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

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en This study employs social network analysis to map the Canadian network of carbon‐capital corporations whose boards interlock with key knowledge‐producing civil society organizations, including think tanks, industry associations, business advocacy organizations, universities, and research institutes. We find a pervasive pattern of carbon‐sector reach into these domains of civil society, forming a single, connected network that is centered in Alberta yet linked to the central‐Canadian corporate elite through hegemonic capitalist organizations, including major financial companies. This structure provides the architecture for a “soft” denial regime that acknowledges climate change while protecting the continued flow of profit to fossil fuel and related companies. Résumé fr Cette étude emploie une analyse de réseaux sociaux faisant la carte du réseau Canadien des corporations de ‘carbon‐capital’ dont les comités sont liés à des organisations civiles de production de savoir, incluant des groupes de réflexion (‘think thanks’), des associations d'entreprises, des groupes de défense des milieux d'affaire, des universités et des instituts de recherche. Nous avons découvert un modèle se fondant sur une tendance omni‐présente (‘pattern’) dans le secteur du carbone, formant un réseau singulier centré en Alberta mais lié néanmoins à l’élite corporative à travers les organisations capitalistes hégémoniques, incluant des compagnies financières majeures. Cette structure révèle l'architecture d'un régime de déni ‘mou’ qui reconnaît le changement climatique tout en protégeant le flot continu de profit de compagnies liées au combustible fossile.
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The Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change
Denial: A Network Analysis of Carbon Capital’s Reach
into Civil Society
WILLIAM CARROLL,NICHOLAS GRAHAM,MICHAEL K. LANG,
AND ZO¨
EYUNKER
University of Victoria
KEVIN D. MCCARTNEY
University of British Columbia
Abstract
This study employs social network analysis to map the Canadian
network of carbon-capital corporations whose boards interlock with key
knowledge-producing civil society organizations, including think tanks,
industry associations, business advocacy organizations, universities, and
research institutes. We find a pervasive pattern of carbon-sector reach
into these domains of civil society, forming a single, connected network
that is centered in Alberta yet linked to the central-Canadian corporate
elite through hegemonic capitalist organizations, including major
financial companies. This structure provides the architecture for a “soft”
denial regime that acknowledges climate change while protecting the
continued flow of profit to fossil fuel and related companies.
R´
esum´
e
Cette ´
etudeemploieuneanalyseder
´
eseaux sociaux faisant la carte du
r´
eseau Canadien des corporations de ‘carbon-capital’ dont les comit´
es
sont li´
es `
a des organisations civiles de production de savoir, incluant des
groupes de r´
eflexion (‘think thanks’), des associations d’entreprises, des
groupes de d´
efense des milieux d’affaire, des universit´
es et des instituts
de recherche. Nous avons d´
ecouvert un mod`
ele se fondant sur une
William K. Carroll, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria, 3800 Finnerty Road, Victoria, BC,
Canada V8P 5C2. E-mail: wcarroll@uvic.ca
C2018 Canadian Sociological Association/La Soci´
et´
e canadienne de sociologie
426 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
tendance omni-pr´
esente (‘pattern’) dans le secteur du carbone, formant
un r´
eseau singulier centr´
e en Alberta mais li´
en
´
eanmoins `
al
´
elite
corporative `
a travers les organisations capitalistes h´
eg´
emoniques,
incluant des compagnies financi`
eres majeures. Cette structure r´
ev`
ele
l’architecture d’un r´
egimeded
´
eni ‘mou’ qui reconnaˆ
ıt le changement
climatique tout en prot´
egeant le flot continu de profit de compagnies li´
ees
au combustible fossile.
CORPORATIONS ARE THE KEY centers of economic power in contempo-
rary 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 in-
spired 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 con-
versation 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 invest-
ments and profit streams, opening new fields for investment, and mini-
mizing 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
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 427
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.
Our focus in this study is on one fraction of corporate capital—the
carbon-capital industries—and one vector of corporate influence—the in-
terlocks that link corporate directorates with governance boards of key
civil society organizations (CSOs). Our analysis hones in on the structure
of the elite network itself, which forms an architecture for corporate influ-
ence. However, the actual discursive content that the network undergirds
is a matter for future research.
Civil society comprises a diverse field “between” economy and state
(Urry 1981), including nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs),
political parties, community and voluntary associations, families and
households, and educational and religious institutions, among other
groups. The CSOs of interest here produce and mobilize knowledge of
relevance to the carbon-capital fraction. Interlocking directorates between
companies and these CSOs create pathways through which corporate per-
spectives, priorities, and strategies penetrate into civic life. The network
enables the carbon-capital elite, a fraction of the broader corporate commu-
nity, to exert influence by participating in the governance of institutions
that are often assumed to be independent of big business.
The increasing risk of runaway global warming now pits capitalism
against the climate, with fossil-fuel corporations and their allies on the
front lines of a high-stakes struggle (Klein 2014). Recognizing this, we fo-
cus on corporations in the carbon-capital sector (oil, gas, bitumen, and coal,
including services to extraction, transport, and processing), the epicenter
for Canada’s emergence as an “energy superpower” according to former
Prime Minister Stephen Harper (quoted in Adkin and Stendie 2016:417).
428 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
In the past half-century, high oil-sector profit rates bolstered by low roy-
alties (particularly in Alberta) attracted massive investment. In the first
decade of the twenty-first century, the value of Canada’s energy exports
grew more than fourfold (Carter 2014). By 2010 Alberta’s share of the
nation’s capital stock had eclipsed Ontario’s (McCormack and Workman
2015:33), torqueing the economy toward carbon extraction as a leading
sector. By 2012, the Toronto Stock Exchange listed 405 oil and gas com-
panies with a total market capitalization exceeding $379 billion (Lee and
Ellis 2013:6).
