Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 1337–1363 | Cite as

Elites, climate change and agency in a developing society: the Chilean case



Faced with global climate change, local elites are confronted with the main dilemma of a developing country: development requires economic growth, but this effort also requires consideration of environmental factors and sustainable patterns of production and consumption. Based on empirical evidence from qualitative research on businesses and political elites in Chile—a paradigmatic South American middle-income country—this paper explores the extent to which local elites are aware of the severity of challenges posed by global climate change and identify main climate change concerns in their discourse. The degree to which domestic elites are aware of the paradigm shift they must assume toward clean industrial production is a key issue of environmental governance that involves private non-governmental actors. This paper gives clues to a better understanding of what is happening with strategic actors in developing nations and their understanding of their decision-making capacity concerning environmental policy and investments for facing global climate change. The main conclusion of the research is that awareness of climate change in local elites’ discourse is relative. It is not accompanied by a full acceptance of their agency and is not leading to a paradigm shift toward a clean model of development because of domestic elites’ position within globalization processes.


Climate change Elites Environmental governance Sustainable development Agency Developing country 

1 Introduction

Environmental issues and climate change (CC) have gained relevance not only for developed countries, but especially for emerging developing countries (see IPCC 2007; UNDP 2007, 2011a; World Bank 2008, 2010a). They need to face the conflict between environmental policy adoption and economic development. Their road to industrialization and modernization requires a high level of energy consumption, but they still have to discuss and adopt emissions reduction policies (Nath and Behera 2011).

Within this context, local elites1 are confronted with the main dilemma of a developing country. The choice of a zero growth development model—an alternative often proposed to reduce overconsumption in highly developed countries—becomes a non-viable alternative as a result of the pressing urgency of overcoming poverty and inequality and improving quality of life. On the contrary, the fundamental option for economic growth that ignores environmental, sustainable and equitable patterns of production and consumption—or considers them only marginally—may inevitably lead to an environmental crisis (Netzer 2011; UNDP 2011a). To what extent are local businesses and political elites aware of the severity of this problem? What are their main concerns in trying to deal with it?

According to the science of CC (IPCC 2007; Samaniego 2009; CEPAL 2009; Parker 2010; AIDA 2011), the entire impact of global warming on rains and storms, drought and desertification, water resources, coasts, agriculture, health and ecosystems will more strongly affect the northern hemisphere. It is expected that in Latin America, many regions will be impacted, some of which are densely populated, and therefore will affect the economy and social life of all its inhabitants. Consequently, this environmental problem is already part of the national and international political agenda for this region.

Environmental governance that involves all stakeholders is required for adaptation and mitigation measures related to CC (Paavola 2007; Ford 2003; Bull 2010), and private sectors have gained a more prominent role (UNEP 2010; McCarthy 2004; Cashore 2002; Clapp 1998). In this context, it is important to understand what is happening nationally with strategic actors involved in environmental policy and investment decision making.

Leadership should be addressed in order to promote national policies to cope with CC. Among their key recommendations for improving capacity development, Baser and Morgan (2008) listed “finding, inducing, igniting and unleashing endogenous human energy and commitment” and “emphasizing the importance of effective leadership to help groups work together.” The critical role of national/local “champions” (Binger et al. 2002) to support and promote the cause of sustainable development must be considered.

Indeed, elite leadership is one of the most relevant aspects of environmental capacity to help face the challenges that CC poses for countries. As international organizations declare, environmental capacity goes beyond institutional arrangements to include other aspects of governance. For a country to achieve its environmental sustainability goals, it needs individuals who are competent and motivated to work within effective organizations; this includes government institutions, civil society, communities and private sector organizations (UNDP 2011b).

2 Objectives and context of the study

We conducted qualitative research in a middle-income country (Chile, in this case), to observe environmental and ecological attitudes and options of political, economic and social elites faced with environmental challenges, specifically related to CC.

