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Climate Social Science Network Announces Climate Obstruction Research Grant Recipients

September 17, 2021

PROVIDENCE, September 17, 2021 – Today the Climate Social Science Network (CSSN) — an international network of social science scholars focused on understanding political conflict over climate change — announced its first series of grants for social science research into the structural, political, and institutional dynamics of climate change politics. 

Twenty-two scholars from seventeen universities were funded in eleven project teams: 

  • Carlos Milani, Universidad do Rio de Janeiro; Ruth Mckie, De Montfort University; Guy Edwards, Independent Consultant; Ricardo Gutiérrez, Universidad Nacional San Martin: Clashes in Paradise: Development Models and Climate Obstruction in Argentina and Brazil 

    This is a 24-month comparative case study project which maps climate obstruction actors, their narratives and strategies in Argentina and Brazil. Both are important actors in global climate governance with vast agribusiness, mineral extraction complexes and booming fossil fuel production. Brazil and Argentina present different contexts (approaches to development, political traditions, and economic trajectories), offering fertile ground to examine what form climate obstruction takes and the extent to which it has stalled climate-related policies. The main research questions are: Who are the key actors in Brazil and Argentina working to delay or obstruct climate action such as delaying the energy transition and reducing deforestation? How are they organized at the local and national level, and how do they compare? What explains the rationales, strategies, and discourses of climate obstruction? What are the transnational connections between actors in Argentina and Brazil and their global partners in the US, Europe and Asia?

  • Melissa Aronczyk, Rutgers University: The Business of Influence: Networks, Narratives and Strategies of Action and Non-action Around Climate Change, 1973 – 2021 

    This project examines the extensive role played by public relations and promotional (advocacy, branding and advertising) campaigns in developing the rule book by which corporate and political actors coordinate and pursue their objectives. It will  trace the trajectories of key actors and organizations over time in their elaboration of strategies to reshape environmental problems in significant ways, with lasting effects on the ability to develop standards and regulations to address global warming in political and public spheres. This two-year project will combine theoretical perspectives on elite political and communication networks and the nature of influence with empirical research on interorganizational dynamics and public promotional/advocacy activities among corporate, government and non-governmental actors. It will use extensive analysis of media and publicity as well as historical and archival research to develop a set of substantive responses to existing barriers to climate change action.

  • Alaina D. Boyle, Jennie C. Stephens, Northeastern University: Intersections and Impacts of the Fossil Fuel-Plastic-Agriculture Complex: Mutual Reinforcement and Embodied Injustice 

    There has been extensive research on bilateral connections between fossil fuels and plastics and fossil fuels and agriculture but research on the extent to which these three industries are interconnected has been limited. The cumulative societal impact of the legacy of strategic activities in these industries resisting climate policy and climate justice remains under-analyzed. What is clear is that both plastics and agricultural inputs derived from highly carbon-intensive petrochemicals directly and inequitably damage human health. This research dissects mutually reinforcing production inputs, processes, and products in the fossil fuel – plastic – agricultural complex (the ‘carbon complex’) to: 1) clearly delineate the roles and relationships within and between actors in these industries as they have together contributed to climate change and 2) examine their cumulative effect on US federal and state climate policy, including through strategic investments in lobbying and other obstructions.

  • Rami Kaplan, Tel Aviv University; David L. Levy, University of Massachusetts Boston: The Rise of Financialized Climate Governance: Examining the Phenomenon and Evaluating its Potential 

    Recent years have seen the mobilization of investors to integrate climate metrics into financial decisions and to pressure firms to address climate risks. This proposed study examines financialized climate governance (FCG), potentially a powerful lever for change given the primary role of capital markets in corporate governance and the concentration of corporate GHG emissions and global investment management. We propose the first sociological inquiry into the significance, trajectory, and impact of this new phenomenon on societal relations, inter-organizational dynamics, and GHG emissions. Our research questions address: FCG as a social movement, including the reframing of risks, actor mobilization, and opportunity structures; the calculative mechanisms that intermediate between climate metrics and financial measures of value and risk; shifting alignments and power relations among diverse actors; and FCG’s effectiveness in driving change despite its capitalist self-regulatory nature and greenwashing risks. Research methods include interviews, participant observations, and collection of documentary and database materials.

  • Kevin Surprise, Mount Holyoke College: Blocking Sunlight, Delaying Climate Action: Financial Capital, Solar Geoengineering, and U.S. Climate Policy 

    Solar geoengineering (SG) technologies – proposed methods for slowing climate change by reflecting sunlight back to space – have long faced criticism for potentially enabling fossil fueled business-as-usual and allowing industrialized countries to avoid necessary emissions cuts. This concern is not unfounded, yet the fossil fuel industry is not currently funding any major SG research initiatives. Rather, the economic sector most directly involved with SG research in the U.S. is financial capital: firms, individuals, and philanthropies connected to hedge funds, venture capital, and private equity. Given that SG has the capacity to slow warming independent of emissions reductions, and finance remains heavily invested in fossil fuels, this project explores three central questions: Why are financial actors funding SG research? How does this emergent funding-research configuration change the way that SG is researched and developed? How does the financialization of SG influence the uptake of these technologies in U.S. and international climate policy?