In training attention on this sector, we confront a troubling reality.
Just as climate crisis has become widely recognized as the most urgent
problem facing humankind, the Canadian economy has become weighted
toward carbon extraction, portending a head-on collision between Canada’s
embrace of COP 21 aspirations to keep global temperature increase below
1.5°C and construction of infrastructure that could vastly enlarge Canada’s
carbon footprint (Girard 2017).
In these circumstances, carbon capital’s accumulation strategy de-
mands deft ideological legitimation. With major stakes in fossil fuels,
carbon-capital corporations form part of a “denial regime,” along with po-
litical allies that promote and implement convivial policies, and an ideo-
logical apparatus of think tanks and policy groups, funded to some extent
by the carbon-capital sector (Derber 2010:75). As the scientific consensus
on global warming has become uncontestable, climate-change denial by
carbon-capital corporations has evolved from “stage 1” hard denialism to
“stage 2,” signaling “a basic change in the ideology and tactics of the de-
nial regime, though not in its ultimate goals” (Derber 2010:80), namely,
the continued flow of profit to fossil fuel and related companies. The key
to stage 2 is to propose policies that appear as credible responses to the
scientific consensus but do not harm big carbon—the three most typical
being greater efficiency in carbon extraction and consumption, new tech-
nology, and incremental change inadequate to the scale and urgency of the
problem (Derber 2010:82–83).
No research has systematically mapped interlocks between the
carbon-capital sector and key knowledge-producing CSOs; hence our ap-
proach is exploratory. In tracing this sector’s reach into civil society, we
reveal the architecture of a stage 2 denial regime.
SAMPLE AND DATA
Our research maps the network composed of carbon-capital corporations
whose boards interlock with those of key civil society groups—thus, two
samples of organizations. The corporate sample consists of the largest 238
Canada-based corporations whose activities are centered in fossil fuel pro-
duction and/or transport. Data were gathered in the fall of 2015, at which
time financial statements for year-end 2014 showed each firm to have at
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 429
Table 1
The Sample of Organizations and Their Network Participation
Sample stratum
Overall
sample (A)
Network
participant (B) B/A
In dominant
component
1. Carbon-capital firms 238 81 0.340 76
2.a. Industry associations 21 11 0.524 10
2.b. Advocacy 17 10 0.588 9
3. Policy-planning 12 11 0.917 9
4.a. Universities and schools 46 27 0.587 20
4.b. Research institutes 16 13 0.813 11
Total 350 153 0.437 135
least $50,000,000 in assets.1No one quantitative criterion summarizes an
organization’s importance in civil society. Moreover, the range of groups
comprising civil society is truly vast, necessitating a highly focused sam-
pling strategy. In selecting 112 organizations for this sector, we compiled
a judgment sample of key agencies within three sectors of civil society that
have strategic value for carbon-extractive corporate business. Each sec-
tor produces and circulates ideas that inform public discourse and policy,
from distinct social locations and in distinct ways. Our judgment sample
enables us to hone in on key interfaces between the carbon-capital elite
and select civil society sectors, but this comes at the expense of a more
comprehensive mapping of corporate capital’s footprint within civil soci-
ety. In decreasing order of their direct alignment with corporate capital,
the sectors are shown in Table 1.
First, there are organizations that define and advance corporate inter-
ests, including policies commensurate with those interests. These are often
business-sponsored, and their governance boards typically include leading
lights of the corporate elite. There are two kinds of such organizations: in-
dustry associations, which advance the interests of specific industries, and
intersectoral business advocacy organizations, which construct and advo-
cate broad corporate perspectives, regardless of sector (Brownlee 2005).
Both develop policy proposals and perspectives and promote them through
reports, media releases, and social media initiatives, advertising, lobbying,
etc. There is no one industry association that represents the entire carbon-
capital sector, although the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
(CAPP; whose remit includes natural gas) comes closest. In all, our sample
includes 21 such groups (see Table 1).
1. Companies wholly owned by other companies in the carbon-extractive sector were excluded from the
sample.
430 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
Sectoral industry associations provide space for fractional interests
within the broad carbon-capital sector to define issues of common im-
portance and to organize strategies for advancing sectoral interests. On
specific issues, the immediate interests of one fraction (e.g., coal) may
conflict with those of another (e.g., LNG, typically promoted as a tran-
sition fuel in the sun-setting of coal). In contrast, intersectoral business
advocacy groups such as chambers of commerce and business councils
represent broader class interests. These are sites where wider strata of
business leaders (e.g., bankers, manufacturers) might rub shoulders with
the carbon-capital elite. Such contacts provide opportunities for blending
the specific, fractional interests of carbon capital within a broader corpo-
rate agenda. Most influential has been the Business Council of Canada,
which since the 1980s has significantly shaped neoliberal policy at the fed-
eral level (Dobbin 1998; Langille 1987). Indeed, the Business Council of
Canada “may be unique in the developed world in terms of its capacity to
dominate political life” (Brownlee 2005:81).
In all, 17 business advocacy groups were selected. They may be fur-
ther differentiated into 10 elite advocacy groups (councils and chambers
directed by top business leaders) and seven more “grassroots” business ad-
vocacy groups. The former can be expected to link into the wider corporate-
elite network, facilitating a consensus that enables big business to speak
with one voice. The latter, initiated and led by pro-business activists, may
lack elite ties into the corporate network, but may be funded by corpo-
rate capital, as sympathetic voices apparently at arms’ length.2Advocacy
groups such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Ethical Oil, and Al-
berta Prosperity Fund are less about creating an elite consensus and more
about promulgating to popular audiences what has been called the “cor-
porate agenda” of neoliberal capitalism (Beder 2006), particularly as it
applies to the carbon-capital sector. More astroturf than grassroots, these
groups present themselves as citizens initiatives from below, circumvent-
ing business-council elitism yet delivering similar messages to general
publics and to a pro-business popular base.