Chile is located in the Southern Cone of the Americas, occupying a long, narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Andes mountains to the East. Due to its distinctive shape—4,300 km (2,700 mi) long and on average 175 km (109 mi) wide—it comprises a wide range of weather conditions across its 38° in latitude.2

According to international (IPCC 2007) and national studies (CONAMA 2006, 2008), CC will affect Chile mainly by a decline in rainfall in the South and dry areas of northern and central regions. Consequently, this will lead to salinization and desertification of farmland, thus provoking displacement of agricultural areas to the South, influencing agricultural exports and decreasing productivity of several regions. The melting of glaciers (particularly extensive in southern Chile) and the scarcity of water resources in the northern and central regions will affect large cities and the mining, agriculture and energy sectors.3

Since Chile is a developing country with strong economic and political performance over the past 20 years, the case is appealing despite the persistence of inequalities and social problems in the periphery of the world system. It should also be noted that the Chilean economy produces a small carbon footprint on the global scale.4 It is an export-oriented economy based mainly on the mining industry. By promoting an increase in rapid economic growth, it encourages investment measures, which are rapidly increasing the current per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.5

Over the decades, the relative success of the Chilean economy has been driven by a neoliberal development model, including some social policies with varying degrees of success. While major development challenges, including poverty and environmental issues, have been addressed, inequality has not necessarily been among them.

The Chilean state has had a secondary role in environmental policies because of its neoliberal orientation. Governments of the region that try to develop a different orientation—new left or populist regimes—have given little attention to environmental concerns in both the formulation and implementation of policies to help revitalize and increase the production of commodities, as in the Chilean case (Bull and Sundt Næsse 2012).

Nevertheless, the environmental policies in Chile are long standing and have increased over the years due to the creation of a Ministry of the Environment. Environmental legislation requires all new major projects and investments to undertake environmental impact assessment (EIA). There is also a Climate Change Committee and a National Plan for Mitigation and Adaptation, which includes the active participation of Chile in international agreements, including the clean development mechanism (Kyoto Protocol and others). However, in terms of environmental measures, mechanisms and insufficient resources, the results are weak.

Since energy is a first-order problem in Chile—given its highly polluting energy matrix—policies promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy are fundamental. These goals have become imperative since Chile joined the OECD in 2010.

Given this context, the main goal of our research was to observe and analyze the degree to which domestic elites are aware of the paradigmatic change they must introduce to promote clean industrial production and new development models that effectively reduce carbon footprints. Our research hypothesized that, despite having a high level of education, local business elites have little awareness of the seriousness of the global CC challenge. On the contrary, local political authorities are very much aware of the issue; however, they often are caught in short-term political priorities.

Additionally, we hypothesized that, although the visibility of the impact of CC has generated a growing “environmental awareness,”6 for Chilean domestic elites this awareness is relative. It is not accompanied by their full assumption that they have the agency7 to shift toward a cleaner energy production and a sustainable development model.

3 Local elites and the issue of climate change: theoretical framework

3.1 Existing literature on elites and climate change

While elites and the environment have been studied in Latin America, almost no studies can be found regarding elites and CC. The role of elites in implementing environmental policies from the 1970s onward has been significant in Latin America. However, it has been a question of national level environment policies, which are inspired by elites tied to global processes and initiatives abroad, specifically academic or intellectual elites8 tied to international organizations or to intellectual international currents (Mumme, et al. 1988; Ferreira da Costa 2011). Even the processes of democratization that has increased these environmental policies have been criticized for being dominated by elite interests and lacking inclusive decision-making mechanisms (Bull and Sundt Næsse 2012).

There have been studies on how major variables affect the way in which elites perceive the environment. Among these variables are cultural worldviews (not western culture as in the Indian case studied by Peritore 1993), the particular local history (in the Japanese case the nuclear agenda, DeWit and Tetsunari 2011) and poverty and underdevelopment (as in Sub-Saharan Africa, Korveboja 1993).

Moreover, other authors have researched how the local environmental situation affects the pro-environment attitudes of the local inhabitants. Inglehart (1995) has shown that for people in developing nations, the “objective conditions” of environmental degradation generate attitudes of concern for the environment. In contrast, for industrialized nations, it is rather the adherence to a set of values (called post-materialists by the author) which determines a pro-environmentalist position.

Mohai et al. (2010) have tested how the local environmental context of the neighborhood or how people live influences their positions on the environment. Likewise, in reference to Chinese bureaucratic elites, Tong (2007) studied how elites in more polluted cities are more concerned about environmental protection than those in less polluted cities.

One of the few relevant studies on the elite’s representations of the environment in Latin America is the 1997 Bolivian elite research. This indicated that rapid economic growth constitutes a major normative goal for most elites, irrespective of political ideologies and interests. More importantly, at that time, there seemed to be a broad consensus that development efforts should have an absolute priority over environmental considerations9 (Mansilla and Collo 1997). Besides research by Fernando Estenssoro (2008) on ideology and environment in the recent history of Chile, which indirectly examines elite attitudes, recent studies on elites in Chile aim mostly at governmental elites. Most of them are centered on technocratic ruling elites that have influenced democratic politics in the last 20 years (Joignant and Guell 2011). To our knowledge, no previous study has addressed the construction of the elite’s views on CC and the role of agency in regard to the elite’s attitudes toward CC.

