How Should Corporations Deal with Env Scepticism


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Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management Corp. Soc. Responsib. Environ. Mgmt. 13, 25–36 (2006) Published online 17 May 2005 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/csr.089

How Should Corporations Deal with Environmental Scepticism? Peter Jacques* Department of Political Science, University of Central Florida, USA ABSTRACT Environmental scepticism, or the effort to ‘debunk’ environmental claims, is gaining visibility in world affairs. This complicates the position of corporations that are genuine in their efforts for conscientious productive work. This article explains some of the primary movements found in scepticism and argues that the truth of the sceptical claims is sufficiently contested that corporations should err on the side of caution and treat environmental scepticism as a political movement with a narrow support base, not as a scientific basis for policy. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment. Received 2 January 2005; revised 10 February 2005; accepted 22 February 2005 Keywords: Lomborg; environmental scepticism; corporate responsibility; environmental politics; conservatism; political movements; environmental policy; corporate legitimacy; corporate credibility

Introduction

E

NVIRONMENTAL SCEPTICISM IS THE POSITION THAT MOST OR ALL ENVIRONMENTAL CLAIMS ARE

unfounded and are used to drum up fear to reinforce the power of environmental groups, academics and activists. Environmental scepticism is nothing new, but this does not make the claims of scepticism less confusing and complex for corporations. This article operates off the premise that environmental scepticism presents a relatively complex set of problems for corporations, particularly in extractive, polluting, or other environmentally high-impact industries, because it may be in their short term interest to support this literature in order to pursue de-regulation and fewer environmental limits. However, this article discusses why scepticism is sufficiently contested and narrowly conceived that supporting scepticism will appear partisan. Thus, this essay argues that corporations should treat environmental scepticism like a political movement. The following points will be made throughout the paper. First, environmental scepticism and its key components will be described. Then scepticism will be placed in the position of ‘outlier’ within scientific consensus in order to understand what is at stake. It will then be argued that scepticism fits the criteria of a political movement through two key points, including how it comes from a relatively unified ideology, and that it makes a unified call to action for free markets and free enterprise, thereby organizing a coherent group of people to act consistently with these values. Since the same cannot be said * Correspondence to: Peter Jacques, Department of Political Science, University of Central Florida, P.O. Box 161356, 4000 Central Florida Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32816-1356, USA. E-mail: [email protected] Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment

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of environmental concern, environmental scepticism is in violation of a broad public interest in some important ways, and supporting scepticism will entail the dangers of violating this interest. Finally, concluding suggestions are made for corporations that genuinely wish to serve a non-partisan public interest and that wish to realize long-term stability, credibility and security.

Environmental Scepticism Environmental scepticism is a set of conceptual propositions that challenge and are distrustful of the basic articulations of environmental scholarship, policy and activism. This distrust is founded in the two core elements of contemporary conservatism, evangelical Protestantism and free market political economic advocacy. Unlike overt anti-environmental politics, some environmental scepticism hides its motives, but the thrust is typically to undermine environmental populism1 and very often environmental scepticism is part and parcel of overt anti-environmental groups described by Switzer (1997) (e.g. Arnold and Gottlieb, 1994; Driessen, 2003). This differs from disputing a particular environmental claim, because environmental scepticism is more interested in ‘questioning the basic premises and goals’ of ecological socio-political sympathies, as was the practice of the Reagan administration (Kraft and Vig, 1984, p. 415). Further, environmental scepticism is a response to growing global environmental concerns that implicate a wider problem of global sustainability (or lack thereof) (McCright and Dunlap, 2000). John Cobb (1999) has described scepticism as ‘economism’, which is distinctly opposed to what he calls ‘ecologism’. He defines economism as follows: Economistic thinkers typically believe that there is no problem about the indefinite expansion of the economy. Indeed, this indefinite expansion is their goal. They met the warnings of physical scientists with scepticism. History has shown to their satisfaction that the technology that is such an important part of capital can solve the many problems that natural limits are supposed to put in the way of continuing economic growth. They point to many past instances that illustrate this (p. 39). Environmental scepticism is apparently growing in influence, for example through its fairly successful bid to question global warming (McCright and Dunlap, 2003). The most credible sceptic is Bjørn Lomborg, who publishes his work through Cambridge University Press (CUP). His work has gone through the rigours of peer review and his enormously controversial The Skeptical Environmentalist (TSE) was received with initial praise. Lomborg’s writing was clear, he used graphs to illustrate his points and he had extensive evidence to substantiate his claims. Lomborg’s conclusions apparently come from his discovery of Julian Simon’s work, who was an influential sceptic at the University of Maryland. Simon’s premise is found in several volumes (Simon, 1981, 1995, 1999; Simon and Kahn, 1984), which state that even as almost everything in modernity demonstrates human improvement, people will continue to believe they are getting worse. Lomborg discovered Simon’s work, and said he thought it would be easy to challenge. However, the more ‘facts’ he found, the more obvious it was to him that Simon was actually correct and he became disenfranchised with the conventional environmental position. His book notes that from global warming to hunger to