A second kind of CSO, less directly focused on defining and defend-
ing corporate interests per se, is the think tank. Formally autonomous
from the corporate sector, they are often funded by large corporations and
2. For instance, Resource Works (initially funded by the Business Council of BC) has the Council’s CEO on
its board, but most board members are lower level managers and former politicians. The Partnership
for Resource Trade, launched in 2014 by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, has used local Chambers
to mobilize its campaigns. The Alberta Prosperity Fund was initiated in 2015 by business consultant
Barry McNamar, who has held leadership positions at the Manning Foundation, Fraser Institute,
and University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy (DeSmog n.d.). Ethical Oil, funded in part by the
corporate sector, with close ties to the Conservative Party of Canada (Pullman 2012), is the project
of right-wing activist Ezra Levant. Similarly, Canada Action, initiated and led by Calgary realtor
Cody Battershill, has close ties to the oil industry and to the Conservative Party of Canada (Linnitt
and Gutstein 2015). Some groups, like CAPP-sponsored Canada’s Energy Citizens, do not release any
information on their leadership, precluding analysis of their network ties.
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 431
directed by their CEOs (Brownlee 2005). In comparison to industry as-
sociations and business advocacy organizations, mainstream think tanks
are organizations of professional researchers, analysts, and communica-
tors. They are not singularly focused on defining and defending business
interests but on producing evidence-based commentary and analysis from
a standpoint compatible with business interests. Think tanks are typi-
cally nonprofit organizations, self-defined as “educational organizations,
committed to increased public awareness about policy issues” (Brownlee
2005:95). The policy-planning process leads them to mobilize academics
committed to business-friendly policy, and to connect with governmental
and media personnel, through workshops, conferences, and fora.
We selected 12 policy-planning groups for this segment of the CSO
sample. Since our interest is in mapping the interface between carbon
capital and civil society, the groups selected were in the center or on the
right of the political spectrum; organizations critical of big business, like
the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, were excluded. Five of the
groups have high profiles on the national scene (C.D. Howe Institute, Con-
ference Board of Canada, Fraser Institute, Macdonald-Laurier Institute,
Manning Centre for Building Democracy). Others have a regional focus,
and on this issue, with the exception of the Atlantic Institute for Market
Studies, we selected groups oriented toward western Canada (e.g., Fron-
tier Centre for Public Policy, Canada West Foundation, Clear Seas Centre
for Responsible Marine Shipping). Eight of the 12 groups are members of
the Atlas Network of nearly 500 neoliberal think tanks worldwide.
Finally, universities and research institutes (with most of the latter
hosted within universities) comprise a key sector in civil society. They
produce both knowledge and knowledgeable people. They help maintain
and renew a liberal political culture and produce a technically proficient
workforce while contributing scientific/technical advances of relevance to
corporations and government. These organizations operate as nonprofits
at arm’s length from government, and in that sense form part of civil
society. Although as recently as 1979 public funds made up 84 percent
of universities’ operating revenues, by 2012 only 51.9 percent of fund-
ing came from public sources, ranking Canada 15th among 20 report-
ing Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries
(Brownlee 2015:41; Canadian Association of University Teachers [CAUT]
2017). In principle, universities and research institutes are autonomous
from business, and their public-service mission may conflict with corpo-
rate priorities. In practice, they have become increasingly aligned with
business interests, through processes of “corporatization” where “the pub-
lic interest—once defined as shielding public entities from the market—is
assumed to be enhanced by embracing commercial values and practices”
(Brownlee 2015:27). This segment of the civil society sample includes 46
postsecondary and 19 research institutes.
432 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
Since the carbon-capital sector is centered in western Canada, we
prioritized the inclusion of western-based postsecondary educational in-
stitutions. Ten universities in the three westernmost provinces were se-
lected, along with four western-based polytechnical schools. As corporate
interests are particularly engaged with sectors of postsecondary educa-
tion that contribute directly to the world of business, we also included
seven western-based business schools, two engineering schools, and the
University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. Each of these has its own
advisory board, potentially linking its governance practices into the cor-
porate elite.3The other 26 postsecondary institutions in our sample in-
clude all nonwestern “research” and “comprehensive” universities listed
by Maclean’s magazine (Schwartz 2015). As for research institutes, our
concern with the carbon-capital sector directed us to 14 institutes whose
mandates focus on scientific and technological issues surrounding carbon
extraction and processing, plus the Canadian Foundation for Innovation
and the Saskatchewan Research Council.4The institutes are mainly based
in Calgary (n=5), Edmonton (n=5), other western-Canadian cities (n=
4), and Ottawa (n=2).
We gathered data on the names of the directors or governors of the 112
CSOs and the directors and top executives of the 238 carbon-capital corpo-
rations.5Sources for the latter included online business databases (ORBIS
and FP Infomart) as well as company Web sites. Sources for the former
were mainly organization Web sites and annual reports. Wherever there
was ambiguity as to whether two name entries referred to the same person,
the situation was investigated further to confirm the multiple affiliation.
OVERALL FINDINGS
Table 1 indicates how many organizations participate in the carbon-
capital/civil society network. Approximately one-third of the 238 carbon-
capital corporations interlock with one or more CSOs, whereas two-thirds
of the CSOs participate. Rates of participation (column B/A) are particu-
larly high among policy-planning groups. Within the advocacy groups, the
business councils tend to participate in the network (7 of 10), while the as-
troturf groups are less likely to have elite-level ties to carbon-capital firms
3. Our sample echoes emerging research indicating that business schools housed within major Canadian
universities are leading the charge of academic corporatization (Alajoutsijarvi, Juusola, and Siltaoja
2015).