3.2 Definitions and theoretical relationships: “environment,” “climate change,” “environmental governance” and “elites”

Despite being closely linked in appearance, environment and climate change must be clearly distinguished in conceptual terms. Generally speaking, environmental opinions mainly refer to pollution, conservation and/or natural resources. CC is usually defined as a phenomenon that is due to the elevation of the average temperature of the earth, modifying the weather on the planet within all geographical areas (differentially) and having a considerable impact on different dimensions.

Above all, what is important for our study is that CC is—as commonly understood—a planetary and long-term phenomenon. The environment is related to a set of immediate and local impacts such as air pollution, toxic waste, radioactive pollution, evident environmental degradation, etc.

A main difference in the discursive construction of these “objects” is relative to human action: the environment is capable of being generally understood by the public; it can be planned, controlled, managed and mitigated. On the other hand, CC is more uncertain. It is a slow and imperceptible consequence of a set of climate variables—that transcend national/local borders—and whose measurement and predictability have a high degree of complexity. Due to the lack of immediate understanding of CC, the capacity of agency tends to be reduced, especially in local terms. Despite occasional local impacts, from the point of view of agency and globalization, CC can be understood as a form of disembedding (Giddens 1990), or the lifting out of social relations from local contexts.10 This view of CC in terms of common understanding allows us to link the issue of elites as strategic actors in environmental governance, both nationally and globally. In turn, global environmental governance can be understood as a contested terrain for global hegemony over global environmental policies, where central industrial powers, emerging powers, intermediate and peripheral countries compete in the international arena.11

Critical theories analyze how the overall system changes and is maintained. By contrast, problem-solving theories take for granted existing power relations and institutions. They are concerned with negotiations that make the functioning of the system possible. Ford (2003) suggests that the capability for agency in international environmental governance is expressed not only by the state, but also by non-state agencies, NGOs and global civil society. They are capable of using agency to either maintain the hegemonic system or to change it.

Local elites are compelled to think explicitly or implicitly about how to address the overall problem of CC. Regardless of whether they are part of state agencies or civil society in countries that are not part of the fully developed center, they are interrelated with the global capitalist system. Therefore, they must address how they view themselves as actors in global environmental governance—whether as negotiators, participants or policymakers—in order to maintain the status quo or to provoke relevant changes.

This leads us to consider our concept of local elites: In what sense should they be considered elites? What is their relative position in the national and global society? And finally, what is their understanding of their capacity for agency?

The elites analyzed in our study can be considered ultra-elite non-professional groups, not intellectuals and not technocrats. They are managerial, political or social local elites that have relative autonomy from the transnational experts. Within the context studied, we understand local elites as privileged groups in positions of power and influence over the social structure of a subordinated country in the global system—like all of Latin America. The double exploitation of both people and nature has historically been the base of state construction dominated by local elites.12

Elitist groups are in structural situations in which they play roles and exercise power, in order to set up their capacity for agency. We employ this concept in the way used by Giddens.13 His structuration theory seeks to overcome the duality between structure and actors. Rather, structure and agency are recursively related. Structures constrain and enable the action of the actors and in turn, the actors construct and reproduce the structures through their actions.

3.3 Climate change paradigms

In our study, we asked how the potential agency of the elites is updated: for this reason, we studied the construction of the reality of the CC; the level of knowledge and awareness related to the seriousness of the problems involved; the construction of the conditions of action and finally, the conditions for being an active agent of change. Therefore, we studied the possible changes in paradigms to overcome CC. Capacity for agency will be conditioned by discourse and facts and by the degree of interaction of these actors within the globalized economy, in addition to their interaction with institutions, multi-level environment governance and socio-political and socio-environmental scenarios.

Studies of environmental representations (Pirages and Ehlrich 1974 cited by Mohai et al. 2010: 781; Dunlap and van Liere 1984) have coined the term dominant social paradigm (DSP) as a construct capturing western values and life approaches that seem to have promoted environmental destruction in American culture. The dimensions of the DSP include, among others: support for limited government and a free market economy, belief in the benefits of economic growth, support for maintaining status quo, faith in science and technology, belief in the abundance of natural resources and faith in the future prosperity.

