6 Fossil Capital’s Reach into Civil SocietyThe Architecture of Climate Change Denialism
William K. Carroll, Nicolas Graham, Michael Lang, Kevin McCartney, and Zoë Yunker
As chapters 4 and 5 of this volume document, the interlocking networks of fossil-capital elite concentrate an enormous amount of economic power in the hands of an integrated corporate community that includes major shareholders, CEOs, and financial institutions. This elite is linked to wider national and transnational corporate networks through interlocking directorates and intercorporate ownership. Yet these networks do not end at the border between economy and society. A raft of Canadian investigations, many inspired 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 centre of a robust democracy is an ongoing public conversation in which everyone with a stake in an issue has a say. As it reaches into the public sphere, concentrated corporate power distorts this conversation, privileging the interests and perspectives of those who own and control capital.
Corporate influence is, at its core, geared toward protecting investments and profit streams, opening new fields for investment, and minimizing intrusions into profit, such as taxes, regulations, and unions. This entails different initiatives in different contexts, from tactical manoeuvres designed to secure a specific objective (such as the green light for a new pipeline project) to the long game of cultivating a pro-business political and popular culture.
Our focus is on the fossil-capital sector of corporate capital and its interlocks with governance boards of civil society organizations (CSOs). Civil society constitutes a diverse but distinct sphere of action situated between economy and state (Urry 1981), comprising think tanks, lobby groups, political parties, charitable organizations, community and voluntary associations, families and households, and educational and religious institutions, among other groups. The CSOs of interest here produce and mobilize knowledge relevant in some way to the fossil-capital sector. Interlocking between company directorates and these CSOs creates pathways through which corporate perspectives, priorities, and strategies penetrate into civic life. The network enables the fossil-capital elite, a fraction of the broader corporate community, to exert influence by participating in the governance of institutions that are often assumed to be independent of big business.
As the climate crisis deepens, fossil capital’s accumulation strategy demands deft ideological legitimation. With major stakes in continuing carbon extraction, fossil-capital corporations form part of a “denial regime,” along with political allies that promote and implement convivial policies, and an ideological apparatus of think tanks, funded to some extent by the fossil-capital sector itself (Derber 2010, 75). As the scientific consensus on global warming has become uncontestable, climate-change denial on the part of fossil-capital corporations has evolved from the hard denialism of “stage 1” to a more insidious “stage 2,” signalling “a basic change in the ideology and tactics of the denial 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 technology, and incremental change inadequate to the scale and urgency of the problem (Derber 2010, 82–83). In tracing fossil-capital’s reach into civil society, we aim to reveal the architecture of a stage 2 denial regime.
Sample and Data
Our research maps the network composed of fossil-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 centred in fossil fuel production 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 least $50 million in assets.1 With respect to the CSOs, no 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 sampling strategy. In selecting 112 organizations for this category, we compiled a judgment sample of key agencies within three sectors of civil society that have strategic value for carbon-extractive corporate business. Each sector 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 fossil-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 society. In decreasing order of their direct alignment with corporate capital, the sectors are shown in table 6.1.
Overall sample (A)
Network participant (B)
In dominant component
1. Fossil-capital firms
2a. Industry associations
2b. Advocacy organizations
3. Think tanks
4a. Universities and other post-secondary institutions
4b. Research institutes
First in order of alignment are organizations that define and advance corporate interests, 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: industry associations, which seek to further the interests of specific industries, and business advocacy organizations, which construct and advocate 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, and so on.
No single industry association represents the entire fossil-capital sector, although the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP, whose remit includes natural gas) comes closest. In all, our sample includes twenty-one such groups (see table 6.1). Sectoral industry associations provide space for fractional interests within the broad fossil-capital sector to define issues of shared importance and to organize strategies for advancing the interests of the sector as a whole. On specific issues, however, the immediate interests of one fraction (coal, for example) may conflict with those of another (such as LNG, which is typically promoted as a transition 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 (including, for example, bankers or manufacturers) might rub shoulders with the fossil-capital elite. Such contacts provide opportunities for blending the specific, fractional interests of fossil capital within a broader corporate agenda. Most influential in this regard has been the Business Council of Canada, which since the 1980s has significantly shaped neoliberal policy at the federal level (Dobbin 1998; Langille 1987). Indeed, as Jamie Brownlee (2005, 81) rightly observes, the Business Council of Canada “may be unique in the developed world in terms of its capacity to dominate political life.”
