague Joe Blakey on the ‘meaning of zero carbon’]

This, Bäckstrand said, will be done in a deliberative and democratic way, and is a far reaching societal transformation and decarbonisation in line with Paris towards a carbon neutral society compatible with principles of ecological or environmental democracy (of which more later).

The key questions are – how can democracy or values of democracy (participation, inclusion, transparency) be secured in governance towards low carbon society? Is democracy fit for the task to secure sustainability in the large scale transformation and decarbonisation of society and economy?

Bäckstrand then supplied a bullet pointed list of what she would cover..

  • Politics, power, democracy are missing in the narratives on transformative shifts, which are dominated by techno-centric and market-oriented strategies of transformation
  • Multiple, multi-directional and contested transformations
  • Decarbonisastion reinforces dilemma of strong environmental outcome versus democratic procedure
  • Democratic values of transparency, fairness, inclusion, representation and accountability are needed in large-scale transformative action called for to implement the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030 [but then, who remembers Local Agenda 21?]
  • Tensions between democracy and sustainability, and the ideal of ecological democracy and practice of environmental democracy
  • What transitions: from ST transition towards a politics of green transformation: Four strategies of transformation
  • Resolving the tension between democracy and decarbonisation.
  • Arguments of green authoritarianism (Lovelock etc) are returning. Planetary emergency calling for extraordinary measures…
  • Sweden combines ambitious transformative action with participatory and democratic process [Ah, the books that Per Wahloo would write now!]
  • Public trust is at low point, populist on rise, Swedish Democrats got 17 per cent. Previously said wanted to pull out of Paris. Called for a “Swexit”…
  • Withdraw from multilateralism – enormous challenge…

The Background

  • challenge of democracy in post-democratic era
  • Paris paved way aspirational goal settings for states to be carbon free by 2050
  • Unleashed low carbon roadmaps by 2020, 2030 and 2050.
  • Disjuncture between a radical goal of green transformation and our existing political institutions
  • Polycentrism and networked governance emphasizes, decentralisation, local embedding, self-governance experimentation networking, giving up ‘big politics’ by states and governments. (Voss and Schroth, 2018)

Ecological democracy versus eco-authoritarianism

  • Liberal democracies well positioned to address climate change as they are open for public and popular demands for public good provisions
  • Positive relationship between green values and green democracy
  • Deliberative democracy model for connecting democracy with green or sustainable outcomes. Dryzek, Smith 2003, Bäckstrand et al 2010


  • Liberal democracies with free choice generates individualism, profit seeking and over-consumption colliding with sustainability values (Heilbroner, 1977))
  • Democracy too slow, cumbersome, captured by interest groups
  • Central authority needed to steer society toward large-scale transformation within planetary boundaries.
  • Veto actors, incumbents can slow decision making

Implication that we need technocracy or global panel of experts. [Or, in the words of one rising academic star, we need avivocracy]

For Bäckstrand, the rise of eco-authoritarianism is very problematic.  Together with Jonathan Pickering she has acted as co-editor in Journal of Environmental Public Planning (special issue)  Here below, stolen from her slides, is a table comparing ecological and environmental democracy…

Ecological Democracy Environmental Democracy
Value orientation ecocentric anthropocentric
Ideological orientation critical of liberalism Compatible with liberalism
Discursive orientation green transformation/radicalism critical of states and multilateral system sustainable development and ecological modernisation
Role of state critical of states and multilateral system versus working within state and multilateral system
Role of capitalism/markets critical of capitalism reconciled with capitalism
Role of civil society civil society as resistance/opposition/critique civil society as active partner.

In summary – Environmental democracy advocates say modifying existing institutions of liberal democracy and capitalism is the best way forward. Ecological democracy proponents have instead a “fundamental transformation required” message.

Backstrand then showed a graph, from showing the emissions gap between what we have and what we need to hit 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees

cat emissions gap

Clearly needs transformation of economy and society.

NB Paris in and of itself cannot be transformative,  In a way Paris domesticizes (down to national level) the international system.

Issues of accountability, transparency, inclusion are therefore very important.

Civil society, citizens, other states can review how on track or not nations are [see the recent Australia versus Pacific islands moment as an example of how (in)effective the moral complaints of small actors are, and have been over the last 30 years…]

For Bäckstrand, it is crucially important for states to be held accountable for action/lack of action.

In transition management field (Kemp and Rotmans 2009) need to focus on conflicting interests, asymmetrical power relationships, incumbent power, veto players.  Transitions literature overly focuses on governance of transitions, transformative pathways and planetary management, rather than the POLITICS of transformation [btw, did I mention I have just written an entire thesis on this?]

Multiple and contested transformations are occurring/would need to occur at local, national, multilateral and transnational sites, i.e, not one linear transformative path.

Drawing on the seminal book edited by Scoones, Leach, Newell 2015, (and also citing Clapp and Daveurgne 2011) Bäckstrand identified four strategies for green transformation

  • Technoscientific transformation = clean and green techs, renewables, CCS etc
  • Marketised transformation = green growth, green economy, carbon markets,CDM, payment for ecosystem services
  • Government-led transformation = top down, green state is the facilitator of transformation to sustainability or carbon neutrality (Duit 2014, Meadowcroft 2011, Eckersley 2004, Bäckstrand and Kronsel 2015, UNEP, global green deal.
  • Citizen-led transformation = bottom-up, degrowth, citizen science, lifestyle politics, climate justice, just transitions

[Track record of first three lousy. Fourth is just Naomi Klein’s so-called “blockadia”, no?]