Our study draws upon the concepts of the paradigm and the paradigm shift coined by Kuhn (1996). It was driven by a more qualitative approach (Taylor and Bodgan 1992) instead of the quantitative methodology used in the cited studies. We examined the presence of the DSP among elites’ discourses or the presence of an openness to a shift toward an alternative paradigm (AP) that is more ecological and holistic, promoting responsible consumption and production and a clean and environment-friendly development.

4 Chilean elites and CC: methodological framework and sample

4.1 Sample of Chilean elites

Current dominant elites in Chile can be defined as non-traditional, non-oligarchic, modern and rather functional elites. They operate in an increasing modernized society, which in the last 20 years has been transformed by the democratization process after Pinochet’s authoritarian regime. Mainstream elites have supported a neoliberal development model that accentuates the rules of the market, technocratic orientation and opening to the global market in combination with social policies (Tironi 1999; Silva 2010; Joignant and Guell 2011).

The sample for our study was theoretical and stratified (Marshall 1996). Chilean members of the elites are varied: those in the political field are not the same as those in managerial networks, and the leaders of civil society are different for both groups. Therefore, the general sample was divided into three sub-samples.

Two combined criteria were used to identify business elites. The first was to identify the contribution to GDP made by the economic sector to which the business elites belong, given its importance in the context of the domestic economy.

The second criterion was the actual or potential impacts on CC of the elite economic sector under study. This effect is defined by official authorities (CONAMA 2006). The sectors that emerged from this revision were: mining, food, construction, transport, aquaculture and energy. Selection of the largest corporations (by total amount of business) in each sector generated a list of 31 of the top companies in the country. For each of them, we selected two individuals between the main CEO and senior managers.

Consequently, the ideal theoretical sample included 48 names of senior executives and CEOs of the 31 largest companies in these areas. The final sample of people who were interviewed included 12 businesspeople (four of them replacements of the original list but from the same corporations).

To identify political elites pertinent to our research, we identified representatives directly involved with environmental issues, including all the members of the Committees on Natural Resources, Environment and Mining and Energy of the Deputy Chamber and Senate. A theoretical sample of 36 members of all parties represented in Parliament was defined and ten interviews were obtained; only one of them was a replacement.14

We also selected as a relevant group recognized, prestigious socio-political civil society leaders with influence (current or past) on decision making related to CC in the country. A theoretical sample of eight individuals was selected for their relevance and national status and reputation, and finally four of them were interviewed.15

For analytical purposes, the sample has been segmented into five main categories: (a) entrepreneurs of the agro-export sector; (b) CEOs in the mining, energy, transportation and construction sectors; (c) ruling politicians; (d) opposition politicians and (e) environmental civil society leaders. The main businesspeople are top CEOs of large national or transnational corporations investing in the Chilean export economy.

In a primary-export economy based on natural resources like the Chilean economy, the mining sector is of main relevance. It is a productive sector with great impact on the environment, especially on water pollution and consumption. Transportation, construction and energy producers have large carbon footprints. The other major export industry is agribusiness: mainly food. Politicians from the ruling parties support the current right-liberal government; the opposition includes political leaders who are former government officials from center to left parties (the former ruling coalition “Concertación,” a center-left alliance in power between 1990 and 2010 that included the Christian Democrats, Radical Party, Party for Democracy and Socialist Party) and two other Parliamentarians who belong to the traditional left (Communist Party). The environmental leaders are top influential figures on a national level.

Our interviewed individuals can be considered a good sample of the local ultra elite (Zuckerman 1972). All of them have great influence, prestige and power at national level.

4.2 Interview framework

The techniques and procedures used in the interviews were recommended by the existing literature (Zuckerman 1972; Berry 2002; Richards 1996; Harvey 2011; Mikecz 2012). These are techniques that must apply to a type of elite that is hard to find or reach. Consequently, the interview period—originally planned to be a month—took nearly 4 months, between September and December 2011.16

The principal interview method followed the doxastic model (Brinkmann 2007) aimed at probing the respondents’ experiences and opinions. We used open-ended questions in a semi-structured interview, giving the respondents latitude in their responses (Aberbach and Rockman 2002).

In order to test the presence of the DSP in the elite’s discourse, a qualitative approach and instruments were prioritized; they were complemented by a quantitative instrument with closed alternative questions.17 Hence, two instruments were applied during the interviews: an open-ended questionnaire and a form interviewees were required to fill out in the presence of the interviewer.