4. These institutes were identified through a review of existing literature (Adkin and Stares 2016; CAUT
2013), and through searching university Web sites. We included research centers that have their own
advisory board and which include corporate directors and state managers (i.e., university-industry-
state research collaborations). Research parks, now a corporatizing feature of many universities, were
not included, although future research could beneficially trace these parks’ linkages to corporate capital.
5. A list of sample organizations and the abbreviations used in the sociograms below is available from the
first author upon request.
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 433
(3 of 7). Among the carbon-capital firms, directors of the 15 largest tend
to serve on civil society boards (11 of 15), whereas relatively few boards of
smaller companies interlock with CSOs (70 of 223).
Our network analysis is restricted to these 153 organizations, and the
173 individual “networkers” whose multiple affiliations create the carbon-
capital/civil society network. Since we are particularly interested in map-
ping the CSO network, we include all directors/executives (108) of carbon-
capital firms (n=81) with any CSO affiliations, plus 65 individuals who
do not direct carbon-capital corporations but do direct multiple CSOs. The
latter (most of whom have affiliations with corporations in other economic
sectors) further integrate the CSO network.
Figure 1 offers a summary picture of interlocking across the sectors.
Each point represents all organizations in a given sector; line thickness
indicates how much interlocking occurs between a pair of sectors. The
size of each point is proportionate to the total number of interlocks with
other sectors. There is considerable variation in the volume of interlock-
ing within and across sectors. As reported elsewhere (Carroll 2017), the
carbon-capital sector is tightly integrated (in this instance, its 81 com-
panies are linked via 112 interlocking directorates), yet advocacy groups
do not share directors. Cross-sectorally, the corporations are especially
tied to the policy-planning sector via 40 interlocks. The policy-planning
groups also interlock extensively with advocacy groups and universities,
and with each other. Interlocking between corporate directorates and uni-
versities (28 ties), advocacy groups (22 ties), and industry associations
Figure 1
Levels of Interlocking within and between Carbon-Capital and
Civil Society Sectors [Color figure can be viewed at
wileyonlinelibrary.com]
434 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
(20 ties) is also noteworthy, as are the 12 interlocks between universities
and think tanks and the 14 corporate representatives on the boards of
research institutes.
The traffic in interlocking reveals an elite network in which directors
of carbon-capital corporations participate in governance of key knowledge-
producing organizations. It is not surprising that the industry associations
and advocacy organizations have such ties, as they are strategic sites in
civil society for defining and advancing business interests; but the exten-
sive reach into policy-planning and higher education/research shows that
directors of carbon-capital corporations participate heavily in governance
of ostensibly independent knowledge-producing organizations.
Looking more closely, a basic issue is whether the organizations form
a connected network, or whether relations are segmented into disjoint net-
works. In the rightmost column of Table 1, we indicate membership in
the dominant component—the largest connected network. All but 18 of the
153 organizations belong to the component. However, some are especially
well connected. For instance, the four most interlocked organizations—
C.D. Howe Institute (with 22 interlocks), Business Council of British
Columbia (BC BUSINESSC, with 19), CAPP (with 19), and Business Coun-
cil of Canada (BUSINESSC C, with 16) comprise only 3 percent of the
dominant component, but account for 17 percent of interlocking within
it. In contrast, 31 organizations each interlock with only one component
member.
THE INFLUENCE NETWORK’S SOFT CORE
This variation in centrality suggests that the network may fit a core-
periphery pattern, with peripheral organizations linking into an integrated
core but not with each other. A coreness partitioning of the dominant com-
ponent6does identify a core of 25 and periphery of 110. With 150 interlocks,
the core has a density of 0.250. The periphery contains 198 interlocks (den-
sity =0.017). Core and periphery are linked by 109 interlocks, at a density
of 0.040. As a percentage of all interlocking, the core claims 32.82 percent;
its links to the periphery claim 23.85 percent; and relations among the
110 peripheral organizations (81.5 percent of the dominant component)
claim 43.32 percent. However, the Pearson correlation between the input
adjacency matrix and the output partitioned matrix, 0.303, indicates only
9.18 percent shared variance. The core-periphery model’s fit is poor, as
many interlocks occur within the large periphery surrounding the core.
The “core,” though dense, is also soft.
In Figure 2, we glimpse some of the architecture of carbon-capital
influence, as corporate directorates interlock with CSOs that produce
6. Network analyses were executed within UCINET (Borgatti 2002).
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 435
Figure 2
The Core of 25 Organizations
Key: Brown: corporations, blue: industry associations, violet: advocacy organizations, light blue:
policy-planning, light green: postsecondary, dark green: research institutes
[Color figure can be viewed at wileyonlinelibrary.com]
436 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
business-friendly knowledge mobilized across the public sphere. The core
includes seven carbon-capital corporations, two industry groups, three
advocacy groups, four think tanks, five postsecondary institutions, and
four research institutes. Canada’s biggest corporate-funded think tank,
C.D. Howe, is most prominent, interlocked with 12 core organizations, in-
cluding all but one of the carbon-capital firms. Industry group Canadian
Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) interlocks with nine organizations,
most of which are not linked to Howe. One can see an intermingling of
academic/scientific and carbon-capital directors on the right-hand side. Re-
search institutes CCEMC (Climate Change and Emissions Management
Corporation) and SDTC (Sustainable Development Technology Canada)
and the University of Calgary’s Board of Governors (UOFC) interlock with
each other and with CEPA. AI EES (Alberta Innovates—Energy and En-
vironment Solutions) interlocks with CCEMC and SDTC as well as with
Enbridge. For their part, the Fraser and Howe Institutes also interlock
with key U of C-based schools (School of Public Policy [UOFC SPP] and
Haskayne [HASKAYNE SB], respectively), and they share multiple direc-
tors with the main business councils (of British Columbia and Canada, re-
spectively). In some cases, the interlocking is intense—the Fraser Institute
and Business Council of British Columbia (BCBC) share three directors.