  • Prakash Kashwan, University of Connecticut; John Chung-En Liu, National Taiwan University; Jahnnabi Das, University of Technology Sydney: Fossil Nationalism or Climate Nationalism? Investigating the Politics and Narratives of Climate Action, Delay, and Displacement in the Asia-Pacific 

    In this collaborative research project, we use the twin lenses of ‘fossil nationalism’ and ‘climate nationalism’ to investigate climate politics in three large countries outside of North American and western European contexts – China, India, and Australia. Using a contextualized analysis, we investigate the varied positions of fossil fuel industry groups within the broader domestic political economy and its effects on climate denialism, delay, displacement, and climate action. We collect data from English and Non-English newspapers, trade newsletters, and the press briefings issued by the fossil fuel industry groups and map how fossil fuel industry actors relate to other prominent actors and agencies, including government ministries, trade associations, think tanks, and civil society, to shape climate politics in each of these three countries. Our conceptualization and analysis of climate politics on a continuum between fossil nationalism and climate nationalism offers new comparative insights on pathways for addressing the roadblocks against robust and timely climate action.

  • Josh Holloway, Cassandra Star, Flinders University: Extreme Event Attribution in Media Reporting of Wildfires in the US, Canada, and Australia: Anti-reflexibility and the Climate Countermovement 

    Natural disasters command significant public attention. They are focusing events, with the potential to shift debate on climate change action. Yet natural disasters also open a ‘crisis-induced opportunity space’ for competing actors to advance policy aims and effect political change, a contest largely played out in the media. Recently, the United States, Canada, and Australia have suffered significant wildfires, which have prompted intense political contests over cause, blame, and responsibility. This project aims to reveal: the frames and themes in wildfire reporting amid climate change; whether climate change countermovements (CCCMs) exploit wildfire reporting to delay climate action; and the transnational spread of CCCM ideas, strategies and personnel. Thus, we will evaluate and systematically compare the dynamics of media reporting on wildfires and bushfires across the three country cases. The project will combine quantitative content analysis with qualitative thematic analysis, and connect these findings to an evaluation of local, national, and transnational activity by political elites to delay climate action.

  • Joshua A. Basseches, University of Michigan: Climate Policy Preferences and Political Power: The Case of State-Level RPS Policy Design 

    This project builds on Basseches’ previous work, which found that variation in climate and renewable energy policy design in California, Massachusetts, and Oregon was explainable by differences in the policy preferences and political power among business actors. Most notable was the role of investor-owned utilities, whose policy preferences most directly shaped outcomes. In the upcoming project, Basseches will test theories developed about the policy preferences and political power of these various business actors using five additional states, which unlike the original three, are characterized by Republican majorities and/or significant fossil fuel production within their borders: Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. A paired comparison design will enable Basseches to evaluate how these features of state political economy may interact with other determinants of utilities’ policy preferences to explain divergences in policy design.

  • Jonas Meckling, Samuel Trachtman, University of California, Berkeley: Climate Advocacy and Opposition in the U.S. States 

    Existing scholarship has highlighted the fundamental role of organized interests in both driving and blocking climate policies. Yet, we have accumulated little systematic empirical evidence on the landscape of organized interests involved in climate and clean energy politics. This is particularly true for US states, where much policy activity is located in the US federal system. In this project, we will, first, curate new quantitative data on pro-climate groups, mapping the landscape of environmental and clean energy groups active lobbying at the state level across all US states. Second, for three states that offer particularly rich lobbying records, we will study the organized interests that lobby both for and against climate and clean energy bills introduced since 2000—along with the outcome of those legislative processes. Third, we will investigate recent climate and clean energy policymaking processes in six states where the Democratic party won full control of government in 2018, paying particular attention to the role of organized interests. The project will thus allow us to better understand the political geography of climate advocacy across US states, the dynamics of interest group battles, and the relationship between party control and interest group influence.

  • Joshua Basseches, University of Michigan; Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, Christopher Newport University; Galen Hall, Brown University: Mapping the Landscape of US Climate Policy Obstruction: Interest Group Influence in Statehouses 

    The climate change countermovement (CCCM), a constellation of nongovernmental organizations and corporations, has polarized American beliefs about climate change and stymied Congressional legislation needed to slow the climate emergency. The CCCM’s obstruction has shifted the burden of climate action onto the states. Scholars have little systematic information about who is obstructing clean energy policies in state legislatures, however, reflecting a broader dearth of information about interest groups’ activities in these crucial political arenas. We will address this gap by compiling a large dataset of interest group positions on bills in state legislatures. Between July 2021 and March 2022, we will scrape, clean, and harmonize interest group lobbying records and public testimony, covering 31 states and over 63% of the US population, resulting in ~6-15 million records of positions on legislation spanning the past decade. From March to July 2022, we will replicate a similar study on Massachusetts — which used interest groups’ bill preferences to map advocates and opponents in different domains of climate policy and measure their success — this time on the scale of some thirty-one states. The results will advance our understanding of climate obstruction at the state level.

  • Jessica Green, University of Toronto: The Climate Establishment: When and Why Do INGOs Cooperate With Polluters? 

    Although international environmental (INGOs) are often seen as opponents of big polluters, oftentimes, the two groups collaborate.  This project asks why, when and how this collaboration occurs. The general assumption is that “professional environmentalists’ ‘ in INGOs are contributing positively to climate politics, but this assumption merits careful examination.  Many INGOs are now large international bureaucracies, which seek to maintain their authority, access to policymakers and funding streams. Moreover, some cooperate with large emitters – including the fossil fuel industry, electric utilities, and firms in other emissions intensive sectors.  Rather than serving as outside critics, the INGOs that cooperate with large emitters are part of what I call “the climate establishment.” The climate establishment includes INGOs involved in advocacy, rulemaking and implementation of international climate policy: insiders in the climate policy making process.  This project asks: which members of the climate establishment cooperate with large multinationals and large emitters, and through what types of policies and programs?


Grantees began their research in Fall 2021 and projects will run for one or two years, producing peer-reviewed research and policy-relevant outputs such as fact sheets and briefings.