This approach allowed us to deconstruct and reconstruct the discourse of the elites and verify the presence of the DSP or intentions to shift to an AP. The analytical assumption was that the presence of the DSP would be associated with a lower likelihood of acknowledging the seriousness of CC and expressing concern for environmental protection (Dunlap and van Liere 1984).

4.3 Analysis framework

The discourse analyses were made using three combined methods: (a) logical analytical and semantic narrative framework, (b) qualitative data analytic software MAXQDA and (c) descriptive statistics for quantitative data. The logical framework was inspired by Van Dijk (2003, 2008). It was combined with insights from the structural tradition of Barthes (1966) and Greimas (1966a, b, 1976). For a global interpretation of the discourse, we privileged the global logic of the narrative approach.18

According to this analysis, in the construction of a discourse, it is very important to distinguish the subject from the object, as well as how the subject-object relationship is created and in which narrative context. In this case, the macro-object of discourse is what we call “CC” (with all of its associated phenomena). The subject is the perception that the speakers—in this case the interviewed elites—have of themselves as active subjects (agency) and of other subjects, in terms of what they do both in relation to that object. The semantic context in which the relationship between the subject (elites) and object (climate change) is built is given by other actors and institutions, as well as local or national structures involved in the narrative discourse.

Consequently, the analytical framework that we have used for this research, and that has allowed the construction of the instruments19 consists of three macro-dimensions: (1) how the elites discursively construct the “object” (how they perceive and assess CC), (2) how the scenarios are built (CC in general terms and as a global phenomenon) and (3) how the elites understand themselves as subject/agent (how the policy and change options are prioritized).

Each macro-dimension is sub-divided into two specific dimensions. The first dimension focuses on knowledge and awareness (object): (1.1) knowledge about CC and its causes and (1.2) awareness of the severity of the problem. The other dimension is focused on the representations of CC as a global phenomenon (context): (2.1) the assessments of the relative timing and (2.2) the international context of CC. Finally, the last dimension is focused on solutions to the problem (subject/agency): (3.1) policy options in the face of CC and (3.2) perceptions about the possibility of a change in developing models toward a clean system.

The whole dataset analyzed in relation to these dimensions will allow us to check whether our assumptions about knowledge and awareness of CC (first hypothesis: the object) and agency (second hypothesis: the subject), in order to generate a significant change, are confirmed.

The following analysis of the data is sequenced in terms of these six specific dimensions

5 Main results

5.1 Construction of the object: knowledge of climate change, its causes and consequences

Economic and political elites in Chile seem to be aware of CC and its relevance. However, many of them seem to be unclear about its causes, impacts and complexity. In fact, public perception of CC is an ambiguous phenomenon.20 Public awareness does not necessarily imply full knowledge and understanding, acceptance or practical consequences. Many people often view CC as a temporally and spatially distant issue. It is seen as a threat to people from other places around the world or those who will be born far into the future. As a result, people do not always see this as a personal or relevant threat. People also ascribe primary responsibility for dealing with the issue to the international community and governments—perceiving the issue as too big of a problem for individuals to tackle on their own. These views of CC tend to reduce citizens’ agency.

The interviewed elite has a general understanding of observable and perceived impacts such as the change in temperature, rainfall patterns, extreme weather events and impacts on water resources, agriculture and food and the energy sector. There is no clear information and awareness about CC causes and real consequences, especially in the long run.

We asked about the personal knowledge of CC compared to that which is perceived in their elite partners. The respondents’ overall self-assessment regarding CC knowledge rated themselves as having somewhat greater knowledge than average (4.9 points out of 7) in relation to the knowledge they observe in those elite groups with which they frequently interact (3 out of 7 points). Generally speaking the assessment of knowledge attributed to local elites points toward regular or insufficient knowledge.

As one government deputy says,21 “There is some awareness, some rhetoric, it is not an ingrained issue…” Or as an opposition senator asserts, “knowledge is basic, only common.” A senior transportation entrepreneur says, “There is poor knowledge, business leaders are conservative.” And a businessperson in the building sector notes, “Everything comes from the press… what happens in the whole world I know very little.”