Major corporations also bridge across civil society sectors; for example,
the Enbridge group interlocks not only with three university boards and
AI EES, but with three industry associations, two think tanks, and one
business council. This mapping of the network core reveals a small world
of corporate influence within which major carbon-capital players collabo-
rate with each other and with other elites in the governance of CSOs.
SOCIAL CIRCLES AND ELITE COHESION
Figure 2 shows that the network core is integrated through ties cutting
across different kinds of organizations. In this, organizations with diverse
social circles are key. Blau’s (1977) index of heterogeneity measures such
diversity as the probability that two randomly chosen members of a social
circle belong to different categories (e.g., a corporation and an industry
group).
Table 2 reveals that, among the 153 organizations that participate
in board interlocks, industry groups and postsecondary institutions main-
tain relatively homogeneous social circles, but elite advocacy groups, think
tanks, and research institutes have more diverse contacts.7Further anal-
ysis shows that 58 organizations have completely homogeneous social cir-
cles, including 18 universities and 5 industry groups. These 18 universities
7. Analysis of variance shows that type of organization accounts for 11.1 percent of the variance in social-
circle heterogeneity.
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 437
Table 2
Mean Social-Circle Heterogeneity for All Interlocking
Organizations
Organization type Mean SD
Corporation 0.38510 0.28881
Industry group 0.26848 0.27068
Advocacy 0.49727 0.34821
University 0.17825 0.26287
Research institute 0.45300 0.27986
Think tank 0.47388 0.25587
Total 0.35970 0.29654
are quite marginal to the network (mean degree =1.11). Their social circles
contain only one member and are by default homogeneous.
In contrast, the five industry groups with completely homoge-
neous social circles tend to be relatively central in the network (mean
degree =7.00). Most significantly, CAPP, whose 18 interlocks all link to
carbon-capital firms, is the second most central organization in the entire
network, yet is excluded from the core since it does not interlock extensively
with core members. This shows a degree of complexity in the architecture
of elite cohesion. Industry groups fulfill an integrative function, within spe-
cific subsectors. Their mission to represent functional segments of carbon
capital pulls companies of various sizes into the network, many of which
would otherwise be isolated. At CAPP, this mission is institutionalized, as
its board is mandated to include large, mid-sized, and smaller firms. In con-
trast, advocacy groups such as cross-sectoral business councils define and
advance business interests more widely, and tend to recruit well-connected
business leaders to their boards (as do the think tanks). The combination
of inter- and intrasectoral integration is evident in the group differences
in social-circle heterogeneity.8
SUBGROUPS IN THE NETWORK
Since the core-periphery distinction accounts for only a small portion of
network structure, we explored the possibility of other subgroups in the
network. Girvan and Newman (2002) present an elegant algorithm to iden-
tify relatively cohesive communities “in which network nodes are joined
8. Interestingly, CEPA, an industry group, is in the core. Its board includes CEPA President Brenda
Kenny, a past executive with the National Energy Board, a current member of the University of Calgary
governance board, and a current director of both CCEMC and SDTC, and Ian Anderson (President of
KinderMorgan Canada and a member of the Business Council of BC).
438 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
Table 3
The Dominant Component Partitioned into Seven Subgroups
Nin
subgroup
Ns based in:
BC|AB|ON
Mean
degreeaE-I
Nof members
in core
1EPACstar 7 0|7|0 1.00 0.867 0
2 CAODC|PSAC star 6 0|6|0 1.00 0.750 0
3 CAPP star 17 0|17|0 1.29 0.692 0
4 Fraser Institute 14 1|9|2 1.14 0.391 1
5 Alberta 41 2|31|5 2.17 0.728 14
6 C.D. Howe Institute 31 0|22b|8 2 . 1 0 0.656 9
7 Business Council of BC 19 11|2|5 1.53 0.568 1
Total 135 14|94c|2 0 1 . 7 4 0.661 25
aAmong subgroup members.
bIncludes four organizations based in Saskatchewan.
cCalculated on the basis of all possible relations within the seven groups.
together in tightly knit groups, between which there are only looser con-
nections” (p. 7821). Their approach iteratively removes lines of highest
betweenness, successively partitioning the network into mutually exclu-
sive groups. Decomposing the network in this way, the first three partitions
identify sociometric stars around industry groups, underlining the specific
function of these organizations in the network, and cleaving 30 organiza-
tions from the component.
The remaining 105 organizations divide meaningfully into four sub-
groups (see Table 3). With the exception of group 5, each subgroup is orga-
nized to some extent around one highly central organization, and is named
accordingly. These clusters are highly regionalized;9the three industry-
group stars, which are least integrated into the dominant component, are
entirely Alberta-based. Subsequent partitions divide the more densely con-
nected organizations into subnetworks with representation from British
Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan in the case of group 5. This seven-
group configuration reflects the overall network structure well: 83.0 per-
cent of all interlocks occur within the subgroups, yielding an E-I score
of 0.661.10 The three industry-group centered stars are especially intro-
verted, and in these subnetworks, mean degree of interlocking (i.e., number
of interlocks) approaches 1, signaling that without the central node they
would not exist.
9. The Contingency Coefficient of 0.624 indicates a strong relationship between region and subgroup
membership.
10. Krackhardt and Stern’s (1988) E-I index subtracts the proportion of “introverted” lines (linking mem-
bers of subgroups with each other) from the proportion of “extraverted” lines that occur across sub-
groups. It varies from 1 (complete extraversion) to 1 (complete introversion).