In all, seventeen business advocacy groups were selected. They may be further divided into ten elite advocacy groups (councils and chambers of commerce directed by top business leaders) and seven “grassroots” business advocacy 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 to the corporate network but may be funded by corporate capital, as sympathetic voices apparently situated at arm’s length.2 Advocacy groups such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Ethical Oil, and the Alberta Prosperity Fund are less about creating an elite consensus and more about promulgating to popular audiences what has been called the “corporate agenda” of neoliberal capitalism (Beder 2006), particularly as it applies to the fossil-capital sector. More astroturf than grassroots, these groups present themselves as citizens’ initiatives from below, circumventing business-council elitism yet delivering similar messages to general publics and to a pro-business popular base.
A second kind of civil society organization consists of the think tank. Although formally autonomous from the corporate sector, these groups are often funded by large corporations and governed by their CEOs (Brownlee 2005). In contrast to industry associations and business advocacy organizations, think tanks are staffed chiefly by professional researchers and analysts and are generally more outward facing, aiming to reach a broader public audience. Rather than focus explicitly on defining and defending business interests, they seek instead to produce evidence-based commentary and analysis from a standpoint compatible with business interests. Think tanks are typically non-profit organizations, and, as Brownlee (2005, 95) notes, present themselves as “educational organizations, committed to increased public awareness about policy issues.” 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 other forums.
We selected twelve think tanks for this segment of the CSO sample. Since our interest is in mapping the interface between fossil capital and civil society, we chose groups in the centre or on the right of the political spectrum and excluded organizations critical of big business, such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Five of the groups—the C. D. Howe Institute, the Conference Board of Canada, the Fraser Institute, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy—have a high profile as commentators on national issues, while others have a regional focus. With the exception of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, we selected groups oriented toward western Canada (for example, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the Canada West Foundation, and the Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping). Eight of the twelve groups are members of the Atlas Network of nearly five hundred neoliberal think tanks worldwide.
Finally, universities and research institutes (with most of the latter hosted within universities) constitute a key sector in civil society. They produce both knowledge and knowledgeable people. They help to maintain and renew a liberal political culture and produce a technically proficient workforce while contributing scientific and technical advances relevant to corporations and government. These organizations operate as non-profits at arm’s length from government and, in that sense, form part of civil society. In principle, universities and research institutes are autonomous from business, and their public-service mission may conflict with corporate priorities. In practice, however, they have become increasingly aligned with business interests, through processes of corporatization in which “the public interest—once defined as shielding public entities from the market—is assumed to be enhanced by embracing commercial values and practices” (Brownlee 2015, 27). Paralleling this shift has been a dramatic decline in government funding to universities, whose status as autonomous public institutions increasingly seems more nominal than real.3 Our sample includes forty-six post-secondary institutions and nineteen research institutes.
Since the fossil-capital sector is centred in Canada’s three westernmost provinces, we weighted our sample accordingly, selecting ten universities and four polytechnical schools located in those provinces. As corporate interests are particularly engaged with sectors of post-secondary education that contribute directly to the world of business, we also included seven business schools based in western Canada, as well as 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 to the corporate elite.4 The other twenty-six post-secondary institutions in our sample include all the research and comprehensive universities based elsewhere in the country that appeared in the latest Maclean’s magazine rankings (Schwartz 2015). As for research institutes, our concern with the fossil-capital sector directed us to fourteen 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.5 Most of these institutes are based in Calgary (n = 5), Edmonton (n = 5), or other western Canadian cities (n = 4), but two are in Ottawa.
We gathered data on the names of the directors or governors of the 112 CSOs and the directors and top executives of the 238 fossil-capital corporations.6 Sources for the latter included online business databases (ORBIS and FP Infomart) and company websites. Sources for the former were mainly organization websites 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.