Politicians, meanwhile, with two or three exceptions, have merely general knowledge about the impacts of CC on the planet and in the nation. “… it is not my specialty” states a member of the Radical Party. On the other side of the political spectrum, a deputy member of the ruling coalition acknowledges: “… It is an issue to which I have not devoted hours of study, so it is for me to declare myself a person who is not at the level of knowledge to make decisions.”

In general, the respondents have scarce knowledge of international affairs concerning CC issues. The interviewees’ discourse shows evidence of little awareness regarding international agreements and summits on CC. Additionally, little is known about the Kyoto Protocol and almost no one knows of technical reports like those issued by the IPCC. Notwithstanding this, two businesspeople are aware of the international carbon market mechanisms. We emphasize that many of the interviewees are involved in strategic policy and investment decisions.

Regarding knowledge about causes of CC, the interviewees were asked if it was caused mainly by GHG generated by burning fossil fuels. In response, a majority agreed that this is a true statement (80 %). However, it is remarkable that some political leaders, both ruling and opposition, and also a few businesspeople answered “false” or did not know (between 14 and 20 %).

Right-wing politicians and some businesspeople expressed some distrust about the nature of the phenomenon. According to them, natural or anthropogenic causes are unclear, there is debate among scientists, there are not enough studies on the impacts of CC in Chile, and measures to tackle the problem are not known. On the contrary, for most opposition politicians, entrepreneurs and environmental leaders, anthropogenic causes of CC are very clear.22

5.2 Evaluation of the severity of the problem caused by CC

A large majority of people worldwide believe CC is a serious problem. In the World Bank multi-country poll of 2010, the majority in every surveyed country called it either a very serious or somewhat serious problem (World Bank 2010b). In all 16 countries, the public seemed comfortable expressing its views on CC; over 90 % of respondents expressed their views on the seriousness of climate change. Notably, the large majority in the low-income countries polled—Bangladesh (85 %), Kenya (75 %), Senegal (72 %) and Vietnam (69 %)—perceived CC as a very serious problem. In the high-income countries, smaller groups in the United States (31 %), Japan (38 %) and France (43 %) saw CC as very serious; Russia (30 %) and China (28 %) also had relatively few people considering CC to be very serious. All of these countries with lower numbers calling CC a very serious problem are also relatively high emitters of CO2 per capita. However, even in these high-emitting countries, a large majority believed that climate change is at least a somewhat serious problem.

Chilean elites interviewed have an intermediate position in relation to the multi-country poll of 2010.23 A majority (58 %) believe that the CC is very serious, which is above the proportion found in highly developed countries with high CO2 emission rates (scoring between 30 and 42 %), but below the proportion found in developing countries with low CO2 emission per capita (between 69 and 85 %). Recall that Chile is a developing country, but with a high rate of emissions per capita. What we wish to emphasize here is that when assessing the severity of the problem generated by CC and global warming (see Table 1), the interviewed Chilean elite leaders tended to respond according to their relative position in the economic sector and political spectrum.
Table 1

Assessing the severity of climate change

Climate change is a ……………… problem


Very serious


Less serious



























Average sample





Source Data are from the closed questionnaire, research on Chilean elites 2011; only relative frequencies are shown. N = 26

AEB agro-export businesspeople, EMTB energy, mining, transport, building sector businesspeople, EL environmentalist leader, RP ruling politician (right), OpP opposition politician (center and left)

For opposition politicians and environmental leaders, the problem is very serious and must be addressed. For agro-export entrepreneurs, the problem is serious, but it is an opportunity for new business because of the foreseeable changes caused by CC in the agricultural regions of the country. Ruling politicians, as well as CEOs in the mining, energy, transport and construction sectors, have divided opinions and consider the problem serious and very serious, except for a small group of ruling party members for whom the issue is not important.

5.3 CC as a global phenomenon: longue durée24

According to CC science, we are facing a long-term phenomenon (IPCC 2007). The cumulative nature of CC has a wide range of implications that contrasts with short-range political cycles (UNDP 2007, p. 4).

In the long run, CC is a massive threat to human development and in some places it is already undermining the international community’s efforts to reduce extreme poverty. The Stern Report “estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5 % of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20 % of GDP or more” (Stern 2006).

Indeed this is one of the challenges of CC; the impacts will be long term, but the efforts to limit CC may imply significant short-term costs. There will be net benefits over time but the investments have to be assumed by governments in the short term. As the UNDP says, “Leadership will require looking beyond electoral cycles” (UNDP 2007: Introduction).