Techno scientific and marketised strategies are very dominant (#understatement)

At all the summits enormous mobilisation and protest (e.g de Moor article on the ‘efficacy dilemma of transnational climate activism’).  However, as Dryzek has written, these radical climate justice movement types are very separated from the decision making powers.

Having laid out this conceptual landscape, Professor Bäckstrand then turned to her empirical case – Sweden

  • It is the most advanced green state, alongside the Nordics (see Ecksrley 2004; Bäckstrand and Kronsell 2015)
  • It has the goal to be first fossil free welfare state in the world, by 2045
  • Fossil free Sweden” government led stakeholder mechanism with 300 municipalities, companies, civil society actors (now 400 actors)
  • Led by chair of Swedish Conservation Society (was ‘co-optation’ critique)
  • Since January 1 2018, Sweden has a Climate Law, the Climate Policy Council – should every year scrutinise governments every year

So, can Sweden escape the carbon lock-in [Unruh] while keeping its democratic values?  Former deputy PM (Green) said at Paris that Sweden should be first fossil- free by 2045. Cynics would say just rhetoric, but it’s being backed up:  Every four years an extended review. Independent council with scientific experts.

This is a State-led transformation – collective visions of climate just world building on ideas of Green People’s Home

It is primarily Techno-centric transformation as evident in goals to produce fossil-free steel production, bio-CCS and, yes, nuclear energy,  Alongside this, it is also a Market-oriented transformation: Sweden was a first state with carbon tax and green tax shift with bipartisan support (was idea of Green Party, in practice lib and conservative alliance that did this – shift from income tax to green taxes)

There was consensus among 7 parliamentary parties (after 2 years parliamentary commission) along left-liberal-green conservative continuum (except for the Swedish Democrats) for the Climate Law, Climate Policy Council and the goals of 2030 and 2045. There have been new coalitions between different actors – municipalities, trade unions, companies, investors, as illustrated by government led Fossil Fee Sweden civil society led Climate Sweden and business—led Haga Initiative.  So we can see the following –

  •  State as an orchestrator or facilitator for climate action – government led Fossil Fuel  Sweden gathering
  • Framing climate change narratives towards justice: Just Transition by trade unions
  • Climate change co-benefits; energy security, (not to be dependent on Russian gas!) health, biodiversity, clean air, sustainable cities

This is environmental democracy rather than ecological democracy ideals, i.e. a [putative] transformation within capitalism. So far, Sweden has decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent since 1990 [as was later clarified, this – importantly – was on production-based metrics] and the economy has grown.

The largest challenge is Sweden’s transport sector. It is currently reducing by 2 to 3 per cent per year. However, to hit the targets, it would need to increase that to 4, 5 or even 7 per cent per annum: This would need (costly) high speed trains, electrification…


Sociotechnical transition literature does not pay enough attention to politics, power and contestation of transformative shifts  [Ah, Chapter 2 of my PhD thesis! In case you hadn’t heard me say that before…]

  • Democracy has been downplayed in the scholarship and practice of decarbonization and transition studies
  • We need to open up for public dialogue, reframing and deliberation as part of the process of knowledge production for transformation
  • Polcyentrism emphaizes decentraliztion (Backstrand admits to being increasingly skeptical on the usefulness of this)
  • Paris Agreement has precipitated national target setting and time-tables, but this is very uneven
  • Low-carbon transformations are currently dominated by techno-scientific and market-orientated strategies
  • Swedish case underlines importance of state-led transformations
  • Accountability, deliberation and representation along environmental democracy ideals need to be secured for meaningful green transformation and decarbonisation
  • Sweden on track to be green decarbonised state

But there are of course many challenges,  Broad pubic civil society and parliamentary support for transformation to a fossil-free state.

The Panel discussion

At this point, the chair Fred Luks of the Competence Centre for Sustainability, thanked her for “an optimistic, even patriotic, speech” and introduced the panel. This was made up of economist Professor Sigrid Stagl, political scientist etc Professor James Meadowcroft, and Michael Deflorian of the Institute for Social Change and Sustainability.

Luks began to Professor Bäckstrand;  “What is the ambiguity in your title?”

Bäckstrand – daily politics. The difficult moment after the recent Swedish election… Largest nationalist anti-immigrant party that has wanting to leave EU, climate denialism. We have our Trump moment. If they gain more strength and power we will definitely have an ambiguous transformation. Of course we have enormous challenges, above all with transformation… especially transport. And more than climate change, also Sweden is far from reaching its biodiversity goals. Very contested around forest policy – (many argue that commercial interests too powerful).

James Meadowcroft then made two observations. One, overall a positive picture of intentions and reductions over last few decades. So that’s a political accomplishment, but the political significance is enormous to move beyond fossil fuels “This energy source is dated,” is a message transmitted to all actors… Over the past two years a number of other countries have said similar things, albeit not economy-wide. E.g. UK’s “get rid of ICE by 2040 “. Within a few months of these announcements, the head of GM went to China and she had one objective – to stop China announcing end of ICE, given that GM strategy had been for hybrids for 20 yrs before a switch to electrics… Incumbents are aware the change is coming, trying to put it off 15 or 20 years, can make billions in the meantime. It’s not the infrastructure, its the patents etc…. Now seeing fightback in many countries around the world. Trump cancelling subsidies. Ontario – first thing new populist leader did was to scrap the cap and trade trading scheme, and also to end subsidy for buying of electric vehicles: ‘no subsidies for Tesla’… (Meadowcroft continued that this was of course thrown out by the courts because it was obviously discriminatory. But they hate Tesla!),  Sweden has best possible situation (but no fossil fuels). So , reality check from… Canada. – oil and gas crucial, alongside auto-parts. Canada a long way from making any pledge. Everyone knows tar sands not compatible even with two degrees of warming, can’t say it publicly, so worm around it. But no coincidence that leaders like Sweden and California not exporters of fossil fuels.

