Tag Archives: climate change

#Awalkinthepark – Radical Institutional Change? Bin juice!!


The sixth lap is usually fairly unproductive, from a reading point of view, but probably where the calorie burn comes from.  Somehow I only managed to finish one article – (and tbf, most of another)

Lorenzoni, I. and Benson, D. 2014. Radical institutional change in environmental governance: Explaining the origins of the UK Climate Change Act 2008 through discursive and streams perspectives.  Global Environmental Change, Vol. 29 pp.210-21.

They use two analytic lenses – discursive institutionalism (DI) and multiple streams model  (SM)– to look at the before and during of the passage of the UK Climate Change Act 2008.

As for DI – well, I’ve blogged a LOT about that over the last few days.  SM – Well, Bismark said that laws are like sausages, in that it doesn’t pay to look too closely at how they are made.  John Kingdon could have said laws are ‘bin juice’ –

Kingdon argues that problems and solutions generated by participants are dumped into a political garbage can and become a ‘primeval soup’ from which the policy process emerges as three distinct streams (problems, policies and politics). When these three streams converge at critical junctures they interact, thereby opening the opportunity (‘policy windows’, or ‘windows of opportunity’) for advocates to place their solutions to particular problems on the political agenda, leading to new policies or changes to existing policies (Kingdon, 1984, 1995; also Farley et al., 2007).
(Lorenzi and Benson, 2014:11)

They give good brief descriptions of both DI and SM, and explain their (mixed) methodology which involved a lot of reading and some interviews duly triangulated.

They then tell the story of the CCA via both lenses, drawing out useful detail, and evaluate the usefulness of both theories.  They think that Multiple Streams Model may understate the ability of policy entrepreneurs/actors to force the pace/make things happen.

The DI account emphasises the constitutive role of Bryony Worthington, working for Friends of the Earth in shifting the mental mood music, and the role of an Early Day Motion.

There are some unfortunate mistakes-

  • “begs the question” (p.10) when it simply means “raises the question”
  • Secretaries of State are appointed by the Prime Minister, not “elected” (p. 14)
  • The Stop Climate Chaos coalition was not ‘international’ (p.15) in the normal sense of that.
  • Straight-jacketing instead of ‘strait-jacketing’ (p.16)
  • ‘Towed the line’ instead of ‘toed the line’ (p17)

This is more about policy formation than policy implementation, (targets and fine pronouncements about the year 2050 are easy. Confronting inertia and vested interests in the day-to-day? #notsomuch.  But these guys have written a very useful paper nonetheless.

They conclude –

Firstly, in our theory testing it remains difficult to generalise from our single, albeit significant, case, making more general claims about the supportive ‘value’ of DI somewhat premature. Secondly, Discursive Institutionalism itself remains an emerging agenda within the wider discipline of new institutionalism. We therefore advocate greater testing of propositions, not only in parallel climate change cases but also across different policy sectors and even national contexts (e.g. see Benson and Lorenzoni, 2014). The reward is not only more innovative theory building and, potentially, better explanatory frameworks. In the case of climate change policy, the scope for learning on the conditions necessary to countenance ambitious, legally binding mitigation targets is high. Such normative lessons will be of comparative interest to countries as they seek to reduce their emissions whilst still maintaining cross-societal consensus, a conundrum that will occupy future policy makers worldwide as climate change occurs.
(Lorenzi and Benson, 2014:19)


Things to read

Benson, D., Lorenzoni, I., 2014. Examining the scope for national lesson-drawing on climate governance. Polit. Q. 85 (2), 202–211, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467- 923X.12080.

Brunner, S., 2008. Understanding policy change: multiple streams and emissions trading in Germany. GEC 18, 501–507.

Davies, P.H.J., 2001. Spies as informants: triangulation and the interpretation of Elite interview data in the study of the intelligence and security services. Politics 21 (1), 73–80.

Farley, J., Baker, D., Batker, D., Koliba, C., Matteson, R., Mills, R., Pittman, J., 2007. Opening the SM for ecological economics: Katrina as a focusing event. Ecol. Econ. 63, 344–354.