An interviewed environmental leader addresses this challenge: “I think they (the government) give low priority to this issue. They do not project the consequences (…) it is not a concern because our population is accustomed to a very short-term vision by criteria of short-term profitability and a lack of reflection about what will happen in the long run and primarily by the absence of intergenerational solidarity concepts.”

The discourses of businesspeople are contrasted: “… It is very urgent because the decisions made in response to the effects produced by CC are investment decisions, which takes a long time in terms of future performance…” (agro-export business leader).

On the contrary, acknowledged uncertainty about the future in regard to the phenomenon reduces its current urgency: “… I have no idea what can happen in forty years” (construction business leader). “Chances are that in forty years… ultimately development will absolutely be subject to the issue of the CC impact” (agro-export entrepreneur).

Some political leaders’ discourse manifests a real long-term concern: “If by 2025 we cannot reduce emissions we will be smeared. (…) Yet, my grandchildren will have difficulties to continue surviving” (RL, former President of Chile). The relationship between the present and the future is evidenced: “I think it is so urgent right now because depending on what you do in the present that will be the cost you’ll have later. (…) The cost of doing nothing today is infinitely higher if you have to do it tomorrow (…) that is the thesis of Stern - “(RL, former President of Chile).

In general terms, the analyzed discourse of the elites shows that they know the long-term dimension of CC, but there are roughly two opposite positions: (a) precisely because CC’s long-term impacts are uncertain we cannot assure pertinent measures today and (b) because the long-term impacts are so massive we have to take urgent measures today.

5.4 CC and inequalities in a global development scenario

In the face of global development inequalities, the fact of being peripheral countries in the world system plays a significant role. Indeed, developed countries were forged at a great cost to the environment and they are responsible for most GHG that remains in the atmosphere.25

There is a positive aspect because of the gathered experience, as mentioned by a businessperson representing a large agro-export firm: “… here there is the advantage of what we have seen, the experience of the developed countries…” On the other hand, the environmental measures required by the international community and the global market are seen as impositions that decrease competitiveness for emerging countries. As a right-wing Congressperson with an obvious nationalist inflection asserts:

To produce our exports we have to use technology to reach developed markets because we are required to comply with their requirements. So our competitiveness begins to decline (…). And that is affecting the ability to work in emerging countries (…) our country is affected, more so when developed countries have already made their development. When they did what they did, nobody put the conditions, which now are imposed on us. They razed forests, they wiped out all what they do not want us to do (…) here I see a manipulation (…). Why? Because developed countries are not interested in our development (…) (they are) placing barriers, barriers that when one is in the process of development they are not easy to overcome. They are riding roughshod over us (…).

This inequality in the international system is also used as an argument to justify the absence of adequate national policies: “So here we are facing a kind of… injustice that arises from the fact that developed countries are more accountable. They have had a higher responsibility for the subject, over time. And therefore, sometimes they require as much of a developing country, as of an already developed country “(agro-export entrepreneur).

5.5 Solutions to CC: policy options

The analyzed discourse of Chilean elites shows that companies have some awareness of the issue, especially transnational corporations and big business exporters, but not small and medium enterprises for which environmental issues escape immediate concerns and possibilities. Yet the sample of respondents and previous qualitative studies generally indicate that just over a third of companies are “handling” CC seriously.

In a previous qualitative study in Santiago, Chile involving a sample of qualified informants—entrepreneurs of medium and small businesses, consultants and academics working on environmental and energy issues—we asked their views regarding the reaction of businesses and institutions directly or indirectly affected by CC in Chile. Ten percent said that they have “significantly increased sustainability actions” in their companies; 30 % stated they “increased sustainability actions;” 30 % believed that the actions were “business as usual;” 4 % said that actions toward sustainability “have fallen” and 26 % said they did not have enough information.26

These local data are consistent with what has been found for companies at an international level. A 2007 survey found that nearly 60 % of interviewed businesspeople worldwide placed great importance on CC within their companies’ overall strategy, but few translated this importance into corporate action.27

A local building contractor comments on diverting responsibilities: “… Like the rain, we all get wet when it rains, then you can take individual actions, but concerning my business, on my immediate environment, I have little to do (in global terms).” Another Chilean businessperson from the forest area: “… There are two types of firms, companies that operate from the media point of view and do things, and others that are seriously considering the business decisions for the future.” For this businessperson, the limited liability with which many business elites tackle CC derives from an ethical choice: “It has to do with an issue of ethics, if this issue is going to happen in 20, 30 years why do I have to worry about this issue, make others worry about it. (…) Everyone knows something about CC, but the question is what they are doing to face this kind of thing” [emphasis added].