Luks then asked Stagl – is this too optimistic?

Stagl: There is more potential than in Austria, which had its environmental leadership moment decades ago. We have lost our way in terms of active climate policy… To Bäckstrand she observed “You were talking about ecological and environmental democracy. You referred mostly to environmental democracy though. You had ecocentric – there was a debate in ecological economics, which even that is anthropocentric. (Stagl said she was a fan of the Arne Naess deep ecology view).

Stagl then asked the crucial question (imho)- was the vaunted 26% reduction a production-based or consumption-based? Came the answer that it was is a production based one.

Stagke asked another corker – Is there a public debate in Sweden to go beyond growth?   Also, what  role of trade unions – are they reshaping the discourse? (In Austria for very long time TUs were obstructors)

Michael Deflorian began his comments by admitting that he had lived in Sweden for two years doing his masters, and had thought ‘Sweden is red-green utopia, so let’s go there,’ But of course, not as utopian as a lot of Germans and Austrians might think… [At this point the song Sweden by The Divine Comedy comes to mind…] Deflorian asked if Sweden is also planning to become extraction free, given that there is minerals mining in the North (Samis). He pointed to the notion of “cultural laboratories” with Sweden having strong potential for this.

Ex-climate activists going into this sort of ‘laboratory/prefigurative’ work, but the question remains whether people are trying to go beyond all parts of their life or just one arena, and this doesn’t happen in political vacuum. [In the radical environmental journal ‘Do or Die’, in the 1990s, there was discussion of this – permaculture as a retirement home project for burnt out anti-roads protestors]

Meanwhile, of course rightwing populists say ‘the boat is full’ and when RW Populitsts get in power their decisions have immediate effect [see Trump and EPA etc – though there is a limit to the wrecking he has been able to do].

At this point the chair (Fred Luks) pointed out that for all its plans, the Swedish state had recently issued a pamphlet to all citizens ‘if crisis or war comes’

Karin Bäckstrand thanked the panel for its questions and gave answers-

  • Extractive industries are indeed expanding. Contestation – court cases etc Also wind power siting (with Sami). And then there is the history of colonialism.
  • Is there a counter-movement?  Two trends. Hyper-individualist  (most single-occupancy housing in world; 300k Swedes fly to Thailand every year to get some sun) but also highest percentage of members in nature conservation organisations, This is very ‘double’ Meanwhile Swedish church are increasingly involved –
  • On trade unions – also double – the Central have taken forward ambitious plans, go to COPs etc, on the other hand, exodus of voters from trade unions to Swedish Democrats: More from unions went to Swedish Democrats than from conservatives
  • Is economic growth etc being debated/discussed? Green Party (close to losing their seats, having been in coalition government for 4 years). They used to have zero economic growth in manifesto. Then ‘realos’ took over (very contested) and deleted that part of the programme. It had been debated among the public… green inclusive growth is the dominant discourse.
  • Ecological democracy vs environmental democracy –well the idea of future generations, non-human animals etc is not a big thing in Sweden (compared to constitutional change in other countries – Costa Rica etc)
  • The panel came back with some further comments.

James Meadowcroft – why would we think everything has to change at once and everything has to go in one direction? In history we see bumps, reverses, movements splitting and reforming, huge opposition. Many movements go right down to the wire, to the last minute. Then the change comes and they can’t quite remember ten years later that it was in any way different [See Kathleen Blee’s excellent book on this Democracy in the Making]. Social change is like this – ‘where is it possible to make progress’ and focus attention on that. As the dialectic is, as the progress works, it will throw up side-effects etc.

e.g. if production emissions are coming down, great – but inevitably the debate will come onto consumption-based metrics. By the time that happens the countries that Sweden imports stuff from will have begun to dematerialise their production too…. We must get away from thinking can solve all problems at once.

Fred Luks then sought to move beyond Sweden – “We’re not talking about “reform” we’re talk about trasnformation (E.g. Polayni 1944 and coming of market society , after which nothing was the same). Is Sweden anywhere on the road to a great transformation? And where is the resistance?” He then cited Ulrich Brand and  Martin Wissen “The Limits of Capitalist Nature: Theorizing and Hierarchies of Belonging in Overcoming the Context The Imperial Way of Living” When you try to do anything, there is resistance. There are privileges…

Michael Deflorian  : We can see the resistance- rightwing populism.  E,g, Vice Chancellor in Austria openly denying climate change.  Also We have resistance within ourselves too. The EPA on formative mileux. The post-materialist ones have second highest carbon footprints… [See also Professor Kevin Anderson here – we see the high polluters when we shave in the morning…!] We could say, with Ingolfur Bluhdorn, that all this transformation talk is simulation…

James Meadowcroft :  The question makes me want to be contrarian. Which aspects exactly are you unhappy with?  Flying? Meat eating? Having kids? I’m not convinced that’s the way we’re going to solve the problem. If stop burning fossil fuels, solve energy problem, can use as much as we like. We need to remember different scales matter – local environmental problems often life-threatening. Great Transformation may take another century or two. Tackling local problems may give us breathing space… We’re going to have to grope our way forward over many decades…

[This reminds me of Michael Thompson’s talk of ‘clumsy institutions’. See also wicked problems. Of course, super-wicked problems are a different problem…]

Sigrid Stagl : On the biggest resistance (having spoken to investors this afternoon). Well, divestment rhetoric that works is powerful. For the rest, it’s still the game ‘why me? I’m busy writing reports, trying to be more efficient. We are x and y certified, we are doing a lot…. [compare Wright and Nyberg and corporate (in)activity and self-delusion].