Nerlich, B., 2012. ‘Low carbon’ metals, markets and metaphors: the creation of economic expectations about climate change mitigation. Clim. Change 110, 31–51. Pidgeon, N.F., 2012. Public understanding of, and attitudes to, climate change: UK and international perspectives and policy. Clim. Policy 12, S85–S106.

Rayner, T., Jordan, A., 2010. The United Kingdom: a paradoxical leader. In: Wurzel, R.K.W., Connelly, J. (Eds.), The European Union as a Leader in International Climate Change Politics. Routledge, London, pp. 95–111.

Schmidt, V.A., 2010. Taking ideas and discourse seriously: explaining change through discursive institutionalism as the fourth ‘new institutionalism’. Eur. Polit. Sci. Rev. 2 (1), 1–25.







Of Monbiot, Manchester and miserable ‘feral’ futures.

Nature as redeemer, nature as escape, nature as the solace for our “gridded, controlled, mannered urban lives.” So far so romantic.
Well, nature is on the road, and she’s gunning for the lot of us. We’ve poked the beast, and now it really is waking up. On a quiet day, you could hear it snoring. Nowadays you can hear it going about its morning ablutions while preparing to unleash a can of whoopass on the species wot woke it up.
Which made the Manchester Literature Festival event I went to all the more weird. Row upon row of staggeringly white (this is Manchester?) people, of a certain level of (cultural) capital – not so many upward omnivores here – sat in rows while downloadGeorge ‘Feral’ Monbiot and Sarah ‘Carhullan Army’ Hall stood at t’podium. Hall read from her latest novel, The Wolf Border, which is about a woman, Rachel, involved in a project to reintroduce wolves to the UK. George does what George does well – some witty observations, confidently delivered with a smile. I first saw him do this at the Schumacher Lectures in, bosh, 1996?, when he alarmed the assembled ‘hippie’ gentry by advocating for land rights in the FIRST world. (They were underwhelmed, given the tacit deal with the Schumacher Lectures is that rich people get to be telescopically philanthropic, not locally so. But I digress).  He did not epater la bourgeoisie on this occasion however, but advocated the roaming of the four-legged beasts, especially ones that might contest the ‘white plague’ (sheep, not TB). And deer. [What do you call Bambi with his eyes poked out? No eye-deer. What do you call Bambi with his eyes poked out and his legs chopped off? Still no eye-deer. I’m digressing again, aren’t I?]

This is all well and good, but as the host alluded to, there are slightly bigger fish (well, planets) to fry. So, uncharacteristically, I stuck up my hand and asked this.
“On climate change. We’ve been warned since 1988 by the scientists and some politicians. We’ve done nothing. We WILL do nothing. So we are going to get acidified oceans, seven metres of sea level rise and four degrees plus of warming. Given that, to be provocative, what does it matter if we re-introduce this species or that. “Mother Nature” will introduce – and eliminate – species over the next hundred years as she sees fit.” 
George’s answer was in two parts. I will try to report each fairly, and then editorialise.
1) You mustn’t say that we will do nothing, that we are doomed, because that is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The species is hugely altruistic, it’s just a few (percentage) who are screwing it up.

2) Ecosystems with lots of biodiversity (and apex predators etc) are more resilient to shocks.

George – if you’re reading this and I’ve been unfair, lemme know. Ditto if anyone who was there is reading this…

What I wanted to say in response, but obviously didn’t.

1) The “you mustn’t say we’re doomed because that means people will give up” argument is beginning to get on my tits. I think it can and should only be made by people who have done a thorough job of studying WHY our response has been so poor (it’s not ALL Exxon’s fault) and – this is the crucial bit – have some clearly-stated suggestions about HOW TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY ‘GOING FORWARD’. George may have these, but he didn’t say them on Sunday (fair enough – folks were coming to hear him talk about wolves and rhinos, not social movement strategy).
We don’t say “you shouldn’t tell people with lung cancer that they have lung cancer because then they’ll get upset.” We expect to treat ourselves/each other as adults, who can read a Keeling Curve, read the emissions trajectories and understand the concept of climate sensitivity, and do some pretty rudimentary guesstimating.
ALSO, it’s not my ‘doom’ that is killing the species’ chance of seeing the 22nd century in reasonable shape. It’s capitalism, technological hubris, consumerism, population, the failure of social movements to cope with neo-Gramscian passive revolution strategies, and good old fashioned inertia baked into ‘the System’ (, “man”).

