Exposing the Networks of Climate Action Opposition, It’s Not Just Oil…


It comes as no surprise that coal companies, railroads and electrical utilities are the most numerous and influential members of the Climate Change Countermovement (CCCM). What’s less clear, is exactly who plays a role in opposing legislation that will address the climate crisis. For the first time, a Drexel University researcher has exposed the corporate membership of the twelve major coalitions opposing climate action in the United States.

A new study by Drexel environmental sociologist and Professor Emeritus Robert J. Brulle, PhD, shows the structure of key political coalitions that have worked to oppose climate action between 1989 and 2015. By analyzing the membership of these climate countermovement coalitions, Brulle found the CCCM had mounted a well-funded and organized effort to undermine public faith in climate science and effectively block action by the U.S. government to regulate emissions. The largest CCCM sectors are electrical utilities, coal companies and railroads, followed by conservative movement organizations.

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“This countermovement involves a large number of organizations, including conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, trade associations and conservative foundations with strong ties to sympathetic media outlets and conservative politicians,” said Brulle. “Together they can pool resources and execute sophisticated political and cultural campaigns to achieve their goals.”

What is the goal of the counter movement? To delay efforts that would address climate change.

An analysis of twelve prominent CCCM coalitions determined that over 2,000 organizations were members of these coalitions and that 179 organizations were representative of its core strength, belonging to multiple coalitions. Brulle provides an estimate of the relative influence and power of the specific organizations that make up the core 179 through a series of organizational metrics.

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The analysis shows a strong influence from several organizations in the Coal/Rail/Steel sector that include the National Mining Association, the Association of American Railroads, Norfolk Southern and Peabody Energy. Surprisingly, the electrical utility sector was also highly influential, with Edison Electric Institute, Southern Company and Detroit Edison notably participating within the network. Caterpillar, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau, the United Mine Workers, and the National Association of Manufacturers and the Conservative Movement organizations were found to be more peripheral within this network.

“The dramatic 1988 testimony of James Hansen established the reality and dangers of increased carbon emissions; followed by the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change set the stage for climate change politics,” said Brulle. “And as a result, we also saw the organization of the Climate Change Counter Movement, and it mobilized to map an entire political movement that was focused on debasing climate science and works to block climate action.

This analysis determines that the CCCM is embedded in a much larger political field that includes government agencies, the climate change movement, renewable energy sector organizations, labor organizations, the media and political parties.

Brulle hopes to use this field frame and network analysis to provide an initial description of the organizational structure of these coalitions and provide an empirical basis for further research into how these CCCM coalitions have influenced government policy towards climate change.

Read the full study, Networks of Opposition: A Structural Analysis of U.S. Climate Change Countermovement Coalitions 1989–2015 published in Sociological Inquiry.

Media interested in speaking to Brulle can contact Emily Storz at els332@drexel.edu or 215-895-2705. Brulle is also currently a visiting professor of Environment and Society at Brown University.

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