Karin Bäckstrand on the subject of resistance –

  • Swedish Democrats. They wanted Lower tax to cut EPA funding and withdraw from EU (all under anti-immigration umbrella). This withdrawal from the EU stance cost them votes – the EU is becoming steadily more popular with Swedish votters…
  • Aviation tax  as a potential point of conflict– Sweden had a uniilateral one. Many businesses have to fly – “we need domestic aviation”….
  • And the car industry – Volvo and Saab (previously) as potential intransigent actors…

Questions from the floor

The chair did something I’ve seen also done in Australia – and I think should be the norm – they kept hold of the microphone, and this – as in Australia – tended to reduce the speechifying element of the questions…

First question was from Ingoflur Bluhdorn  I like all this optimism, I like all this hope. Gives me injection of energy in both directions… Sweden as pioneer is one narrative, there are others. Sweden in a number of respects is a very exceptional set up, almost in an aquarium. In terms of “Lifeworld environmentalism” (as per Daniel Hausknost’s paper in the opening session of the conference) Sweden is a particularly good example. Sweden may follow the Germany and Austria trajectory (of previous environmental ‘leadership’ that runs into the sand. THAT is more likely – (Backstrand challenged to defend…)

Bäckstrand : Swedish Democrats hoped they’d be second largest party, they became third. Their mistake was to talk about Swexit, which scared Swedish public. Support for EU has increased every year… We see actually – via Gothenberg public opinion surveys- environment has risen on public salience. It was 8th, now 2nd. Yes, right now we have one of largest right-wing parties in Europe. And yes, Swedish is a deviant case. (carbon free electricity based on hydro, nuclear and renewables). Yes, an outlier.
James Meadowcroft :  It would indeed be a transformation if went in that direction, but not a great transformation. What would 30 years of right wing populism do? They are reactionary movements, which ultimately will be ground over, by innovation and change at many levels. Renewables, battery technologies will make many lower carbon options viable, just on convenience/cost grounds alone,

Question – Daniel Hausknost : It’s important that there are front runners like Sweden – those who can lead should lead- there is scope for change underneath glass ceiling. But it’s not, James, a stepladder of production decarbonisation and then consumption. Previous decarbonisations were based on moving production to elsewhere! Embodied emissions go up, [At this point, an hour and a half of typing in, the author began to think about games of ‘Step ladder or snakes and ladders’ and if someone will give him funding to develop that] And as per Karin, Sweden has lots of land, forests, low population. Energy density and area matters (as in the past). You need to lower consumption of meat etc, you can’t just substitute other energy sources for fossil fuels

James Meadowcroft:  I agree with Daniel – need to transform agro-food sector. But HOW? I want to deal with production and consumption together…. About half the emissions reductions in Europe were due to independent factors (Germany unifying and shutting down hopelessly inefficient East German industry, the UK and dash for gas) BUT the other half was due to deployment of renewables, more efficient homes etc.

Ingolfur Bluhdorn :  do you have carbon footprint on consumption side in Sweden?

Karin Bäckstrand : (after voicing agreement with Daniel and Ingoflur) Yes, Climate Council beginning to look at consumption based Sweden doesn’t come out very well “figures aren’t very good”, And bio-economy and biofuels were hyper optimistic (new generation of fuels for aviation). But even with lots of land, not feasible/realistic… In electoral campaign, this was debated. Greens always say ‘reduce air travel/need quotas on transatlantic travel’. Even conservatives saying ‘need to reduce (air) travel’, in context of those who want massive role out of biofuels.

Question to James – we’re used to critiising movements for big vision creation, but they’re crucial for mobilising… (example from 1900 given!) Isn’t ‘incremental steps’ harmful?

James Meadowcroft:  pie in the sky narratives, when they fail, mean activists drift away… I’m NOT saying ‘only little changes’… The problem with major social change is it grinds up people, it’s great for their great grandchildren, but individualss lose jobs, never work again etc… e,g Women in science -lots of sacrifice, only granddaughters benefit…

Question (from author of blog) : When will we know if Sweden is on the right path? HOW? Is it in two years, five years? What if the consumption-based metrics say you can’t have 300 thousand Swedes getting a Thai tan?

Karin Bäckstrand ; We will keep track every year – development of emissions reductions plans, what kind of policies they have implemented, (e.g., high speed trains). This will then scrutinised. Also a lengthy review every four years. Without that solid review, it will be very hard to predict, and it will be very much rhetoric. With emission reduction rate is not enough, it needs to be doubled at least….

Sigrid Stagl : –ongoing green growth orientation versus consumption based is problematic, I think. … Pathways Pick and Yasser 50 percent every ten years, frontloading the effort is a long way away.

Michael Deflorian : we get there if we do x y and z. What is the role of researchers/academics with this kind of council? We as researchers are supposed to tell publics and policymakers how we get there. But we also need diagnosis of why we haven’t reached those previous goals over last two decades. It’s not enough to only have present focus. We should also consider the role that we as researchers have.