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 439
It is illuminating to profile each of the relatively central subgroups,
which are mapped in Figure 3 (with members of the soft core of 25 organi-
zations represented as circles11):
rThe 14-member Fraser Institute cluster (upper left in Figure 3)
is least integrated and most extraverted of the four. With 9 of its
14 members based in Alberta, it includes six carbon-capital firms
(five of them interlocked with Fraser), three other think tanks (two
of them interlocked with Fraser), three postsecondary institutions
and Ottawa-based Canadian Foundation for Innovation. The Fraser
Institute figures prominently not only in the ties that bind this sub-
network together, but in the extraverted ties to other subnetworks.
It participates in 7 of the 12 out-group interlocks and shares mul-
tiple directors with two British Columbia based organizations in
subgroup 7. Fraser is the only member of this subgroup that par-
ticipates in the soft core of 25 (see Figure 2), underlining again the
Institute’s importance to elite cohesion.
rIn contrast, organizations in the 41-member Alberta-centered sub-
group (lower right), the most introverted of the four central sub-
networks, are extensively interlocked with each other, and no one
node pulls the configuration together. Compared to other relatively
central subnetworks, this one is built less around business coun-
cils and think tanks and more around 22 carbon-capital firms
(19 of them based in Alberta), five industry associations, six re-
search institutes, and six postsecondaries. However, Calgary-based
Canada West Foundation interlocks with other think tanks and
with corporate-advocacy groups in the other subnetworks. Eastern-
based organizations (whether firms such as Valener and Fortis or
postsecondaries such as York and Windsor) are marginal within
this subgroup, three-quarters of whose members are based in Al-
berta. The close links between industry (and industry groups), re-
search institutes, and three key postsecondaries point to what we
have elsewhere termed a carbon-centered scientific-industrial com-
plex embodying a close alignment of interests between carbon capi-
tal and academic/research communities which enables big carbon to
reap both the symbolic benefit of association with impartial science
and the material benefit of subsidized research and development
(Carroll, Graham, and Yunker 2018).
rWith 13 of 31 members based outside Alberta, subgroup 6 (lower
left) is least provincially centered and more hooked into the national
corporate community by virtue of two Ontario-based hegemonic
11. Points in the sociogram are positioned in part on the basis of their subgroup membership, using the
“scrunching” algorithm in Netdraw (Borgatti 2002).
440 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
Figure 3
Four Relatively Central Subgroups in the Network [Color figure can be viewed at
wileyonlinelibrary.com]
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 441
organizations—the C.D. Howe Institute and the Business Coun-
cil of Canada (and secondarily, Ottawa-based Conference Board of
Canada and Smart Prosperity). This subgroup is also highly cohesive
(with a mean degree of 2.10) and relatively introverted, but within
it we find the most extensive basis for cross-regional elite integra-
tion. Its members include 15 corporations, some of them among the
largest in the carbon-extractive sector (e.g., Shell Canada, CNRL,
Talisman Energy). As with the Alberta subgroup, members tend
to participate in the network’s soft core. Although research insti-
tutes have a minor presence, two postsecondary organizations are
quite central: University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, which
doubles as a neoliberal think tank (Gutstein 2014), and University
of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business (whose namesake,
Murray Edwards, sits on its Dean’s Advisory Council, on the boards
of two major carbon-capital firms he controls, and on the boards of
the C.D. Howe Institute and the Business Council of Canada).
rFinally, with 13 of 19 members based in British Columbia, subgroup
7 (upper right) is organized primarily around the Business Council of
British Columbia, which interlocks with 12 subgroup members and
accounts for half of this subgroup’s interlocks with the other three
relatively central subgroups. This configuration is less cohesive and
less introverted than the Alberta and C.D. Howe formations. Like
the Fraser Institute subgroup, only its most central node partic-
ipates in the soft core of 25. Comprised predominantly of CSOs,
including six corporate-advocacy groups and Vancouver-based Min-
ing Association of Canada (MAC), the subnetwork’s central firm is
mining giant Teck Resources (a major coal producer now investing
heavily in bitumen), two of whose directors also direct the MAC.
rAs an expression of carbon capital’s reach into civil society, the net-
work is organized both through the distinct functions of different
kinds of CSOs and through cross-regional interlocking. Industry
groups advance corporate interests and integrate the network on a
sectoral basis, largely within carbon capital’s Albertan heartland.
Key research institutes and postsecondaries form a carbon-centered
scientific-industrial complex within which technical knowledge can
be put into the service of accumulation, often under the cover of
“greening” carbon extraction. Business councils and think tanks are
crucial sites for the elite, and their many affiliations often cut across
the regions and subgroups, cementing a national influence network.
A NOTE ON THE ROLE OF FINANCIAL COMPANIES
Our focus in this article is on the network of elite influence reaching from
Canada’s carbon-extractive sector. Yet, within the broader economy, fossil
capital comprises a fraction linked to others through commodity chains
442 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
and elite relations. Space does not permit a full investigation, but the role
of one sector is worth exploring. Through its control of capital flows, the
financial sector serves as a crucial enabler of carbon-capital accumulation
and has become a lightning rod for the divestment movement (Alexan-
der, Nicholson, and Wiseman 2014). A recent study of the Royal Bank of
Canada’s directorate and financial relations with the carbon sector doc-
umented that Canada’s self-identified “leading energy bank” has “a very
close relationship with the fossil fuel industry and a strong vested interest
in its expansion” (Daub and Carroll 2016).
The question we explore here is whether and how leading financial
companies interlock with key organizations in the carbon-capital influ-
ence network. We selected the 15 largest Canada-based financial com-
panies (financial intermediaries and investment companies) according to
2014 revenue, and found that 12 of them participate in the carbon-capital
influence network. Combining these 12 leading financial companies with
the 12 largest carbon-capital firms that participate in the network’s dom-
inant component and the 19 most central CSOs in the component (each
with least seven interlocks with component members), we find that all but
two financials form a connected component with nine of the big carbon-
capital firms and all 19 of the CSOs, involving 72 interlocking directors
(see Figure 4).
