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Atmosphere, Economy, and Their Holistic Framings in the Twentieth Century and Beyond  

Robert Luke Naylor

Despite apocalyptic discourse surrounding climate change since the 1970s, climate and weather have a longer history of being conceptualized as useful entities in the Anglophone world. The adversities of the Great Depression and hopes for a better postwar future led to climate being designated as a limitless resource—an object integral to the national economy that organizations, most notably governments, could draw upon to operate more effectively, especially against adversity. With a resurgence of neo-Malthusian perspectives in the 1970s, fears over resource scarcity reframed atmospheric resources as being strictly limited, and the concurrent rise of environmentalism challenged the idea that the atmosphere should be seen as a useful entity for industry. Instead, the economy–atmosphere relationship increasingly began to be framed through climate impact assessments, which analyzed the ability of climatic changes to perturb human systems. In addition, economic fragmentation, marketization, and privatization challenged the concept of national resources, meaning that by the end of the 1980s, the idea of the atmospheric resource had fallen from vogue. In the context of such marketization, the meteorological applications industry experienced rapid growth, leading some to advocate seeing the sector as a weather forecasting enterprise to encourage a renewed integrated perspective on weather impacts, forecasts, and policy. In contrast, in 2015, scholars identified how climate change has been reconstructed as a market transition by political and business elites, as climate change came to be seen as a market opportunity that was disconnected from goings-on in the material atmosphere. This disconnection can be seen as the culmination of a long process of conceptually disintegrating economy from the material atmosphere that began with the dismantling of the atmospheric resource concept.


Climate Change and Corporate Strategies  

Christopher Wright, Daniel Nyberg, and Vanessa Bowden

Corporations play a central role in the political economy of climate change. Since the Industrial Revolution, corporations have been the major producers of carbon emissions. More specifically, companies within the fossil-fuel sector have over time hampered action and legislation to mitigate climate change. Through public relations and corporate political activities, the fossil-fuel sector has implemented strategies to deny the science of climate change and delay urgent action to mitigate its worst effects. However, national governments and international organizations also turn to corporations for innovative solutions to address a worsening climate crisis, and in recent years many corporations have engaged with this issue to a greater degree, emphasizing strategic concern for climate change in terms of risk and opportunity. Key examples include companies developing “green” technologies and products, eco-efficiency initiatives, the uptake of renewable energy, and an increased awareness of the physical risk of climate-induced extreme weather events threatening operations and infrastructure. This has included corporate commitments to “net-zero” emissions by, for example, 2050. However, the long-term timeframes and lack of detail of these commitments indicate that this strategy is foremost geared toward delaying a transition to alternative economic organizations that are better equipped to deal with decarbonization. These corporate commitments to future change constitute a form of “predatory delay” in defending current practice and appealing to the idea that systemic government intervention is not needed. Overall, corporations have promoted the idea that climate change as a problem of excessive consumption can be solved by further consumption, albeit framed within the innovative capacities of “greener” business and technological innovation.