Science or Science Fiction? Professionals? Discursive Construction of Climate Change

Source: Organizational Studies  man-made-global-warming-is-a-fraud-t-shirt

by Lianne M. Lefsrud and Renate E. Meyer


This paper examines the framings and identity work associated with professionals? discursive construction of climate change science, their legitimation of themselves as experts on ?the truth?, and their attitudes towards regulatory measures. Drawing from survey responses of 1077 professional engineers and geoscientists, we reconstruct their framings of the issue and knowledge claims to position themselves within their organizational and their professional institutions. In understanding the struggle over what constitutes and legitimizes expertise, we make apparent the heterogeneity of claims, legitimation strategies, and use of emotionality and metaphor. By linking notions of the science or science fiction of climate change to the assessment of the adequacy of global and local policies and of potential organizational responses, we contribute to the understanding of ?defensive institutional work? by professionals within petroleum companies, related industries, government regulators, and their professional association.


With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? (Inhofe, 2003)

Climate change profoundly challenges governmental, non-governmental and private organizations (Hoffman & Woody, 2008) by creating pressure for emission reduction goals and adaptation measures. Alongside these actions, the debate continues in some quarters as to the causes and consequences of global climate change ? and, more importantly, potential directions of public policies and organizational strategies. The United Nations? Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), representing the work of about 2,000 individuals, contends that recent global warming is a direct result of human activities for which we should mitigate the effects (IPCC, 2007a, 2007b). In contrast, ?climate sceptics? (as per Antonio & Brulle, 2011; Hamilton, 2010; Hoffman, 2011a, 2011b; Kahan, Jenkins-Smith & Braman, 2010; Levy & Rothenberg, 2002; McCright & Dunlap, 2000, 2011) have argued that the climate is changing due to natural causes and have countered with their own experts? reports.

This Senate report is not a ?list? of scientists [like that given by the IPCC; addition by authors], but a report that includes full biographies of ? distinguished scientists ? experts in..: climatology; geology; biology; glaciology; biogeography; meteorology; oceanography; economics; chemistry; mathematics; environmental sciences; astrophysics; engineering; physics and paleoclimatology. (US Senate, 2009, p. 7)

Indeed, while there is a broad consensus among climate scientists (IPCC, 2007a, 2007b), scepticism regarding anthropogenic climate change remains. The proportion of papers found in the ISI Web of Science database that explicitly endorsed anthropogenic climate change has fallen from 75% (for the period between 1993 and 2003) as of 2004 to 45% from 2004 to 2008, while outright disagreement has risen from 0% to 6% (Oreskes, 2004; Schulte, 2008). This drop in endorsement may be a manifestation of increasing taken-for-grantedness (e.g., Green, 2004) of anthropogenic climate science; the rise in disagreement may be a result of increased funding of sceptics by fossil fuel industries, conservative foundations and think tanks (McCright & Dunlap, 2010). Yet, apart from discussions among scientists, public concern over climate change is also waning in the US (Leiserowitz, Maibach & Roser-Renouf, 2008, 2010; Maibach, Leiserowitz, Roser-Renouf, & Mertz, 2011; Pew Research Center, 2009), the UK (Jowit, 2010), and Canada (Berry, Clarke, Pajot, Hutton, & Verret, 2009)

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