1 Kirkman (2002) argues that this is not true, but the rhetoric in the literature points against his conclusion. Some sceptics may want merely a weakened set of environmental policies, but sceptics by definition are working to make a broad point about the illegitimacy of a great deal of environmental concern.

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pollution, environmental conditions may not be ‘good enough’ but they are all getting better. He concludes after analysing a terrific amount of evidence: Thus, this is the very message of the book: children born today – in both the industrialized world and developing countries – will live longer and be healthier, they will get more food, a better education, a higher standard of living, more leisure time and far more possibilities – without the global environment being destroyed (Lomborg, 2001, pp. 351–352). His work touched a nerve for the environmental community, probably because Lomborg’s work questioned the general premise and sympathies that environmental studies are very often based upon. However, it was probably because he published through this elite venue that he received a great deal of attention, and his work became the centre of a very large scandal both for him and for CUP. Not long after the publication, TSE was nominated for a case with the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty, a government group that investigates crimes of scientific bias. They found that Lomborg was guilty of committing some degree of dishonesty for selecting and distorting information in a way that was incriminating. Later, the Danish committee was itself incriminated by the Danish government, which overturned the ruling because the case was ‘devoid of argumentation’. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Lomborg’s work faces systematic and consistent challenges from social and physical scientists who reject his conclusions and argue that he has misused statistical evidence. This has come to the fore in some of the most respected scientific journals including Nature, Scientific American and Conservation Biology, to name a few (see, e.g., Union of Concerned Scientists, 2003; Brockington, 2003; Besley and Shanahan, 2004; Gleick, 2001; Pimm and Harvey, 2001; Simberloff, 2002; Moomaw, 2002; Rennie et al., 2002). There are legitimate reasons for grievances with the way Lomborg framed and analysed his data in TSE, but the censure against him appeared to be disingenuous in part because Lomborg’s own defense was apparently dismissed. Further, it is irrelevant if Lomborg is biased, since everyone is in some way biased by their own language, culture, era, personal hopes and desires, and ideological commitment. Thus, bias in and of itself is insufficient grounds for dismissing a knowledge claim. What is important is the political meaning of the bias within the context of the larger intellectual community in which the claim exists combined with the weight of the argument. I disagree profoundly with Lomborg, as does the vast majority of the scientific community as far as I can judge, but that in itself does not make him or other sceptics wrong. Moreover, while none of these debates and deliberations are apolitical, that does not mean the arguments about environmental scepticism are automatically equivalent or nihilistic.