Question from Margaret Haderer – women trying to enter science It did make a difference, took time. But at the moment, looking at this plan, it seems there’s little sacrifice for Swedes, just ‘’do as you have, only more efficient’… Is what we’re proposing morally/ethically the right thing? Are we the good guys/ It’s just the same ecological modernisation story (gets applause!)

James Meadowcroft – so ‘if they’re not suffering, they’re not contributing’? Not sure why you think that… – rich prosperous people not suffering? Swedes aren’t sacrificing enough?  [I have not captured the nuance of either the question or the reply on this one – I will admit that I was flagging]

After a question/comment about the availability of battery storage technologies, the last question came from an interesting freelance journo: We need trustworthy information for democracy. What does transition require from the mass media, implementing for example the Aarhus Declaration?

Michael Deflorian ;  What is happening in cyberspace (echo-chambers and filter bubbles) – are we not in one ourselves, about how good transformation will be… Digital democratic space is falling apart, and no way other than nationalising Facebook and Google to deal with this.

James Meadowcroft :– (in response to the battery question – technological change vs behavioural/social change is something I take very seriously. I do NOT say a tech gizmo will solve all our sustainability problems. But I do believe that can provide all energy services in rich world can come from sources that don’t pollute. That’s because 2/3rds of fossil energy goes up as heat! Present techs in battery does have problems, but LOTS of research and development (more in last 10 than in previous 50). Won’t always be stuck with polluting storage technologies. We won’t have to go back to living in caves, and it’s not true and it’s been propagated in part by fossil fuel lobby.

Sigrid Stagl – I agree with both scepticism about reenewables and also enthusiasm. Solar panels now a tenth of what they cost seven years ago. In response government of lower Austria has cut subsidies. Now householders would have to pay less (because of the price drop), but there is less uptake because of the lower subsidies!

Karin Bäckstrand – technology and behaviour are integrated.  Utmost importance of public access to information. Sweden has a far-reaching act on this. Civil society must be watchdogs for what governments are on track or not. There are now a lot of civil society review mechanisms Equity reviews too.- to what level including distributional justice etc. And yes, social media climate is extremely bifurcated in Europe. Climate denial viral there…

My summation.
A very good evening. Well chaired, very clear presentation (overly optimistic for my taste, but tbh anything short of ‘we’re all going to die horrible deaths in the grim meathook future much sooner than you think’ would get the same criticism from me!). Panellists did very well, as did the expert chair, who kept it flowing and brought it in on time.

The whole Sweden thing sounds great. I hope it works and I especially hope I get a post-doc to watch how it unfolds (popcorn and the apocalypse- yum!).

I would say that we tried ‘Ecologically Sustainable Development’ in Australia in the late 80s and early 90s and it died a death. As Frank Turner sings

But it was worse when we turned to the kids on the left
And got let down again by some poor excuse for protest
Yeah by idiot fucking hippies in 50 different factions
Who are locked inside some kind of 60’s battle re-enactment
And I hung-up my banner in disgust and I head for the door

For me, then, as a quasi/proto/whatever academic, the research agenda/research questions are these:

Firstly, how do we have sustained social movement agitation that is constantly chivvying the state and business, forcing them to make promises and also watchdogging them relentlessly into keeping the promises? How are those social movements able to sustain themselves, without being co-opted and/or repressed? How can social movements avoid the smugosphere, the emotathons and the theme park of radical action?

Secondly, how can we expect the enemies of social movements (and as Pogo said, we have met the enemy and he is us) to monkey wrench those social movements and their activities?

Field mobilization and how little we know… #PhD

Really really wish I’d gotten better hold of the institutional theory leg of this stool (chair?) that is my thesis earlier in the process. Am good enough on the policy stuff (MSA, PE, ACF etc etc), and the empirics, and even the sociotech transitions stuff. But I wasn’t deep, wide and overview-y enough on institutional theory early enough (not for lack of trying – it’s just … well…   (and yes, to my critical management theory friends out there, I know that inst theory is a panglossian functionalist colonialist exercise. I probably come down on the Willmott side of the Willmott-Lok debate, fwiw.).

Anyway, better late (and it is late) than never. Just mostly finished this great article:

Grodal, S. and O’Mahony, S. 2017. How does a Grand Challenge become Displaced? Explaining the Duality of Field Mobilization. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 60, 4, pp.1801-1827.

And there are some corker bits in an article about how the big dreams of nano-tech were cut down to size by short-term needs of funders/boosters.
The existing literature does not always recognize the political realities of field dynamics that can unfold after fields mobilize and attempt to make progress on grand challenges.
(Grodal and O’Mahony, 2017:1802)

Without examining how participants’ rhetoric and underlying interests evolve as they take action and dynamically try to influence progress towards a field goal, we cannot explain what affects progress on grand challenges.
(Grodal and O’Mahony, 2017:1802)

While much research has focused on how field participants use rhetorical strategies to mobilize consensus on a common field-level goal (Wry, Lounsbury, & Glynn, 2011), it is the later stages, during which action is required, that can be more complicated.
(Grodal and O’Mahony, 2017:1803)

What is missing is an understanding of what happens after mobilization, when diverse field participants take action to address field-level goals in dynamic environments.
(Grodal and O’Mahony, 2017:1803)

There is a LOT else here, too late to really chew on as I finish this thesis. But I become ever more convinced that the only way we can do better on the multiple problems with sociotechnical transitions (both academically and in the real world) is by a much richer appreciation of institutional theory, institutional work and other tools.

Even then we will be screwed, but at least we will be a better-informed screwed…. Which is comforting.