Table 6.1 indicates how many organizations participate in the network formed by fossil capital and civil society. As the table shows, approximately one-third (81) of the 238 fossil-capital corporations interlock with one or more of the civil society organizations, whereas two-thirds of the CSOs participate in the network. Rates of participation (column “B/A”) are particularly high among think tanks. Within the advocacy groups, the business councils tend to participate in the network (seven of ten) while the astroturf groups are less likely to have elite-level ties to fossil-capital firms (three of seven). Among the fossil-capital firms, directors of the fifteen largest tend to serve on civil society boards (eleven of fifteen), whereas relatively few boards of smaller companies interlock with CSOs (70 of 223).
Our network analysis is restricted to the 153 organizations and 173 individual “networkers” whose multiple affiliations create the fossil-capital/civil society network. Since we are particularly interested in mapping the CSO network, we include the 108 directors/executives of fossil-capital firms with any CSO affiliations, plus 65 individuals who do not direct fossil-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 6.1 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. Considerable variation exists in the volume of interlocking within and across sectors. As shown in chapter 5, the fossil-capital sector is tightly integrated (in this instance, its eighty-one companies are linked via 112 interlocking directorates), yet advocacy groups do not share directors. Cross-sectorally, the corporations are especially closely linked to the think tanks (40 ties). The think tanks also interlock extensively with advocacy groups and universities and with one another. Interlocking between corporate directorates and universities (28 ties), advocacy groups (22 ties), and industry associations (20 ties) is also noteworthy, as are the twelve interlocks between universities and think tanks and the fourteen corporate representatives on the boards of research institutes.
The traffic in interlocking reveals an elite network in which directors of fossil-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; however, the extensive reach into policy planning and higher education/research shows that directors of fossil-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 disjointed networks. In the rightmost column of table 6.1, we indicate membership in the dominant component—the largest connected network. All but eighteen of the 153 organizations belong to the component. However, some are especially well connected. For instance, the four most interlocked organizations—the C. D. Howe Institute (with 22 interlocks), the Business Council of British Columbia (BC_BUSINESSC, with 19), CAPP (with 19), and the Business Council 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, thirty-one 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 one another. A coreness partitioning of the dominant component identifies a core of 25 and periphery of 110.7 With 150 interlocks, the core has a density of 0.250. The periphery contains 198 interlocks (density = 0.017). Core and periphery are linked by 109 interlocks, at a density of 0.040. Relative to 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 6.2 we glimpse some of the architecture of fossil-capital influence, as corporate directorates interlock with CSOs that produce business-friendly knowledge mobilized across the public sphere. The core includes seven fossil-capital corporations, two industry groups, three advocacy groups, four think tanks, five post-secondary institutions, and four research institutes. Canada’s biggest corporate-funded think tank, C. D. Howe, is most prominent, interlocked with twelve core organizations, including all but one of the fossil-capital firms. The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA), an industry group, interlocks with nine organizations, most of which are not linked to Howe. On the right-hand side of the figure, one can see an intermingling of the academic and research sector and fossil-capital directors. Two research institutes—the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) and Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC)—and the University of Calgary’s Board of Governors (UOFC) interlock with one another and with CEPA. Alberta Innovates—Energy and Environment Solutions (AI_EES) interlocks with CCEMC and SDTC as well as with Enbridge. For their part, the Fraser and Howe Institutes also interlock with two key schools at the University of Calgary (the School of Public Policy [UOFC_SPP] and the Haskayne School of Business [HASKAYNE_SB], respectively), and they share multiple directors with the main business councils (of BC and Canada, respectively). In some cases the interlocking is intense; for instance, the Fraser Institute and Business Council of British Columbia (BCBC) share three directors. Major corporations also bridge civil society sectors. The Enbridge group, for example, interlocks not only with three university boards and AI_EES but also 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 fossil-capital players collaborate with one another and with other elites in the governance of CSOs.
Social Circles and Elite Cohesion
Figure 6.2 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 (a corporation and an industry group, for instance).