Scientific Agreement as Politics Let me elaborate on this latter point. The weight of an argument through the thoroughness and compulsion of relevant evidence is a critical part of a ‘truth claim’. However, if we assume that everyone comes from a particular ideology, then all claims will have a degree of ideological affiliation.2 Thus, like scientific evidence itself, the scientific community is forced to throw out outliers because the ultimate arbiter of legitimate knowledge is community acceptance (an overtly political issue), which is partly determined by consistency of findings in the scientific community – even though the outlier may be correct. 2

I do not exclude myself from this statement. I come from a pacifist green ideology, though I believe that my treatment of scepticism in this article, even though I find most of its claims rather callous and incorrect, is not as something that is patently false. In other words, it is irrelevant to this article’s argument whether or not scepticism is largely correct or incorrect.

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The weight of evidence in a particular scientific case is also important in how it impacts the views of the majority of scientists who are important to the issue at hand. Naomi Oreskes (2004a) provides one of the more important discussions about scientific acceptance within the context of plate tectonics. She notes that while the theory of continental drift and plate tectonics had overwhelming evidence, direct proof was not forthcoming for many decades after the theory was accepted. Most geophysical scientists at the time considered the theory ‘true’ based on indirect evidence and abductive reasoning, though there were (and apparently still are) sceptics. Had the issue been relevant or important to policy, she notes that even more sceptics would have been produced, supported and brought to the public’s attention by interested parties who had something at stake. Would these/do these sceptics mean that the geophysical community needs to wait for these ‘recalcitrant individuals to be convinced? Should implementation of our hypothetical policy been deferred? Of course not: scientific knowledge would not progress if such severe standards were enforced’ (p. 372). In fact, Oreskes defines the community and science itself as this amorphous confluence of belief: . . . the appropriate standard for judging science is neither proof, nor certainty, not unanimity, but a broad and firm consensus of the relevant experts in the field. The reason is simply this: Scientific knowledge is the intellectual and social consensus of affiliated experts based on the weight of available empirical evidence, and evaluated according to accepted methodologies (Oreskes, 2004a). This community operates and decides what is true in face of sceptics on a regular basis by dismissing outliers, even though there is an open ended opportunity for the outliers to vindicate themselves later in time. Outliers may, in the end, be ‘correct’. However, based on contemporary and admittedly dynamic and inter-subjective standards of scientific communities, sceptics are alienated from what is accepted as true, and the communities trudge on. In environmental affairs the details of scientific agreement are very often in contest (Jasonoff, 1993), and science is consistently manipulated by a variety of national and international political agendas, interests and policies (Harrison and Bryner, 2004). There is no question that scientific work is regularly shaped to fit these interests (Harrison and Bryner, 2004). However, in several general conditions scientists have a strong consensus. For example, there is a now well established and quantifiable scientific consensus about climate change (Oreskes, 2004b); there are climate sceptics, but they are clearly outliers. Also, the declining condition of world fisheries, coral reefs, ozone depletion, soil erosion and increased nitrogen fixing, the loss of grasslands and other key global scale environmental concerns such as land conversion, water use and pollution, the loss of biodiversity as we enter the ‘sixth mass extinction event of life on Earth, and the first one caused by human activities’ have a wide margin of scientific support (Lubchenco, 2003, p. 24). All of these concerns imply a limit to human sustainability and the need for immediate and strong protective measures, which includes regulations and restrictions that will devalue or reduce some corporate profits. Thus, it appears on the face of it that opposing and undermining the claims that support these limits will be advantageous to firms and their bottom line, particularly if they are in extractive, polluting or related industries that are directly affected by environmental regulations and limits. The move to support environmental scepticism, even for these key industries, is not necessarily an easy decision. First, it will not escape many people’s notice that when petroleum companies lobby against carbon emission limits related to global warming they are profiteering at the expense of the public interest. This is but a thin veil, and few, I think, are really fooled. Environmental concern is broadly supported around the world (Dunlap et al., 1993). Further, environmentalism is not contained by any one demographic group. Some sceptics say that environmentalists are rich and White Americans. The evidence shows that this is true, but they are also every other Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment

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demographic group, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, income, education or age. The only demographic that affects environmental concern at an important statistically significant level is ideology and partisanship. Moreover, it turns out that this difference of opinion within (conservative) partisanship in the general public is relatively small, since most conservatives share an environmental concern with other groups, even if what to do about this concern is of vital difference (Dunlap et al., 2001; Guber, 2003). Environmental sceptics are even outliers within the conservative ideology from which they spring. This means that firms that think they are going to profit from undermining environmental concern will likely be seen as coming from an ideological and partisan (extreme conservative) position. I dare say that while some CEOs may share this affiliation, their consumer base clearly does not.

