Monday, August 24, 2009

Business and climate change

Observant readers will notice that we've started adding some of our favourite blogs on business ethics-related subjects in the blogroll that you'll find on the right hand side of the screen. The latest addition is Climate Change Inc, the new blog on business and climate change by David Levy, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Levy always has something pretty interesting to say, particularly on the politics of business responses to climate change. He's someone whose work we've found stimulating, and have always enjoyed bumping into him at conferences and collaborating on a few things along the way.

The new blog deals with all things business and climate change related, though with a particular slant towards politics and policy issues. We particularly liked this recent post on how the oil industry has recently resurrected its "carbon wars" strategy, including the mobilization of American citizens to protest against proposed climate change regulation. Here's what he says....

"....large numbers of Americans are suddenly getting excited about climate change. They are not, however, worried about rising CO2 levels and the impact on sea levels, hurricanes, or glaciers. They are jumping on buses and crowding into rallies to oppose the proposed energy legislation, which is intended to address climate change. Through placards, slogans, and speeches, the attendees demonstrate their concern that their very way of life – cheap fuel and electricity, even their jobs in energy-rich states – is under imminent attack. This threat is apparently more palpable and galvanizing than climate change, a distant and abstract concern, if not a hoax perpetrated by the same intellectual East Coast Europhiles trying to impose socialist medicine on beleaguered overtaxed Americans.

Perhaps a few of these angry citizens spontaneously joined the rallies in a state of high dudgeon after perusing the 1200 page Waxman Markey bill. Most likely, their transportation and placard messages were organized by Energy Citizens, whose website proclaims that it is “a nationwide alliance of organizations and individuals formed to bring together people across America to remind Congress that energy is the backbone of our nation’s economy and our way of life.” In fact, Energy Citizens was set up and financed primarily by the American Petroleum Institute (API), the US oil industry association, with support from the National Association of Manufacturers and other groups. It has contracted with a professional events management company to plan about 20 rallies against forthcoming energy and climate legislation in Southern US states, with a focus on energy producing states such as Texas. Member companies are encouraging their employees to join in. This project complements a massive increase in lobbying efforts by the fossil fuel industry in the last six months."

Fascinating stuff. And, as Levy notes, a real return to the oil industry's seemingly dead-in-the-water tactics of the 1990s when climate change denial was all the rage and various political strategies were deployed by the sector to derail the gathering climate change consensus. Levy goes on to offer an analysis of why the industry appears to have engaged in Carbon Wars round 2, but admits that a final conclusion is difficult to arrive at given the mixture of motives, interests and positions among some of the key players. However, as we mentioned not too long ago in relation to BP's "Back to Petroleum" strategy, a new conservatism appears to be blowing in the oil industry around sustainability issues (or at least the pretense of progressiveness has lost its allure), so there is much to be gained in the run up to Copenhagen by seeking to tweak the political climate towards a more accommodating pro-fossil fuel position.

Our best bet is that a range of different company strategies may start to emerge again which could derail any kind of univocal industry positioning, which seems to be the aim behind the latest manouevuring. But in the meantime, it looks like the main business action will be in the nonmarket (i.e. political) arena rather than in new market developments, at least until a new climate consensus is reached post-Copenhagen. Be sure to keep up with Levy's blog for all the latest developments.

1 comment:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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