Table 6.2 reveals that, among the 153 organizations that participate in board interlocks, industry groups and post-secondary institutions maintain relatively homogeneous social circles while elite advocacy groups, think tanks, and research institutes have relatively diverse contacts.8 Further analysis shows that fifty-eight organizations, including eighteen universities and five industry groups, have completely homogeneous social circles. The eighteen universities 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 homogeneous social circles tend to be relatively central in the network (mean degree = 7.00). Most significantly, CAPP, whose eighteen interlocks all link to fossil-capital firms, is the second most central organization in the entire network yet is excluded from the core because 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 specific subsectors. Their mission to represent functional segments of fossil 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 contrast, 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 intra-sectoral integration is evident in the group differences in social-circle heterogeneity.9
Subgroups in the Network
Given that the core-periphery distinction is only one means of analyzing a network’s structure, we explored the possibility of distinguishing other subgroups in the network’s dominant component. Girvan and Newman (2002) present an elegant algorithm designed to identify relatively cohesive communities “in which network nodes are joined together in tightly knit groups, between which there are only looser connections” (7821). Applied iteratively, their approach successively partitions a network into mutually exclusive groups. When the dominant component of the network is decomposed in this stepwise way, the first three rounds of partitioning identify sociometric “stars” that cohere around leading industry associations: (1) the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (the EPAC subgroup), (2) the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors and the Petroleum Services Association of Canada (the CAODC/PSAC subgroup), and (3) the CAPP subgroup (see table 6.3, rows 1–3). Each of these otherwise sparsely linked “star” formations is held together by the central industry association, which serves as the point of connection for the other members of the subgroup: executives from various fossil fuel companies all sit on the association’s board, but they do not sit on one another’s boards. These initial rounds of partitioning underline the sector-specific function of industry groups and cleave thirty organizations from the component.
Subsequent partitioning of the remaining 105 organizations yields four subgroups (see table 6.3, rows 4–7). With the exception of group 5, each subgroup is organized to some extent around one highly central organization and is named accordingly. All seven clusters are highly regionalized. The latter four subgroups, which consist of relatively densely connected organizations, are concentrated in three provinces, with a strong bias toward Alberta, while the three industry-group stars (rows 1–3), which are least integrated into the dominant component, are entirely Alberta-based.10 This seven-group configuration reflects the overall network structure well: 83 percent of all interlocks occur within the subgroups, yielding an E-I score of –0.661.11 The three industry-group stars are especially introverted; in these subgroups, the mean degree of interlocking (that is, the number of interlocks) approaches 1, signalling that without the central node they would not exist.
It is illuminating to profile each of the relatively central subgroups (numbered 4–7 in table 6.3), which are mapped in figure 6.3 (with members of the soft core of 25 organizations represented as circles).12
N in subgroup
N based in BC/AB/ON
N of members in core
1. EPAC star
0 / 7 / 0
2. CAODC/PSAC star
0 / 6 / 0
3. CAPP star
0 / 17 / 0
4. Fraser Institute subgroup
1 / 9 / 2
5. Alberta subgroup
2 / 31 / 5
6. C. D. Howe Institute subgroup
0 / 22b / 8
7. Business Council of BC subgroup
11 / 2 / 5
14 / 94c / 20
a Among members of the subgroup.
b Includes four organizations based in Saskatchewan.
c Calculated on the basis of all possible relations within the seven groups.
- The fourteen-member Fraser Institute cluster (upper left in figure 6.3) is least integrated and most extraverted of the four central subgroups. With nine of its fourteen members based in Alberta, it includes six fossil-capital firms (five of them interlocked with Fraser), three other think tanks (two of them interlocked with Fraser), three post-secondary institutions, and the Ottawa-based Canadian Foundation for Innovation. The Fraser Institute figures prominently not only in the ties that bind this subgroup together but in the extraverted ties to other subgroups. It participates in seven of the twelve out-group interlocks and shares multiple directors with two BC-based organizations in subgroup 7. Fraser is the only member of this subgroup that participates in the soft core of 25 (see figure 6.2), underlining again the institute’s importance to elite cohesion.