Controversy as a Political Movement As noted above, we are left to the formation of scientific consensus in order to understand what is ‘accepted’ scientific knowledge, and this may be less than satisfying to some because it is terribly conditional. Science will hopefully always have outliers – people willing to push the edge of knowledge out from normal understanding. Human history is full of renegades turned scientific heroes who are admired for their persistence and their belief in something only they belief is true. Environmental scepticism has and will continue to add to our environmental understanding, and I suspect that there are few relatively dispassionate thinkers – Robert Kirkman (2003) strikes me as one example. The vast majority, however, is not so idealistically centred on finding ‘truth,’ but is instead found eating heartily at the table of politics, as evidenced by their polemics and their dubious lack of criticism against conservative efforts (e.g. Arnold and Gottlieb, 1994; O’Leary, 2003; Bast et al., 1994; Beckerman, 1995; Driessen, 2003; Milloy, 2001; Bolch and Lyons, 1993). There are even delightful manifestos that overtly declare that environmental scepticism is part of the contemporary conservative repertoire (Dunn and Kinney, 1996; Huber, 1999). That being said, environmental scepticism is a political movement, but not because it is about alternative and controversial propositions. Environmental scepticism is a political movement because of two primary categorical conditions. First, environmental scepticism is unified in its ideological orientation. Second, environmental scepticism has a unified, if not unanimous, call to action. This observation leads to the conclusion that sceptics are sceptical about deteriorating ecological conditions because of what it means for policy, in particular to political economy, not because of some elephant in the room that only they see or to some obligation to the public good towards enlightenment. I will now cover each point in detail.

The Sceptical Movement as Ideology Identifying environmental scepticism within an ideological context is not pejorative, though environmental sceptics will likely see it as an effort to undermine them because they employ a dichotomy of ‘truth versus ideology’ regularly as a part of their movement. Inasmuch as ideology is the identification and pursuit of ‘the good life’ it provides a context for values, vision and action which permit, justify and reproduce discussions of truth and moral right, all of which are critical to controversies of environmentalism. More precisely, environmental scepticism fits neatly within the ‘conservative movement’ (McCright and Dunlap, 2003, 2000; Saloma, 1984). McCright and Dunlap describe this conservative movement as one represented by an ‘elite-driven network of private foundations, policy-planning think tanks and Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment

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individual intellectuals and activists that directly or indirectly attempt to advance social traditionalism and economic liberalism on a national level’ (McCright and Dunlap, 2003, p. 352). More specifically, environmental scepticism is part of ‘contemporary conservatism’. Schumaker et al. (1997) and King (1987) discuss contemporary conservatism as a mixture of traditional conservatism and classical liberalism. Schumaker et al. note that the most important outlet for this view is the National Interest, and that it is seen through think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has published several contrarian arguments (Bailey, 1995, 2000). Further, they note that contemporary conservatives’ central goal is to promote and extend free market capitalism, with secondary goals of emphasizing a work ethic, private virtue and the family as the core unit. This secondary aspect includes the conservative religious values that are often used in scepticism to cast environmentalism within a religious war or struggle that is anti-Christian because it is pantheistic or even under the influence of Satan (see for example Huber, 1999; O’Leary, 2003). Sunderlin (2003) writes that ideology is inclusive and universal in the sense that everyone is subject to ideology, for better or worse: Ideologies may be succinctly defined as the basis of the social representation shared by members of a group. This means that ideologies allow people, as group members, to organize the multitude of social beliefs about what is the case, good or bad, right or wrong, for them, and to act accordingly. Ideologies may also influence what is accepted as true or false, especially when such beliefs are found to be relevant for the group (Dijk quoted by Sunderlin, 2003, p. 14, emphasis in original). Thus, the values of an ideology provide the grounds for determining truth. Environmental sceptics speak with such conviction about the (T)ruth of environmental conditions, that this rhetoric provides a tip that there is a narrow band of values influencing this vision. Politically astute citizens should be wary of anyone, environmentalist, anti-environmentalist or someone in the middle, who declares they have an impossible God’s eye view. In addition to pointing to a narrow band of values, claiming a God’s eye view concentrates legitimacy and influence within the person claiming this Truth, implying those who disagree are professing a false ideology to delude the public. Environmentalists are clearly guilty of this also, and work that implies a ‘true’ state of the world from an environmentalist perspective should be viewed with equal doubt. Environmental sceptics consistently claim they are ‘doomslaying’ because they are exposing the ‘fear mongering’ of environmentalists. They are ‘debunking’ the fear with the truth as a public service. Take for example Lomborg, whose subtitle to the TSE is ‘measuring the real state of the world’ (emphasis added). It is this vision of the truth that provides a justification for their call to action. Since many environmental policies and regulations are based on the premise of protecting environmental systems from abuse and further decline, if the truth of the matter is that these environmental systems are fine, then the regulations are unnecessary or worse. Further, since environmental scepticism is so certain, opposition to scepticism is illegitimate. Some environmental scepticism is more honest about its orientation than this hidden agenda and its political movement. Peter Huber (1999) is a columnist for Forbes, and a Senior Fellow at the conservative and influential Manhattan Institute. The title of his book, Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists – a Conservative Manifesto, clarifies the connection of contemporary conservatism and environmental scepticism. Huber describes his conservativism as something that is actually more environmentally sound, which he calls ‘hard green’ as opposed to the typical environmentalist position of ‘soft green’. Huber advances a plan that is different from most sceptics in that he believes preserving wilderness is a legitimate goal because the preservation of wilderness is concrete, not based on invisCopyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment

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ible assumptions about toxic chemicals or abstract species loss or climate change. However, his program for environmental preservation does not move away from the goals of free enterprise: To Hard Green minds, green does not emerge from big computer models or from large government agencies. Green objectives are effectively advanced only by dispersed control, free markets, and traditional ethics, the conservative instruments for managing the problems of scarcity, dispersion, complexity, greed, growth, consumption, fecundity, and human voracity (p. xxix). Another explicit expression of scepticism as conservatism is the work of Dunn and Kinney (1996) titled Conservative Environmentalism. Dunn and Kinney identify themselves as [contemporary] conservatives and make their case for several recurrent claims. They note that they are concerned about environmental affairs, but like Lomborg they call for a reassessment of priorities through an environmental ‘ledger’ to indicate costs/benefits of expenditure. Also like Lomborg, they use UN statistics for the bases of most of their conclusions, and argue that things have progressively improved over time environmentally and socially despite the misplaced warnings of environmental leaders. They believe that ecologism is akin to Marxism and is irrationally anti-capitalist and anti-free-market. Many environmental leaders from the political Left owe their orientation to writings and philosophies of Karl Marx. From Marx, they got hatred of free enterprise along with scepticism about the ability of individuals to make decisions beneficial to the societies in which they live (p. 3). This brings us to the second point about environmental scepticism as a political movement, which is a unified call to action for libertarian economics and support for policies that satisfy strict cost–benefit requirements. A Free Market Call to Action Sunderlin notes that ‘conservative environmentalism’ is ‘. . . predicated on the belief that humans have a legitimate role in controlling nature, that humans are self-interested, that science and technology are key to overcoming scarcities, that economic growth and industrialization are good, and that there is no need to change lifestyles’ (Sunderlin, 2003, p. 189). On the other hand, ecologism is ‘. . . the one ideology that has, at its core, the removal of humans from the moral pedestal, thereby setting it apart from traditional western schools of thought’ (Garner, 2003, p. 242), and it is apparent why there is a great deal of tension and struggle between environmental scepticism and ecologism. Another clue that environmental scepticism is a political movement is its unified call to action for free enterprise and libertarian government policy. With the deep commitment to free enterprise, authors such as Bailey (1993) try to connect environmental concern with Marxism as an obvious failure of its programme: For the many modern leftists the ‘global environmental crisis’ is the new ‘agent’ of history which will eventually destroy capitalism. In the reinterpreted radical vision, capitalism, instead of strangling itself to death on its class contradictions, will choke to death on its own wastes. Radical environmentalists are now the earth’s vanguard class who will lead the struggle to bury capitalism and Western materialism (p. 6). This antipathy to environmental concern because environmental signals indict the current capitalist system is shared by a vast majority of the environmental sceptics. Further, there is an apparently unanCopyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment

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imous agreement that the free market is being unduly constrained. Sceptics may disagree to what degree, but they all seem to take this latter point as part of the movement. Simon (1999), Lomborg (2001), Arnold and Gottlieb (1994), Bailey (1994), Driessen (2003) and others all call for a reform of environmental policy to favour free markets more. Simon called for a ‘truth lobby’ that defended industry by exposing fraudulent environmental claims that hurt the market. Bailey sees the free market as obvious and obstructions to it evidence for radicalism. Driessen calls for more education and defence of free markets as a way to protect the lives of people around the world from the fraudulent and even harmful claims of environmentalism. Arnold and Gottlieb write how environmentalism is ‘trashing’ the economy, and are both overt leaders to anti-environmentalism sentiments lobbying for unrestricted extractive policies on US federal lands and the abolition of policies such as the Endangered Species Act in the name of private property and market protections. Lomborg, like the overtly conservative Dunn and Kinney (1996), calls for a strict cost–benefit analysis of environmental policies. One the face of it, this sounds rather apolitical, but there are several warnings about this approach. First, cost–benefit analysis is dependent on the inputs allowed and the outputs counted. Lomborg admits he is concerned about animals and the environment, but his focus is humans. Thus, environmental policies only make sense to him if they save enough lives compared to other places where money can be spent – and where this works out to be efficient, he supports government action. Because of this position, I consider him to be a moderate sceptic when compared with the polemics of some other more vehement sceptics. However, this calculus hides how hard it is to actually meet this bar. For example, if we weigh the issue of Glen Canyon Dam – a dam on the Colorado River in the US just upstream from Grand Canyon National Park – the decision clearly favours the existence of the dam to store water for people in an arid climate while glossing over other important considerations.3 Glen Canyon Dam’s presence will not save any lives, nor will its dismantling. On this condition, Lomborg implies and other sceptics more forcefully argue that the free market does best to decide. Thus we ignore a whole host of other issues that are important to different environmentalists, which do not make the bar of Lomborg’s scale of importance. For example, the beauty of the now submerged Glen Canyon was said to be among the nation’s most breathtaking treasures. Rainbow Bridge, a sacred American Indian site, is now accessible to tourists, and several species of fish have been threatened, such as the Humpback Chub. None of these make the bar of Lomborg’s cost–benefit, which would be required to interfere in the market. Thus, the burden of proof is so high that it vastly favours market-based values and therefore policies. For this reason, I refer to this orientation as ‘deep anthropocentrism’, where the center of analysis is a very restricted human measure; this is even opposed to ‘enlightened anthropocentrism’, which would favour many environmental protections based on less severe and indirect benefits to people, such as future medicine. Because there will be very few legitimate reasons to interfere in the market, Lomborg’s position is quite conservative, and this is probably why he was embraced by conservatives in the US and Europe; further, this was probably why he was as taken on to lead the Danish Environmental Assessment Institute by the neoliberal government led by Fogh Rasmussen in Denmark that removed the Left-leaning social democratic party in its worst upset in 50 years (Jamison, 2004). Second, this cost–benefit analysis favours certain groups over others. As Wendy Espeland (1998) has noted in her landmark study on the decision not to build a different dam in Arizona, the Yavapai American Indian tribe lobbied against its construction because it would have alienated from their land, which was incommensurable to the other values at play. One teenager she interviewed from the tribe in question remarked that the land was family and there is no price that is acceptable to put on family. 3