Getting your head around other people’s heads. Phenomenologically, tingle-ing-ly good

Can we ever really know what is going on in someone else’s head?  Meh, there’s one way to piss someone off and that’s to say “I know exactly how you feel, the same exact thing happened to me.”  Because, of course, there’s events but they have to be interpreted,  and even the same person’s interpretations shift and re-shift over time* (see below for disclaimer).

Two examples from Australian political memoirs/essays of late (reading For The Thesis). One is from Nicholas Stuart‘s ‘Rudd’s Way- November 2007- June 2010’, which he started writing while Rudd was moving from hero to zero, and delivered to the publishers two hours before the surprise Gillard assassination.

The other is from Laura Tingle, who writes for the Australian Financial Review, and is a phenomen(oligic)ally good hack, along with Philip Coorey – also at the Fin,  and Lenore Taylor – at the Grauniad).  They dig up the stories, they have respect for the importance of history in policy debates.  To not read all three regularly is to court ignorance of Australian political affairs.

First, from Stuart

This was part of Rudd’s approach to politics that perhaps originated from his study of China. The so-called Middle Kingdom has never been genuinely democratic. It size has always made it easier for the rulers in the centre to issue policy edicts and expect them to be obeyed throughout the country.  Persuasion had rarely been a valued skill. Rudd attempted to impose a similar political style in Australia. On the positive side, this engaged him intensely in the debate, but he needed to be persuaded before anything could happen. Once he had been converted to a particular policy, it appeared to him to be axiomatic that everyone should simply accept that he’d weighed up all the evidence and made the correct decision. There was no room for dissidents and no need for argument.
(Stuart, 2010: 112)

FWIW, I think this may be overplaying the China thing a bit – even dictatorships have politics and ‘heaven is high and the Emperor is far away‘).

Then from Tingle.

We are products of our time, and our views of the world are formed accordingly. My professional career began with the 1980s and coincided with a  dramatic new era in politics and policy debate. All that has happened in the following thirty-five years has shaped the way I see politics. Sometimes you realise with a rude shock that all the stuff you carry around every day in your head isnt in everyone else’s head.

This came home to me most powerfully in 2012, when I was doing interviews to discuss my first Quarterly Essay. Before we started the formal interview, a radio journalist warned: ‘Oh, by the way, don’t presume too much political memory in the audience.’ ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘what shouldn’t I presume they know?’ ‘Well, don’t presume they will know who Paul Keating is, or what he did.’ I concede this caused a sharp intake of breath on my part. Yes, it was a youngish audience, but a politically articulate one. How could they not know who Paul Keating was? He had been one of our prime ministers , for goodness sake. Then I thought again. There had been three prime ministers since Keating left office in 1996. Anyone aged under thirty would have no adult memory of government before John Howard. The views of these people are just as relevant as mine. But they will be shaped by a very different set of memories.
(Tingle, 2015: 83)

So, there’s a cognitive cost to inhabiting (or trying to inhabit) someone else’s cosmology, even for a short period.  And given that most everyone is lazy as most of the time, and given that there are costs to your own credibility if you try to see things from the point of view of “the enemy”, then is it surprising that the seeing things “from another point of view”  is as common as rocking-horse poo?


* Let’s not toooo relativistic about all this – after all,  we manage to communicate, we manage to predict more or less what other people will do, at least within our cultural frames. We are not total mysteries, all the time, to ourselves and each other.


Stuart, N. 2010. Rudd’s Way: November 2007- June 2010. Melbourne: Scribe.

Tingle, L. 2015. Political Amnesia: How We Forgot How to Govern. Quarterly Essay, 60. Melbourne: Black Inc.

Civilising hypocrisies and fundamental questions: on “Emancipating Transformations

Manchester Tyndall Centre today hosted a provocative and highly interesting seminar. Professor Andy Stirling, who spent the 80s in the trenches for Greenpeace, had schlepped up to deliver a seminar on “Emancipating Transformations.” What they? Read on for an (almost) blow by blow account. [My multiple two centses are in square brackets like these.]

emancipating-transf-23-juneStirling began by point out the severe acuteness of the problems we face (not just climate change, but all sorts of other bubbling under) . He pointed out that 2015 saw not just the Paris climate conference  but also the final agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals, with the the rhetoric of sustainability as “care” and UN slogans such as “leave no one behind.”  These are some of the “civilising hypocrisies” of the title of this blog post.

The politics of sustainability and knowledge
He moved on to point out that sustainability concerns actually pre-date climate change [see the 1971 Founex conference, held because what we now call ‘developing countries’ suspected that the then-new concerns about environment would be used by the rich countries to keep the poor ones poor]. After pointing out that 40% of world innovation is on war and ‘security’, Stirling wanted us to understand that sustainability was (and is) a political, not a technical issue. He pointed out that the knowledge we gained about ecology – for example – often came from actions of “horizontal” action, that knowledge making at the time around these subjects was from the more egalitarian impulses. NGOs and other groups had to struggle for decades to get issues(the dangers of pesticides, asbestos, carcinogens) onto the agenda [and there’s some very interesting stuff in the excellent 2014 book  “Behind the Curve: science and the politics of global warming” by Joshua Howe on how US groups that knew about climate change in the early 80s did NOT campaign on it because there was no feasible way to do so.].