2) Hmm, that’s

a) curiously anthropocentric and

b) kinda misses the point about the shocks to the System. The second half of the 21st Century is (probably, okay, probably) going to make the first half of the 20th look like a picnic. This or that species of wolf is not going to mean there isn’t starvation, plague, war and all of that zombie apocalypse stuff. Wishful/magical/totemic thinking to think otherwise, no?

Sarah Hall’s answer I can’t categorise so clearly (I’m sexist man only paying attention to men? Maybe. Or just getting old? Or both). She seemed to be saying, with the example of the 2005 floods in Carlisle, that the cities will be affected, and it’s only when that happens that we will do something.

Worth reading on this “back to Nature” malarkey

  • EM Forster’s short story “The Machine Stops
  • Kingfisher Lives by the late Julian Rathbone, denied the Booker Prize – because one of the judges, the wife of then Prime Minister Harold Wilson, could cope with the incest, murder, cannibalism, but not the (in context) dropping of the C-bomb.
  • Paul Theroux The Mosquito Coast
  • And of course all the feminist sci-fi/spec fiction writers – Marge Piercy (Woman on the Edge of Time, Body of Glass), Barbara Kingsolver, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler.  And I STILL haven’t read Carolyn ‘The Death of Nature’ Merchant. #lazy

PS Thanks to CG for the ticket!!

Our #climate – personal stories, global change; #excellent art on despair and hope

At its best our species does courage, creativity and trust.  At its worst it excels at greed,stupidity and violence. Last night Melbourne Playback Theatre Company (MPTC) displayed enormous quantities of the former to illuminate one symptom of the latter – climate change.

The event’s format captured our dilemma nicely.  The first half was taken up with brief speeches from a climate scientist (Prof David Karoly), a renewables proponent (Stephen Bygrave), an activist (Isabella Morand) and a writer(Marita Davies).  Each spoke from the heart about what concerns them, what drives them. Each was able to impart a sense of danger and urgency without despairing.  There was then time for a few questions, which they dealt with pretty well.

So far so conventional – we’ve all been at these sorts of events, with a sage (or three) on the stage, an audience that is ego-fodder,

all premised on the ‘information deficit’ model.  But the second half of the evening broke important new ground.

Danny Diesendorf of MPTC had the audience shouting out words that described their thoughts and emotions based on what they heard so far, and riffed briefly and intelligently on these.  Then the real fun started – the four actors and two musicians on the stage would ‘act out’ (zero preparation time) what they’d just heard from the audience, in movement, song and speech. [Declaration of interest – they did my ‘smugosphere‘ brilliantly].

Finally, Diesendorf asked for people willing to come up on stage and ‘tell a story’.  They would choose one of the four actors to be them in the forthcoming performance, and then Diesendorf would gently and expertly probe, getting the audience member to give concrete details that the actors could work with.  My friend Toni was first up, and the story of her time in Peru, working with locals while the glaciers melt, was beautiful.  David Karoly’s wife spoke of the support networks that academics need (hopefully not as extreme as Jacques Derrida!). The last story, on the subject of class, consumerism and desire for comfort, was brilliantly executed and a suitably ambiguous point on which to end.

The level of technical proficiency among the actors and musicians was, naturally, extremely high.  This sort of high-wire work demands enormous skill and courage.  When it is done well-  and the gods are smiling –  it looks easy and effortless. It most certainly is not.

MPTC has been around for over thirty years, (think Improv and Boal) and this is the first – but surely not last – time that they’ve tackled the every-growing elephant in the ever-shrinking room.  It would be incredibly powerful if one or more of the big environmental beasts (I’m looking at you, Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society etc) would work with MPTC to take a show like this ‘on the road’ around (regional) Australia. Soon (yesterday would be good).

PS The question of sustained and sustainable activism came up.  Given there are at any one time a small number of people ‘active,’ it’s really important to welcome ‘new’ people when they turn up at an event/protest, thank them for coming, find out what they can offer. Otherwise they just walk away to do something else, and they’ve been decruited. Yes, decruited. Decruited, got it?