Note that I am not arguing against Glen Canyon Dam; I am only using it as an example.

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The cost–benefit analysis that Lomborg is arguing for is conservative in the way that it favours industry and market groups because their concerns are commensurable and easily measured in abstractions such as money. The Tribes’ concerns described by Espeland, in addition to wilderness advocates, bioregionalists, animal liberationists, back-to-the landers and several other different kinds of environmentally concerned groups’ interests, are not abstractions that make sense in terms of money or in terms of costs and benefits. These concerns are incommensurable and not readily compared. Moreover, on a more serious point, as much as scepticism is a response to growing global environmental concerns, ecosystems that are related to survival for the poor, such as coastal mangroves or coral reefs, are utterly incommensurable with monetary equivalents (Guha and Martinez-Alier, 1997). All of these concerns will have a hard time making this level of environmental concern count. On this second level, Lomborg’s cost–benefit analysis is extraordinarily conservative. In conclusion, environmental scepticism is a political movement. It has a remarkably narrow voice from which it speaks, almost exclusively originating from a contemporary conservative ideology. Further, sceptics all call for fewer restrictions on free enterprise and free markets.

How Should Corporations Treat Environmental Scepticism? Corporations are beset with this problem articulated at the beginning of the article: supporting environmental scepticism may in fact provide larger profits in the short run. Activist corporations supporting environmental scepticism as a basis for less regulation may gain more profit in the short run. It is obvious how this can be very tempting for firms. It seems compatible with the profit motive; however, as we will see, it is not compatible with a larger public interest, and therefore any serious attempt to work towards a genuine responsible corporate citizenship, and may even detract from long term profits as environmental conditions become more clear over time. This is because short term gains may come at the expense of the corporation’s credibility. As climate change science becomes more and more certain, as it has over time, corporations who support the ‘debunking’ of climate change are uncovered as unreliable and working against a public interest. This problem was identified early on by British Petrolem (BP), led by John Browne, who, in 1997, declared a break from the industry’s Cooler Heads Coalition, admitted climate change was real and agreed upon and even admitted responsibility for aiding and abetting the problem, as it were (Lowe and Harris, 1997). From there, BP developed a corporate action plan to decrease their own emissions to 10% below 1990 levels, and to work on alternative energy. BP is still a giant petroleum company, but they saw it as in their long term interest to take on global warming more directly, and in a way that builds BP’s credibility. While notions of corporate citizenship probably run the gamut of commitment to a public interest, corporate citizenship cannot be in contradiction to a public interest without damaging the legitimacy of that corporation and therefore its long term profitability. Can a company easily exist and grow outside legitimacy? My sense of this is that it is a very large risk that has the potential to play against the security of the company and, of course, the security of the community within which the company exists, given that it may be forced to endure larger environmental problems than if there were a genuine sense of environmental stewardship within the operation of firms. The answer provided in this paper to the larger question of ‘how to treat environmental scepticism’ is not that all corporations should reject environmental scepticism outright. This is too simple, too black and white, and not representative of the larger complexity that the problem presents to firms. No, instead, corporations should treat environmental scepticism like a political movement. This then places the issue into a framework that is familiar for corporations but is not oversimplified. CorporaCopyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment

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tions are used to dealing with political movements in the sense that they are surrounded by them throughout time, they are frequent and invasive, and each corporation has to decide to deal with (probably each set of) movements separately and individually. I assume that corporations typically have an attitude or corporate culture that specifically addresses how that corporation expects to deal with politics and political movements, even if this policy is informal. If a corporation has decided to engage the Right or the Left and support one side or the other, environmental scepticism comes from the Right and corporations have a clear mandate. On the other hand, in corporations that have decided to engage politics minimally or not at all, affiliation with environmental scepticism should be avoided. Further, corporations who wish to engage a broad support of the public interest that is neither Left nor Right should reject scepticism as a narrow movement within a particular ideology. Environmental concern is far more in sync with a broad public interest. Even the larger source of scepticism, contemporary conservativism, is not predisposed to environmental scepticism (Hay, 2002). One only need acknowledge that the enormously important Garrett Hardin was an avowed ‘eco-conservative’ in addition to other authors such as Gordon Durnil (1995), and John Bliese (2001), not to mention the earlier Republican presidencies in Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, who vigorously pursued environmental protections.4 This is because environmentalism is supported by nearly all ideological positions, but environmental scepticism is not. In fact, ‘Because of the wide scope of environmental problems, from wilderness and wildlife preservation to air pollution and water contamination, environmentalism is valued by nearly everyone’ (Guber, 2003, p. 87). Thus, to the degree that public opinion is a representation of a kind of public interest, environmental concern is in concert, and corporations can engage this public interest without being partisan – but they cannot support environmental scepticism without being partisan, and this is the key point for firms when they are developing their image and substance of environmental citizenship.

Discussion and Conclusions Environmental issues are among today’s more pressing concerns, in part because several global level ecological structures indicate decline and unsustainable changes (Lubechenco, 2003). Several of these same ecological conditions have historic corollaries that have pushed past civilizations into social collapse (Chew, 2001; Diamond, 2004). Much of the time, there were clues to the impending failure that governing elites decided to ignore (Diamond, 2004) in an old fashioned scepticism. Scepticism as a method of inquiry is an academic mainstay, and wholly reputable perhaps because, in the end, if the evidence is strong a sceptic is persuadable. Contemporary environmental scepticism does not demonstrate this quality because it is not a method, but a coherent globalizing social movement. Corporations are part of this movement, such as with the corporations found in the Cooler Heads Coalition. However, this position has large risks. One risk is that the corporations are conspicuously set against the broad international support for environmental concern and established agreement within scientific communities. Only a small minority of consumers will see this as credible. Admittedly, public opinion is malleable, but contemporary conservative sceptics will not be the only ones working to make their case. Where to go from here? Active and genuine corporate citizenship is inconsistent with environmental scepticism. Thus, corporations wanting to ‘do good while doing well’ should work to minimize the 4

This note about Roosevelt and Nixon should not be overplayed, however, because it is evident that today’s contemporary conservative Republicans have changed their values since Nixon, in particular with the rise of Goldwater in the party (Schumaker et al., 1997). Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment

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problems of sustainability that are relevant to their own industry, where they will have the most impact – just as BP has done. BP has a unique opportunity to address climate change. Moreover, since BP is an international organization and every industrial country except the US and Australia has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, BP will be subject to these limits and its early advances puts it ahead of the rest of the industry to adapt to Kyoto-based changes. Working to make their corporation compatible with a postKyoto world and reality also seems to be a position people can warm up to and admire, and it is one that is compatible with making substantial advances and protections against authentic threats to global scale sustainability problems. As in ecology where connections create a tangible interdependence between agents and habitat, corporate positions on scepticism can come full circle one way or another in the political habitat and CEOs will do well if they keep this in mind when deciding how to cope with short term temptations offered in environmental politics.

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Biography Peter Jacques is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Florida, where he teaches multiple environmental courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. His research is in environmental scepticism, sustainability, and ocean politics. His new book, Globalization and the World Ocean, is due out by Altamira Press in 2005.

Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment

Corp. Soc. Responsib. Environ. Mgmt. 13, 25–36 (2006) DOI: 10.1002/csr