Stirling pointed out that the “Establishment” (corporations, august societies of Respectable Scientists) ridiculed what we now regard as common sense. Stirling said that “knowledge is much more malleable and political that is conceded” [but he was not endorsing post-modernist relativistic ‘anything goes’-ness in that]

And here is the kicker – those bodies are now mouthing all the pieties (“Responsible Innovation” etc) and saying all the right things. Meanwhile, the warnings of the United Nations Brundtland report called “Our Common Future” that sustainability was not just about ‘end points’ but “effective citizen participation” and “greater democracy” were quietly forgotten.( 1)

“Progress” as a weapon
Stirling said that incumbents were able to resist so the challenges so effectively because of the discourse of “progress” and the notion of science leads to technology leads to ‘progress’ [Indeed – if ever you challenge a technology’s social, economic or ecological implications, you will be smeared by its backers as a ‘Luddite’. The American political scientist EE Schattschneider observed that “the definition of alternatives is the supreme instrument of power.” ]

Stirling pointed out that this is a totalitarian discourse, a way of shutting down debate. He then pointed out that politicians are forever asserting linear models of ‘progress’, while claiming they are not. This was a particularly fun bit for the geek in me – Stirling showed examples of how the language and metaphors of both political and academic work on innovation are riddled with what he called “hard-wired linear notions” (leap-frogging, catching up etc). All these beg the question of how much, how fast, at what risk, who is ‘ahead’ and what does ahead even mean.
He challenged the audience – had anyone ever seen a “roadmap” document that had more than one road? And if there was only one road, well, you don’t need a map, do you? This got the biggest laugh of the afternoon. Karl Weick would have shared his snowy anecdote no doubt.

He pointed out that the “the” in “the sustainability transition” implies that there is only one way (even when multiple technologies exist) and that rarely if ever are the opportunity cost (what else could you spend the same money on) discussed. This has been an ongoing critique in Australia – money spent on propping up the coal industry is money NOT spent on research/support for renewable energy.

He touched briefly on the inevitability (even without shadowy incumbent conspirators propping up their own industries) of forms of lock-in (e.g. the QWERTY keyboard I’m typing this on) before returning to the earlier point that the political function of discourses (around “the” transition) is to maintain incumbent power.

Expedient fallacies
Stirling then laid out five “expedient fallacies” of current “sustainability thinking”
1. It maintains rather than transforms social orders
2. Any changes are envisaged as singular,deterministic, top down (rather than unruly, open-ended, bottom up)
3. The crucial “science base” is hierarchical, technical, expert leadership
4. Salient values are about fear and control,rather than hope or care
5. Democracy, equality and collective action are ‘threats’ that need to be domesticated

There was then a rather interesting set of slides that showed the connections between durability, stability, resilience and robustness, and the corresponding properties of transition, transduction, transilience and transformation [I feel another of my coloured paper/cardboard/paper-clip 3D models coming on! And at this point I should have shouted out about “Transruptive”

but I didn’t…]

Stirling then pointed to how the powerful close down opportunities for experimentation through invocation of ‘evidence based design’, insurance contracts, liability protection, stochastic reduction’ etc [he could also have mentioned policy-based evidence making!]

[I thought about Michael Thompson and his plea for ‘clumsy organisations’ for dealing with wicked problems and “post normal science.

Flocking hell!
Stirling returned to the notion of flocking swarming behaviours and the messiness of democracy. [Sadly though, the Pentagon has got there first (it so often does). Also, I’m reminded of passenger pigeons, that went through boom and bust cycles of population growth and collapse. Caught at a low ebb, they were wiped out. I fear the same for the social movements, that sort of gave up the ghost and fell in, according to Ingolfur Bluhdorn, with post-ecological thinking.]

The Q and A
The Q and A was dominated by men (including me). This was noted by Andy, to be fair. What is to be done? Well there are some suggestions here  about how you can simply and non-tokenistically make it more likely that ‘quiet voices’ (male, female, whatever) find it easier to ask questions. I also personally think that a two minute rule (or even, gasp, a four sentence rule) might sometimes be helpful…

I asked about impact science ‘versus’ production science, and Stirling’s response was very very interesting, showing how the former is itself shot through with assumptions about ‘safety’ that are highly contestable, highly political.

There were some interesting snippets and discussions of course, especially around how useful the “there is no time [to consult/be democratic]” argument is to elites (something that Manchester’s own Erik Swyngedouw has rightly been saying for years.

Prof Kevin Anderson (see MCFly passim ad nauseam!) made the good point though, that elites are NOT saying that about climate change. They’re actually saying Business As Usual is fine, and some fantasy technology like BECCS can be deployed later. [Prof Anderson was also hilariously rude about Integrated Assessment Models,  comparing them to “analysing astrology”]

The fundamental question – or at least the one I took away is this – who are our bosses? We are academics. We are paid to sit around and concept-monger. By the tax-payer, ultimately. So should we be aiming to impress elite policy-makers and follow what Stirling called “policy etiquettes”, in the hope they will twist this policy knob (and there are many many knobs), or pull that policy lever, to magic the right kind of innovation into existence? Or should we be trying to work with and for the (mostly mythical) social movements? Of course, this is a crude binary. But there are choices to be made, priorities to choose from.
I think I know where Andy Stirling’s preferences lie, and I definitely know where mine are.



  1. Released in 1987, the report had a climate change chapter, but it wasn’t a key issue. A UN conference was then scheduled for 1992. The following year, climate change exploded onto the public policy agenda, thanks in part to the June 23rd (!) testimony of James Hansen – the policy entrepreneurs then ‘hijacked/retrofitted the 1992 conference to become the deadline for climate change negotiations. You take your opportunities were you find them…]
  2. Other stuff that I didn’t put in that might be worth your time include three excellent books
    Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism
    A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming
    Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control
  3. From a more unquestioningly technophiliac perspective, Professor Thomas Schelling in Mancheter in 2010.