Within this select grouping, eastern-based hegemonic institutions are
prominent. The Howe board brings together directors of 9 of 10 financial
institutions (including four RBC directors, three Scotiabank directors, two
BMO directors, and two directors of the Canada Pension Plan)—five of
which also interlock with the Business Council of Canada. Concurrently,
four major carbon-capital corporations interlock with Howe and/or Busi-
ness Council of Canada. The gravitational attraction of the Howe board
cannot be overstated: 21 of the 72 individuals in this core elite of top
carbon-capital, financial, and CSO directors are C.D. Howe directors. Sim-
ilarly, top executives from Cenovus, Shell Canada, and CNRL are all on
the Business Council of Canada. In the governance of these hegemonic
institutions of Canada’s capitalist class, bankers, financiers and carbon-
capitalists collaborate, developing consensus positions on strategy and
policy.
Besides these relations, mediated as they are by the hegemonic insti-
tutions, Figure 4 also depicts direct relationships between high finance and
big carbon. Former Nova Scotia Premier Frank McKenna directs CNRL as
well as Toronto-Dominion Bank and Brookfield Asset Management. Brian
M. Levitt, Chair of Toronto-Dominion, also directs Talisman Energy, and
Cenovus CEO, Brian C. Ferguson, joins Levitt on the TD board. Mean-
while, Scotiabank CEO Richard E. Waugh sits on the TransCanada board.
Of course, in focusing on only the top dozen financials and carbons, we
leave aside many other such relations, such as the RBC’s interlocks with
numerous smaller carbon-capital firms (see Daub and Carroll 2016).
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 443
Figure 4
Interlocks among Leading Financial Companies, Carbon-Sector Firms and CSOs [Color figure can be
viewed at wileyonlinelibrary.com]
444 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
Intriguingly, however, many organizations (positioned on the right-
hand side of the sociogram) have no elite ties to the country’s largest
financial corporations, nor to the hegemonic policy-planning/advocacy in-
stitutions. Indeed, the regional dimension is clear: much of the network is a
western-Canadian configuration of industry groups, research and postsec-
ondary institutions12 (comprising the scientific-industrial complex), and
carbon companies. For instance, Teck Resources interlocks with MAC,
BCBC, and the Fraser Institute, while Encana interlocks with BCBC and
CAPP (these two firms being the largest donors to BC Liberal Party; Gra-
ham, Daub, and Carroll 2017). Enbridge links into the eastern community
via CEO Al Monaco’s seat at Howe, but other Enbridge directors are affil-
iated with CanWest, Alberta Chamber of Resources, CEPA, AI EES, and
the U of C’s Board of Governors. This suggests a continuing structural ba-
sis for regional elite formation, even as an industrial-financial nexus inte-
grates carbon majors with eastern-based finance (9 of the 10 financials be-
ing Toronto- or Montreal-based) and national-level policy-planning. From
the Fraser Institute rightward in the sociogram, 17 of the 19 organizations
are western based.
CONCLUSION
In this article, we have mapped one vector of corporate influence based in
interlocking directorships. There are other vectors no less important (e.g.,
lobbying, funding relations, media messaging); thus our analysis offers
one vantage point on the architecture of stage 2 denialism. Moreover, our
mapping of network architecture does not trace the actual flow of discourse
in the network and into civil and political society. Future research could
beneficially employ more granular analysis of such flows, informed by our
mapping of architecture.
Our findings show a pervasive pattern of carbon-sector corporate in-
fluence, spanning across domains of civil society to form a single, connected
network. The largest fossil-fuel firms are particularly engaged, as are key
CSOs that produce and disseminate various kinds of knowledge—from the
strategic communications of industry groups and advocacy organizations,
through the policy analyses and prescriptions offered by think tanks, to the
academic knowledge produced within universities and research institutes.
The network offers pathways into the production of knowledge, culture
and identity, and opportunities to align carbon-capitalist interests with
discourses of national interest.
12. Our findings are consistent with research pointing to the regionalized character of “fossil knowledge,”
which tends to cluster in postsecondary institutions based in areas with high levels of carbon extractive
development (Gustafson 2012). However, observed regionalism may also reflect our prioritization of
western-based postsecondaries in the sample. More comprehensive research could reveal the full scope
of carbon-capital ties into postsecondary education.
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 445
Knowledge is power, as Francis Bacon observed. Carbon capital’s
reach into civil society and its knowledge-producing organizations projects
corporate power from the economic realm into the public sphere. Different
kinds of CSOs accomplish this in distinct ways, with implications for how
they are positioned in the elite network. Industry groups convene represen-
tatives from ostensibly competing firms within specific sectors to construct
a common sectoral interest, and to promote that interest through lobbying,
advertising, and other persuasive communications.13 Among the organiza-
tions we have studied here, the most central industry group, CAPP, is also
the most active federal lobbyist, with 1,015 meetings registered between
2011 and 2015.14 However, industry groups, including CAPP, tend not to
interlock with other CSOs: they integrate and mobilize the carbon-capital
elite within, not between, sectors.
Interlocks with other kinds of CSOs create pathways of influence
across sectors. Among corporate advocacy organizations, business coun-
cils (of Canada and of British Columbia) stand out as places where busi-
ness leaders, often active in other CSOs, collaborate in crafting a shared
agenda for big business.15 Their extensive affiliations convey the corpo-
rate world view to policy-planning groups, universities, and research in-
stitutes, but they also enable knowledge from the policy-planning and
academic/research sectors to be brought back to the business councils and
related advocacy platforms. The absence from the elite network (with the
exception of CAPP-funded Resource Works) of the more popular, grass-
roots advocacy groups is not surprising, given our focus on elite inter-
locking. This is not to say that Ethical Oil, Canada Action, and similar
astroturf groups are without importance in winning hearts and minds for
big carbon. They speak to different publics, in their own populist register.
