This post is provided by our regular guest blogger Elke Schüßler. Elke Schüßler is Assistant Professor of Organization Theory at the Management Departement at Freie Universität Berlin.

Daniel Henninger (Foto: Dow Jones Events, CC-BY-ND)

Daniel Henninger (Foto: DJEvents, CC-BY-ND)

Yesterday, the article „Why Can’t the Left Govern?“ written by Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and a former Pulitzer Price finalist, made it to the Wall Street Journal’s most popular article within a few hours. At the time of writing this post, the article received over 1000 comments.

I would not have stumbled across this piece of journalism had it not been based on a study by Charles-Clemens Rüling, Bettina Wittneben and myself recently published in the Academy of Management Journal on the problems of UN climate conferences in advancing transnational climate change policy. In an adventurous logical jump, Henninger links our analysis of the field maintenance mechanisms that have eaten their way into the transnational climate policy process to a worldwide crisis of the Left generally and US president Obama’s reform of the US healthcare system through what is known as „Obamacare“ specifically.

While indeed the reform of the US healthcare system has been a daunting struggle for almost a century and, as such, may exhibit some parallels to the task of mitigating climate change, there are several reasons for considering this jump as adventurous.

Most importantly, our analysis does not in any way systematically account for the role of politicians from the Right and Left in blocking progress in transnational climate policy making. We look at representatives of different countries, negotiation leaders, and different civil society groups in trying to paint a nuanced picture of the interaction dynamics unfolding during climate conferences over time. Clearly, politicians from both ends of the political spectrum have been involved in the climate negotiations since their start. In fact, the UN climate treaty was first conceived of and signed by George H. W. Bush in 1992. Henninger concludes, however, that slow progress is a problem only of the Left, including a „galaxy of well-financed nongovernmental organizations“ representing environmentalists, trade unionists, indigenous people, or gender activists. This does not recognize that a large number of corporate employees representing, for instance, oil companies or carbon trading consultancies are also among those „well-financed“ organizations – actors typically more associated with the political Right.

Additionally, climate change – at least the policy process we have analyzed – is a transnational problem, whereas the US healthcare reform is a deeply national issue. Human-made climate change is probably the most complex problem the world’s societies have had to solve, because it requires that millions of organizations and individuals change their production and consumption patterns for a threat that, for most, lies largely in the future. Uncountable factors, of which our study only highlights a few, contribute to making progress in this effort difficult. In our paper, we refrain from blaming one political side or even single politicians for the negotiation stalemate, because it would not do justice to the complexities at hand. All the while, from the perspective of millions of previously uninsured Americans Obamacare is exactly the kind of breakthrough that is missing in climate change policy.

What can happen if the American public picks up on climate-related research has been well-documented by Andy Hoffman, Professor of Management & Organizations at the University of Michigan, who has had to face hate mail and death threats upon being featured in the news with his research. This not only highlights some of the problems that researchers aiming for „relevance“ may have to learn to deal with, but calls for a deeper consideration of the role of emotions and ideology in transnational governance processes.