#Awalkinthepark – Coal, climate, counter-movements

Almost every morning I lug a heavy (25kg/55lb-ish) backpack and my sorry ass around a local park. There are squirrels, dogs, dog-walkers (but no doggers) and also things to read. Yep, I read as I go. What I haven’t been doing is systematically writing about what I read. No more! Today I begin this, and – with the help of friends nagging me on facebook – I should turn it into a very useful habit indeed.

Today’s readings were all/portions of-

Rubin, E. 1991. Envionmental constraints: threat to coal’s future? Keynote session presentation to World Coal Institute Conference on Coal In the Environment, London, 3 April 1991

McMullan, J. 1991. International Collaboration in Carbon Dioxide Collection and Disposal. In Thompson, P. (ed) 1991. Global Warming: The Debate. London: John Wiley& Sons.

Evans, R. 2006. Nine Lies about Global Warming. Melbourne: Lavoisier Group, February 2006.

Evans, R. 2006. Nine Facts about Climate Change. Melbourne: Lavoisier Group, November 2006.

Rotty, R. 1979. Atmospheric C)2 consequences of Heavy Dependence on Coal. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 33, pp. 273-283.

Breslow, J. 2012. Robert Brulle: Inside the Climate Change “Countermovement.” PBS, 23 October.

Edward Rubin, 25 years ago, makes for rueful reading. He admits coal’s environment problems date back to 1300 and that “the argument coal used for power generation accounts for only 8% of the global warming problem so please leave us a one and go worry about more important things simply will not carry way in a world where growing environmental concerns are increasingly being voiced through political action and regulatory change.”

He flags the “enormous uncertainties” in climate change, and notes “fully a third of the presentations at this conference are devoted” to it.

His solution? Well, the primary one of the top five is “technological innovation. New and improved technologies that reduce the cost of using coal in compliance with environmental requirements in different parts of the world represent the best long-term solution for the sustained growth of this industry, and we must pursue such developments aggressively.”

Didn’t happen.

McMullan casts a wary and weary eye over energy conservation, increased use of nuclear power, a shift to renewables, a shift to hydrogen, stop cutting trees and replant more. The most interesting thing is his sceptical eye on what we now call carbon capture and storage. He outlines the problems and opportunities with ocean disposal, geological structure storage and enhanced oil recovery. None seemed convincing to him…. So much has changed!!

Next up the ‘exec summaries’ of two “climate counter-movement” pamphlets by the late Ray Evans, Tonto to Hugh Morgan’s Lone Ranger. (Morgan is a mining executive and much much more. Since the 1970s he has had a very keen interest in shrinking the state and attacking the legitimacy of environmentalists.
The Lavoisier Group was founded in 2000, the first explicitly climate denialist group in Australia. The February 2006 set of “lies” starts with “Carbon dioxide is a pollutant” and carries on in that vein. Reminds me a bit of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s ad campaign later that year ahead of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” – “Carbon Dioxide. They call it pollution – we call it life”. Evans had visited the CEI in November 1996, and helped plan the “Countdown to Kyoto” conference. But I digress…

The “Nine Facts” on is a rewrite, sort of. It got launched at Parliament on 28 February 2007, with Arvi Parbo (Aussie industrialist) leading, and Dennis Jensen (soon to be ex-Liberal senator) also giving comments. Such is the nature of political and economic elite thinking on climate change…

Next up, Rotty, 1979. Nothing terribly surprising, once you know the history of US scientists concerns (they grew massively in the 1970s). Best book for that is Howe, 2014, and best short article is Kellogg, 1987. Spencer Weart’s Discovery of Global Warming is pretty damn excellent too..
Anyway, Rotty lays out the problem, the possible impacts (there were more uncertainties back then)
My favourite bit was when, having looked at probable increases in fossil fuel extraction and use he concedes that “even lower fossil fuel-use scenarios are conceivable if the global society recognizes the potential environmental challenges soon enough.”

Ha ha ha.

Finally, an excellent interview with Robert Brulle, a US sociologist who studies the climate change counter-movement. Some clips –

So they are very much, I would say, neoliberal foundations. There are some libertarian foundations, but they are not anywhere near as prominent as what I would consider to be traditional conservative foundations. The funding of the countermovement organizations from the oil and gas interests is actually, when you look at the foundations of those organizations, fairly minimal. So it really is driven by these ideologically focused organizations, which is no surprise, because they’ve been building a conservative movement now for 40, 50 years, and they have these organizations that they’ve created and sponsored and helped develop over that period of time. So what they did was alongside of all of the other conservative issues — affirmative action, English as the official language, the Defense of Marriage [Act], these sorts of issues — they added on climate change as an additional dimension to the conservative movement’s issue agenda.


Institutional movements really function through what we would consider to be informal arrangements and weak coordination. So in the case of the climate countermovement, what you see is that the conservative movement coordinates itself quite well, that when you look at the funding flows you can go and look at the dynamics of the Philanthropy Roundtable, which is where these sorts of issues of funding flows are discussed.


What you see in the number of sponsorships in the Heartland conference is the attempt to build a worldwide climate countermovement. So you see a lot of organizations from different countries: Italy, New Zealand, Australia. You see a lot of sponsorships from those kinds of countries, and the more organizations you have, the more legitimate the conference looks.