- In contrast, organizations in the forty-one-member Alberta-centred subgroup (lower right), the most introverted of the four central subgroups, are extensively interlocked with one another, and no one node pulls the configuration together. Compared with other relatively central subgroups, this one is built less around business councils and think tanks: the network consists of twenty-two fossil-capital firms (nineteen of them based in Alberta), five industry associations, six research institutes, and six post-secondary institutions. Although the Calgary-based Canada West Foundation interlocks with other think tanks and with corporate-advocacy groups in the other subgroups. Eastern-based organizations—two corporate firms (Valener and Fortis), two universities (York and Windsor), and a research institute (Sustainable Development Technology Canada)—are marginal within this subgroup, three-quarters of whose members are based in Alberta. The close links between industry (and industry groups), research institutes, and three key academic institutions (the University of Calgary and the schools of business at Calgary and at the University of Alberta) point to what we have elsewhere termed a carbon-centred scientific-industrial complex, embodying a close alignment of interests between fossil capital and academic/research communities that enables big carbon “to draw on the veneer of academic prestige provided by its ties to higher education, polishing its reputation by employing the language of scientific validation, while cultivating a policy environment favourable to extractive interests” (Carroll, Graham, and Yunker 2018, 59).
- With thirteen of thirty-one members based outside Alberta, subgroup 6 (lower left) is the least provincially centred and more hooked into the national corporate community by virtue of two Ontario-based hegemonic organizations—the C. D. Howe Institute and the Business Council of Canada—and, secondarily, by two Ottawa-based think tanks, the Conference Board of Canada and the Smart Prosperity Institute. 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 integration. Its members include fifteen corporations, some of them among the largest in the carbon-extractive sector (for example, Shell Canada, CNRL, Talisman Energy). As with the Alberta subgroup, members tend to participate in the network’s soft core. Although research institutes have a minor presence, two post-secondary 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, N. Murray Edwards, sits on its Dean’s Advisory Council and on the boards of two major fossil-capital firms he controls (CNRL and Ensign Energy) and was, at the time our data were gathered, also on the boards of the C. D. Howe Institute and the Business Council of Canada.
- Finally, with thirteen of nineteen members based in British Columbia, subgroup 7 (upper right) is organized primarily around the Business Council of British Columbia, which interlocks with twelve 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 the C. D. Howe formations. Like the Fraser Institute subgroup, only its most central node participates in the soft core of twenty-five. Composed predominantly of CSOs, including six corporate-advocacy groups and the Vancouver-based Mining Association of Canada (MAC), the subgroup’s central firm is mining giant Teck Resources (a major coal producer also invested in bitumen), two of whose directors also direct the MAC.
As an expression of fossil capital’s reach into civil society, the network is organized through both the distinct functions of different kinds of CSOs and cross-regional interlocking. Industry groups advance corporate interests and integrate the network on a sectoral basis, largely within fossil capital’s Albertan heartland. Key research institutes and post-secondary institutions form a carbon-centred 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 chapter is on the network of elite influence extending from Canada’s carbon-extractive sector. Yet within the broader economy, fossil capital comprises a fraction linked to others through commodity chains and elite relations. A full investigation would require another chapter, but the role of one sector is worth exploring here. Through its control of capital flows, the financial sector serves as a crucial enabler of fossil-capital accumulation and has become a lightning rod for the divestment movement (Alexander, Nicholson, and Wiseman 2014). A study of the Royal Bank of Canada’s directorate and financial relations with the carbon sector documented 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 fossil-capital influence network. We selected the fifteen largest Canada-based financial companies (financial intermediaries and investment companies) according to 2014 revenue, and we found that twelve of them participate in the fossil-capital influence network. Combining these twelve leading financial companies with the twelve largest fossil-capital firms that participate in the network’s dominant component and the nineteen most central CSOs in the component (each with least seven interlocks with component members), we also found that all but two financials form a connected component with nine of the big fossil-capital firms and all nineteen of the CSOs, involving seventy-two interlocking directors (see figure 6.4).
Within this select grouping, eastern-based hegemonic institutions are prominent. At the time we conducted our analysis, the Howe board brought together directors of nine out of ten financial institutions (including four directors of the Royal Bank of Canada, three Scotiabank directors, two Bank of Montreal directors, and two directors of the Canada Pension Plan)—five of which also interlocked with the Business Council of Canada. Concurrently, four major fossil-capital corporations interlocked with the C. D. Howe Institute and/or the Business Council of Canada. The gravitational attraction of the Howe board cannot be overstated: twenty-one of the seventy-two individuals in this core elite of top fossil-capital, financial, and CSO directors were C. D. Howe directors. Similarly, top executives from Cenovus, Shell Canada, and CNRL were all on the Business Council of Canada. In the governance of these hegemonic institutions of Canada’s capitalist class, bankers, financiers, and fossil capitalists collaborate, developing consensus positions on strategy and policy.
