Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

The Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial: A Network Analysis of Carbon Capital's Reach into Civil Society

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

The Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial: A Network Analysis of Carbon Capital's Reach into Civil Society

Article excerpt

CORPORATIONS ARE THE KEY centers of economic power in contemporary capitalism, and the largest ones concentrate that power in the capital they control. Through interlocking directorships, elite networkers form a corporate community (Domhoff 2006), further concentrating economic power and giving the lie to "perfect competition." Studies of Canada's corporate elite have mapped the cohesive network of power into which large firms have been organized throughout the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries (Carroll 2004; Piedalue 1976). The same pattern prevails in all advanced capitalist societies. The largest corporations are organized, through interlocking directorates, into networks of corporate power (Kogut 2012; Windolf 2002).

Importantly, the corporate elite's networks do not stop at the border between economy and society. A raft of Canadian investigations, many inspired by the work of John Porter (1965), has mapped the intricate ties that bring business leadership into other domains (Brownlee 2005; Carroll 2004; Clement 1975; Fox and Ornstein 1986). Corporate power reaches into civil and political society with generally debilitating implications for democracy. At the center of a robust democracy is an ongoing public conversation in which everyone with a stake in an issue gets a say. As it reaches into the public sphere, concentrated corporate power distorts the communication, privileging the interests and perspectives of those who own and control capital.

Corporate influence is, at its core, geared toward protecting investments and profit streams, opening new fields for investment, and minimizing intrusions into profit, such as taxes, regulations, and unions. This entails different initiatives in different contexts, from tactical maneuvers to secure a specific objective (e.g., the green light for a new pipeline project) to the long game of cultivating a pro-business political and popular culture.

Many of these tactics and initiatives to build a pro-business culture have been discussed in previous research. On the issue of carbon extraction and climate change, the research literature points to a pervasive pattern of corporate influence. Bell and York (2010) show how, in West Virginian communities, the coal industry funded a civil society group to make coal more socially visible, generating public identification with coal. Davidson and Gismondi (2011) note similar cultural frames in justifying Alberta's tar sands, as economically necessary development that aids in Canada's national efforts to sustain global political security. These discourses do not simply appear, of course. Young and Dugas (2011) and Stoddart and Smith (2016) trace their sources through Canadian media analyses. Young and Dugas (2011) examine Canadian media across time to show that as climate change coverage increased, complexity and the frequency of context declined while consequences were refocused on business interests and day-to-day life, effectively rendering media coverage banal. Stoddart and Smith (2016) show that coverage of climatic changes to the arctic are largely framed in Canadian media according to national and business interests, downplaying social impacts on local indigenous peoples and environmental consequences for the globe. Norgaard (2011) notes the deeply felt tension among Norwegian citizens between national interests in carbon extraction and climatic consequences, generating a type of denialism that is reinforced by corporate efforts to align community identity with continued extraction (Bell and York 2010). Painter and Gavin's (2016) study of U.K. news media points to this same shift. Examining climate skepticism in U.K. media, they find that 7 percent of news sources expressed skepticism in 2007, but that over 20 percent expressed climate skepticism between 2009 and 2011. Legitimizing discourses of national and economic interest are part of what Murphy and Murphy (2012) consider the deeply cultural context of climate change mitigation in bitumen-rich Canada. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.