#climate, Kevin Anderson and the smoke-filled planet/room

Professor Kevin Anderson is what they call a mensch.  For years he has been fearlessly reporting on what we are actually tipping into the open sewer we call our atmosphere. Not what we are promising to emit, or what we would like to believe we are emitting, but what is actually going up.  He ties that to both what we are probably going to emit (once you’ve built a coal-fired power station, you’ve got an incentive to use it, after all) and – given various climate sensitivities- what this means for our chances of not broiling ourselves.  They weren’t good when he started doing this. You need an electron microscope to see them nowadays.

It’s a simple presentation, and one that he repeats with the new numbers plugged in.  It’s horrifying.

For the last year, as part of a broader project, I’ve also been looking at what we knew and when.  Some perceptive scientists saw a problem in the 60s (Bolin, Keeling, Revelle, Bateson etc).  By the mid-70s (ignore the ‘they were warning about ice ages’ nonsense) the evidence was hardening.  By 1983 the US National Academy of Science and Environmental Protection Agency released reports that should have scared the crap out of the people who are supposed to be running the show. This was all before the 1985 Villach meeting, where carbon dioxide was joined by other greenhouse gases, and climate scientists realised they’d have to start slapping policy-makers around and saying ‘capisce?’ to them.  Well, that went well…

We didn’t act then.  We won’t now.  The second half of this century will make the first half  of the last one look like a golden age of peace and enlightenment.

Kevin Anderson is trying to push the Paris meeting in the ‘right’ direction. To that end, he has tweeted as follows, and is asking folks to share and to tweet at any climate scientists they know.


FWIW, my answers to his (non-rhetorical) question is-
I think it’s a mix of
a) innumeracy about what the budgets and trajectories actually are
b) fear of offending funders/being ridiculed (see also the social psychology experiment of the smoke-filled room)
c) the desperate need to believe that it is not too late (more prevalent perhaps among parents of young children, but we are all capable of believing comforting tosh).

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

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

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

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

Papers discussed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key quote is  –

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

Salience Entman defines as

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bjorn Lomborg and University of Western Australia, much?

Bonardi and Keim continue –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoffie makes a series of good points –

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think. Dialectically….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘It’s complicated,’ basically –

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

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

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

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

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

And in the “research agenda” stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Griffiths, Haigh and Rassias (2007)

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

With admirable understatement they comment that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jones and Levy point out that

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

They point out that companies got their fingers burnt before –

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

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

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

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

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

And in their conclusion they point out

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

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

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


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

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

Screw Paris. No, seriously, screw Paris. A rant on #climate and the #endtimes

we'll always have parisWill there be a long loud legal global (LLLG) signal coming out of Paris? No (two words – “US Senate“).

Two linked questions;

a) In the absence of a LLLG signal/deal, will there be the enormous investment in renewables, energy efficiency and ‘leap frog’ technology transfers that would be necessary to change humanity’s energy systems?

b) In the absence of that investment in energy system replacement/revolution/creative destruction/destabilisation of incumbency (you picks your labels and you pays your money), is there any hope for, or meaning to, rhetoric of ‘fundamental values and relationships-with-nature shifts’?  (Material and ideo-cultural changes imbricate, imprecate and ‘co-create’ each other, after all. Or they don’t.)

No and no.

At which point people say “Well, we have to start somewhere.”

And I say “Yes, we do. I vote for 1988, at the absolute latest.”

And they say something about whizz-bang shiny technology and/or previous rapid social transformations and I say “Srsly? Can you read a Keeling Curve? Have you clocked the emissions trajectories lately? Look, pick a number for climate sensitivity, I don’t mind. 2.2, 3.1, whatevs. Plug it all in, push the calculate button, bish bosh. You know what is coming. The specific year is something you can get hooked up on if you need to avoid the Big Picture. And all of us do, most of the time, and some of us do all the time.”

And they say “well, what do you expect is going to happen (if everyone thinks/advocates like you).”

And I say “Ah, I kant believe you’re using the categorical imperative. Btw, do you have kids? Because I’m cool with changing the subject if you want/need?”

And they say ‘”go ahead” and I say “It’s kinda outa our hands now, regardless of what you/I/the Pope/Dalai Lama/mysterious deus ex machina social movements or geo-engineers think or do. #bruisedegos.”