Besides these relations, mediated as they are by the hegemonic institutions, figure 6.4 also depicts direct relationships between high finance and big carbon. At the time, former Nova Scotia premier Frank McKenna directed CNRL as well as Toronto-Dominion Bank and Brookfield Asset Management. Brian M. Levitt, chair of Toronto-Dominion’s board, also directed Talisman Energy, and Cenovus CEO Brian C. Ferguson joined Levitt on the TD board. In addition, former Scotiabank CEO Richard E. Waugh sat on the board of TransCanada. 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 fossil-capital firms (see Daub and Carroll 2016).
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 think tanks and advocacy organizations. Indeed, the regional dimension is clear: much of the network is a western Canadian configuration of industry groups, research and post-secondary institutions (comprising the scientific-industrial complex), and carbon companies.13 For instance, as figure 6.4 shows, 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; Graham, Daub, and Carroll 2017). Enbridge links into the eastern community via CEO Al Monaco’s seat at the C. D. Howe Institute, but other Enbridge directors are affiliated with the Canada West Foundation, the Alberta Chamber of Resources, CEPA, AI_EES, and the U of C’s board of governors. This suggests a continuing structural basis for regional elite formation, even as an industrial-financial nexus integrates carbon majors with eastern-based finance (nine of the ten financials being based in Toronto or Montréal) and national-level policy planning. From the Fraser Institute rightward in the sociogram, seventeen of the nineteen organizations are based in western Canada.
In this chapter we have mapped one vector of corporate influence based in the interlocking of their directorates with the boards of CSOs. Other vectors, such as lobbying, funding relationships, and media messaging, are no less important, but our analysis offers one essential vantage point on the architecture of stage 2 denialism—that of elite leadership. Unlike many of the chapters to follow, our mapping of network architecture does not trace the actual flow of discourse in the network and into civil and political society. However, our findings reveal a pervasive pattern of corporate influence, 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 hegemonic pathways into the production of knowledge, culture, and identity and opportunities to align fossil-capitalist interests with discourses of national interest.
Knowledge is power, as Francis Bacon observed. Fossil capital’s reach into civil society and its knowledge-producing organizations project 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 representatives 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, as well as through funding other organizations, including political parties (see Graham, Daub, and Carroll 2017). Among the organizations we studied, the most central industry group, CAPP, was also the most active federal lobbyist, with 1,015 meetings registered between 2011 and 2015. The Canadian Gas Association was also fairly active, with 477 meetings in that period, as was CEPA (with 319 meetings), while yet other industry associations registered more than 250 meetings.14 However, industry groups, including CAPP, tend not to interlock with other CSOs: they integrate and mobilize the fossil-capital elite within, not between, sectors.
Interlocks with other kinds of CSOs create pathways of influence across sectors. Among corporate-advocacy organizations, business councils (of Canada and of British Columbia) stand out as places where business leaders, often active in other CSOs, collaborate in crafting a shared agenda for big business.15 Their extensive affiliations convey the corporate world view to think tanks, universities, and research institutes, but they also enable knowledge from the latter sectors to be brought back to the business councils and related advocacy platforms. The absence from the elite network (with the exception of Resource Works) of the more popular, grassroots advocacy groups is not surprising, given our focus on elite interlocking. 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 (see chapter 7). They speak to different publics, in their own populist register.
It is no surprise that fossil-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 different levels of government and fund initiatives such as astroturf “citizen groups,” these organizations shore up the case for “business-as-usual” in very unusual times that beg for a robust policy response to the climate crisis.
Strikingly, major think tanks such as the C. D. Howe Institute, Fraser Institute, and Canada West Foundation are profusely interlocked with fossil capital but also with one another. Moreover, as the triple interlock 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 decarbonization 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, even as CAPP (2019) proclaims that “climate change is a global issue, requiring action from individuals, governments, organizations and industries around the world,” 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 the nonpartisan and ostensibly neutral think tanks that claim to have the public interest at heart generally lack any representation from civil society groups whose values and priorities do not align with those of the relatively privileged. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a review of the primary positions held by members of the boards of directors at the C. D. Howe Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Canada West Foundation found no one from unions, environmental groups, or grassroots Indigenous organizations. Voices urging caution or alternatives to business-as-usual would disrupt the pro-business consensus that is a taken-for-granted element in the policy work of these think tanks.