It is no surprise that carbon-capital leaders participate extensively
in governing these CSOs. Industry associations and business-advocacy
CSOs are effectively part of the corporate sector; they form its political
arm, reaching immediately into civil society, and beyond—into the sites
and spaces where state governance occurs. As they create and circulate
policy briefs, media releases, and research reports, and as they lobby dif-
ferent levels of government and fund initiatives such as astroturf “citizen
groups,” these organizations shore up the case for “business as usual” in
13. As well as through funding other organizations, including political parties (see Graham et al. 2017).
14. Other industry groups are also active lobbyists. For example, the CGA (477) and CEPA (319) each
registered more than 250 meetings in the same period. Figures are based on authors’ calculations from
searches on the Federal Lobbyist Registry (https://lobbycanada.gc.ca).
15. This is not to say that all corporate interests are smoothly integrated into a homogeneous hegemonic
project. Indeed, as (Carroll and Shaw 2001) have shown, diversity in the organizational ecology of
corporate influence yields a richer discursive field than would a monocultural configuration—offering
possibilities for “nuanced debate and diverse action repertoires, all within the perimeters of permissible
neoliberal discourse” (p. 211).
446 CRS/RCS, 55.3 2018
very unusual times that beg for a robust policy response to the climate
crisis.
Strikingly, major policy-planning groups such as C.D. Howe Institute,
Fraser Institute, and Canada West Foundation are profusely interlocked
with carbon capital, but also with each other. Moreover, as the triple in-
terlock linking Fraser and the BCBC illustrates, think tanks also connect
across civil-society sectors. In the architecture of new denialism, think
tanks play a pivotal role. Beneath the veneer of objectivity, these groups
are in close communication with big carbon at the level of governance, but
also through committees (such as C.D. Howe’s Energy Policy Council) that
bring corporate representatives directly into agenda-setting. These think
tanks advocate greater efficiency in carbon extraction and consumption,
new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, and a rate of decar-
bonization so slow that it makes a mockery of the scale and urgency of the
problem. These are indeed the elements of new denialism.
In this new denialism “the fossil fuel industry and our political leaders
assure us that they understand and accept the scientific warnings about
climate change—but they are in denial about what this scientific reality
means for policy and/or continue to block progress in less visible ways”
(Klein and Daub 2016). Thus, as CAPP (2017) proclaims that “climate
change is an important global issue, requiring action across industries
and around the globe,” it continues, on behalf of its members, to advocate
expanded bitumen production and pipeline infrastructure. In effect, stage-
2 denial involves talking one way and walking in the opposite direction,
by obstructing the kinds of changes that could decarbonize our ecological
footprint in a timely manner, but that also threaten corporate profits and
control of economic decisions.
Our focus has been on architecture, not discourse. We find a pattern of
elite cohesion paired with exclusion of voices from other social sectors. Even
nonpartisan and ostensibly “neutral” policy-planning centers lack any rep-
resentation of civil society groups and NGOs.16 Voices urging caution or
alternatives to business-as-usual would disrupt the pro-business consen-
sus, which is a taken-for-granted element in the work of these think tanks.
The same pattern of elite cohesion and closure holds even in ar-
eas seemingly remote from the interests of carbon capital: the academic
and research sectors. Corporate reach into these sectors is both dif-
fused across many institutions and concentrated within an Alberta-based
carbon-centered scientific-industrial complex. This complex embodies the
close alignment of interests between carbon capital and academic/research
communities. Framed as benign initiatives to maintain an “edge” in
an increasingly competitive business environment, these ties blur the
16. A review of the primary positions held by the directors of C.D. Howe, Fraser, and Canada West found
no members from popular sector organizations such as unions, indigenous groups, or environmental
organizations.
Corporate Elite and the Architecture of Climate Change Denial 447
distinction between public and private interest, enabling big carbon to
reap both symbolic and material advantage.
Finally, elite links to finance and investment companies construct
a cross-regional bridge between western-based carbon extraction and
eastern-based finance. The directors of both fractions share space on the
boards of the major hegemonic institutions of the Canadian capitalist class.
In the architecture of stage 2 denialism, elite cohesion and closure
combine with a rich organizational ecology of corporate influence: industry
groups, think tanks, advocacy organizations, postsecondary institutions,
and research institutes occupy distinct niches in a field of carbon-capital
influence that also encompasses aligned sources of finance. As a hege-
monic structure, the varied practices and forms of knowledge comprising
such an organizational ecology offer the strategic advantage of diversity
(Carroll and Shaw 2001). Carbon capital speaks not through a megaphone,
but through many voices and from many sites beyond its base in capital
accumulation.
Our mapping of the new denialism’s architecture helps explain the
yawning chasm between scientific knowledge and political action. The
many threads of communication and collaboration via interlocking gover-
nance boards enable the carbon-capital elite to define, defend, and advance
its profit-driven concerns as “common sense,” in the “public interest.” What
obstructs serious action are corporate interests, expressed in part through
the intricate elite network that reaches from carbon-capital boardrooms
to civil society. Central to the new denialism is promotion of policies and
practices, convivial to profitable corporate revenue streams, which appear
to be credible responses to the scientific consensus—as in the promise to
phase out coal production by 2030 (while ramping up infrastructure and
carbon extraction overall).
Missing from the picture are voices championing the long-term inter-
ests of most Canadians, among them advocates for a healthy environment,
indigenous and labor rights, and other values integral to our collective
well-being.
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