And they say “oh, you’re one of these ‘end of nigh’ placard wavers, hooked on apocalypse for psychological/toilet-training reasons. So when does your particular apocalypse start?”

And I sigh and perhaps roll my eyes if I am particularly tired and ill-mannered. And I say “Now you’re straw-manning.” And I mumble something about “Cassandra and all that. And the boy who cried wolf – it didn’t then mean there wasn’t actually a hungry wolf.”

And they say. “Dates please.”

And I say. “The science doesn’t work like that. You know that, but choose to set unrealistic expectations, rather like our denialist chums. But this;  when the lead authors of Working Group 1 of the 4th Assessment Report kept getting pressed on this in 2007 at the Royal Society gig, one of them – Professor Susan Solomon, since you ask– kept saying words to the effect of ‘science doesn’t work like that, you know’. And she followed it up with ‘it’s later than you think.

And then we all smile awkwardly and talk about articles we read, the weather, lolcats or something….

So my strategy is to look in the mirror every day before Paris (and after) and say “enjoy yourself. And carpe every single one of the  diems.”

I am not gonna let it take up any more bandwidth than it absolutely has to.

I can and will choose where to direct my attention and energy –

  •  towards local issues where I have at least a theoretical chance of having an impact.
  • on becoming a ‘better’ academic (which may or may not overlap significantly with ‘successful’ academic. The devil is in the definitions.)
  • towards those who support and inspire me, and who occasionally look to me for support and inspiration.

Is this me simply flying the white flag? Perhaps. I am disvisioned, fo’sure. . Or perhaps letting go of the delusions and illusions of potential impact that any of us have over Giddens’ juggernaut

The people who wrote this may disagree.  They can buy me pints and tell me I’m wrong, or immoral.

Book Review: Bert Bolin’s “A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change”

Bolin, B. (2007) A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change: The Role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 277 pages

Cover TemplateClimate scientists, despite what you read thanks to the well-funded denialist lobby, are cautious souls.  Probably none has been more reluctant to succumb to the apocalyptic language that now seems accurate that the Swedish climatologist Bert Bolin (1925-2007).   Bolin was present at the discovery.  From the late 1950s onwards he was involved in figuring out what impact throwing huge amounts of previously buried carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would have.   He was there in leading roles at the key meetings in the late 70s through to the mid-80s (especially Villach 1985). When a  safe pair of hands was needed for the role of chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1988-), he was the logical choice.

Part one – the first four chapters-  quickly covers the “early history of the climate change issue” up to the 1980s.

Part two – the next seven chapters – covers the period from 1988 to 1997, from the first global alarms through to the Kyoto Protocol’s negotiation.   This is the period he was IPCC chair, and he gives good detail on how the IPCC’s assessment reports were  created, and how the IPCC interacted with the preparations for the Rio “Earth Summit” and beyond.  He also covers the shameful attacks on scientists like Ben Santer by the highly motivated (and fossil-fuel funded) “libertarians” of the George Marshall Institute etc.

His book is modest to the point of self-effacement, and chock full of fascinating (and for my PhD v. useful) anecdotes about the gory detail of those attacks and the fair-minded responses that the IPCC gave, to limited effect.  There are, also, as with any historical book on climate change, moments where you gasp and weep at how much we knew, and wanted to do, but then DIDN’T do.  The Angela Merkel cameos (she led the Berlin meeting in 1995) are a good example of this.

There are a couple of typos (e.g. the chairman of the Global Climate Coalition is given as both Shlaes and Schlaes) and points where a fact checker with OCD might have been useful (e.g. the George Marshall Institute was not “recently formed” by the 1990s- it was set up in 1984 to shill for Ronald Reagan’s absurd “Strategic Defence Initiative” – “Star Wars” to you and me). Overall though, if you want to know about how we got into this godawful mess – how the science has been attacked from day one, the constant low-level harassment of scientists (with occasional flare-ups) – then I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Also worth reading on this

The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer Weart

The Heat is On and Boiling Point by Ross Gelbspan

The Carbon War by Jeremy Leggett

Merchants of Doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth about issues from tobacco smoke to global warming by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway

Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism by Jacob Darwin Hamblin