The same pattern of elite cohesion and closure holds even in areas seemingly remote from the interests of fossil capital: the academic and research sectors. Corporate reach into these sectors is both diffused across many institutions and concentrated within an Alberta-based carbon-centred scientific-industrial complex. This complex embodies the close alignment of interests between fossil capital and academic and research communities. Framed as benign initiatives to maintain an “edge” in an increasingly competitive business environment, these ties blur the 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, post-secondary institutions, and research institutes occupy distinct niches in a field of fossil-capital influence that also encompasses aligned sources of finance. As a hegemonic structure, the varied practices and forms of knowledge comprising such an organizational ecology offer the strategic advantage of diversity (Carroll and Shaw 2001). Fossil 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 governance boards enable the fossil-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 fossil-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 interests of most Canadians, among them advocates for a healthy environment, Indigenous and labour rights, and other values integral to our collective well-being.
- 1. See chapter 5 for more details on how the sample of 238 fossil-capital firms was compiled.
- 2. For instance, Resource Works—an organization that claims to promote “responsible resource development” in British Columbia (see https://www.resourceworks.com/)—was initially funded by the Business Council of British Columbia and has the council’s CEO on its board, although 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 of commerce 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, the Fraser Institute, and the 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.
- 3. Although as recently as 1979 public funds made up 84 percent of the operating revenues of Canadian universities (Brownlee 2015, 41), by 2015 only 49 percent of funding came from public sources, with Canada ranking twenty-seventh among the thirty-three OECD countries reporting (CAUT 2019).
- 4. Our sample echoes emerging research indicating that business schools housed within major Canadian universities are leading the charge of academic corporatization (Alajoutsijārvi, Juusola, and Siltaoja 2015).
- 5. We identified these institutes through a review of existing literature (Adkin and Stares 2016; CAUT 2013) and by searching university websites. We included research centres that have their own advisory boards on which corporate directors and state managers are included (implying some level of university-industry-state research collaboration). Research parks, now a corporatizing feature of many universities, were not included, although future research could beneficially trace the linkages between these research parks and corporate capital.
- 6. A list of sample organizations and the abbreviations used in the sociograms is available from the first author upon request.
- 7. Network analyses were executed within UCINET (Borgatti 2002).
- 8. Analysis of variance shows that type of organization accounts for 11.1 percent of the variance in social-circle heterogeneity.
- 9. Interestingly, CEPA, an industry group, is in the core. Its past president and CEO Brenda Kenny, who earlier served with the National Energy Board, currently sits on the boards of directors at the Canada West Foundation and at SDTC and recently completed a six-year term on the University of Calgary Board of Governors. Another former board member, Ian Anderson, is president and CEO of the Trans Mountains Corporation (and past president of Kinder Morgan Canada) and serves on the board of the BCBC.
- 10. The contingency coefficient of 0.624 indicates a strong relationship between region and subgroup membership.
- 11. Krackhardt and Stern’s (1988) E-I index subtracts the proportion of “introverted” lines (linking members of subgroups with each other) from the proportion of “extraverted” lines that occur across subgroups. It varies from 1 (complete extraversion) to –1 (complete introversion).
- 12. Points in the sociogram are positioned in part on the basis of their subgroup membership, using the “scrunching” algorithm in NetDraw (Borgatti 2002).
- 13. Our findings are consistent with research pointing to the regionalized character of “fossil knowledge,” which tends to cluster in post-secondary institutions based in areas with high levels of carbon extractive development (Gustafson 2012). At the same time, the regionalism observed may also reflect our decision to weight our sample in favour of western-based post-secondary institutions. More comprehensive research of this sort could reveal the full scope of the interlocks between fossil capital with post-secondary education. See also chapter 10 in this volume for an analysis of the infiltration of fossil-capital into Alberta’s two major research universities and its influence on university priorities.
- 14. Figures for number of meetings were calculated from information found on the federal Registry of Lobbyists (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, 211) 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.”
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