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Daily CSR
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Seemingly Lost Fossil Fuel Divestment Battle Of McKibben Changed The Ecology Of Climate Change Debate


A new study reveals the graph of public perception and disclosure on climate change issues being majorly affected by radical flank effects.

Dailycsr.com – 02 November 2017 – The Erb Institute’s Faculty, Andy Hoffman along with former “Erb Postdoc”, Todd Schifeling, conducted a new study called “Bill McKibben’s Influence on U.S. Climate Change Discourse: Shifting Field-Level Debates through Radical Flank Effects”, wherein they revealed that “McKibben's fossil fuel divestment effort to have positive, if unexpected results”.
The effort made by Bill McKibben for the universities to make a divestment in “fossil fuel assets” had “limited success”, as only some of the institutions “pledged to divest”, consequently the fossil fuel companies were left unaffected with their stock figures.
However, the new study of professor Andy Hoffman and Todd Schifeling, from “Fox School of Business” of Temple University showed that the McKibben led activism had a chance of success in “another way”. Analysing the data of media coverage on climate change “during the 350.org” brought forward the fact that the “public debate” was influenced.
As a result, marginal ideas hit the mainstream discussion thanks to the “radical flank effect”, which, as Ethical Performance informs, takes place “when there are two entrenched sides on an issue, the appearance of a new idea perceived as more extreme can move previously marginalized ideas to the center”. In the words Hoffman:
“A lot of people said that what McKibben did was a waste of time. But he had a tremendous effect on the climate change debate in this country and still does.”
The duo of “Hoffman and Schifeling” went through three hundred newspapers published between “2011 to 2015”, which included around “42,000 articles”. With the help of “text analysis”, both of them designed a “network map of key actors and issues” followed by a detailed study of the “changes” that occurred “over that time”.
According to their findings “certain liberal issues” hovering around the margin, especially on “a carbon tax, severe weather, and carbon pollution”, was pushed into the lime light of their network map over that period of time, as the issues were mentioned more in “mainstream press coverage”. Furthermore, the “scores on their scale for traditionally liberal climate change issues grew 97 percent on average”, while the score of carbon tax saw an average increment of 134 %.
When the idea of divestment was added into “a polarized debate”, the issue “drew greater attention to other liberal ideas”, while bringing into notice other “financially themed issues” like “stranded assets and unburnable carbon”. Even though, issues such as these come under “more radical ideas”, following the footstep of McKibben, they “adopted the language of financial risk”. Hoffman also added:
“When McKibben’s ideas were discussed in news outlets, it took these previously marginal issues and made them mainstream. Before that few journalists were writing about issues such as stranded assets or cap-and-trade. They had limited appeal. But the introduction of the divestment issue brought attention to these other economic policy instruments.”
These new findings point towards another success horizon, although activists considered McKibben’s battles as “uphill tasks”, they seem to have affected “public discourse and perception”. Hoffman said:
“We see that radical actors within a movement can shift the entire ecology of a debate, so I think we need to pay more attention to the indirect effects of these activists”.