For businesspeople, the challenge of CC is perceived from the point of view of business competitiveness: on the one hand, those who invest in adaptation and mitigation measures will be more competitive in the international market, especially in the future. On the other hand, they tend to justify not investing in these measures which would be impositions coming from developed countries in order to take away the competitiveness of developing countries.

Concerning public policy, the analyzed discourse suggests that the policies and measures taken are reactive to perceived threats and that there is no planned public policy. A businessperson said the lack of political will is due to the fact that CC is not a priority; politicians “have other concerns…” The interviewees, both politicians and businessmen, agree that there is no environmental policy for CC in Chile—at least not in a coherent, planned, comprehensive and long-term form.28 Business leaders complain that there is no incentives policy; politicians have neglected to create a favorable taxation policy to address CC.

5.6 An alternative paradigm of development? Energy and sustainability

As for priorities to be set by Chile to face the challenges of CC, many of the business and political elites interviewed, with regard to the economic tradeoffs between growth and environment, believed that the country should opt for a model of economic growth with little consideration for the environment or considering it only moderately (growth + environment). This is particularly true in the case of agricultural exporters and government politicians (see Table 2).
Table 2

The main priority for the country


Economic growth





























Average sample





Source Data are from the closed questionnaire, research on Chilean elites 2011; only relative frequencies are shown. N = 26

AEB agro-export businessmen, EMTB energy, mining, transport, building sector businesspeople, EL environmentalist leader, RP ruling politician (right party), OpP opposition politician (center and left parties)

We stress the priority that many respondents, members of the Chilean elite, give to the economy instead of the environment (one-fourth of them while the other fourth opt for both). This contrasts with Chilean and Latin American public opinion, which is more favorable to the environment. The Latinobarómetro Report reiterated in 2011 a question from 1998 on the trade-off between economic development and environment (Corporación Latinobarómetro 2011). It is notable that the attitude has changed very substantively in Latin America. Those who say priority must be given to the economy over the environment decreased from 37 to 17 %. This sharp decline is directly related to the importance attached to environmental protection in recent years. When asked “should priority be given to the development of the economy even if it means damaging the environment,” the Latin American average was 17 % and the percentage for Chile was the lowest at 7 %. The report concludes that Chile is “more environmentalist with 7 % and the least environmentalist country is Honduras with 42 %. Beyond these two extremes, one could say that 14 of the 18 countries are environmentalists.” (Corporación Latinobarómetro 2011: 81 ff). The position of local opposition politicians and environmental leaders, as well as a modest segment of the energy, transport and mining businesses, is in line with the data presented above: the environmental problem should be prioritized.

With respect to energy alternatives, we must remember that one of the main causes of GHG emissions is related to energy production. The leading solution for CC is to change the forms of energy to a cleaner production and to promote efficient use of energy (Acquatella 2008; Omer 2011; Gore 2009; Cubillos and Estenssoro 2011). This is particularly pertinent in the Chilean case because as we have said, the country’s energy sector is highly emitting.

The vast majority of respondents agree that GHG should be reduced. Preferences for non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) alternatives like wind, solar and hydroelectric energy are priorities. They are considered cleaner and more feasible (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Power alternatives envisioned by local elites in Chile, 2011. Source Data are from the closed questionnaire, research on Chilean elites 2011; only relative frequencies are shown. N = 26

But ultimately, the real discourse of elites evinces preferences for polluting alternatives such as carbon-fired power (observe Fig. 1, thermal carbon and gas preferability).29 How can this pragmatic option be reconciled with the assertion that the most popular ideal preference is NCRE?

For businesspeople, the responsibility to promote cleaner energy sources is not theirs, but the state’s. “We have an energy matrix that is absurd from the standpoint that you are using the less efficient to avoid the issue… And here the country has failed, this is not our responsibility” (leading entrepreneur in the agricultural export sector).

In any case, the majority of the interviewed elite supported NCRE, yet in terms of productive structures and energy policies, the country is only gradually changing. As for global options, when addressing CC directly, it is clear that alternatives range from mitigation and adaptation measures under current business as usual, to intermediate solutions based on corporate social responsibility, and to more integral and radical changes toward an AP.

We must remember that even international organizations such as ILO and UNEP are proposing a shift toward a green economy, what has been reaffirmed at Rio+20. The proposals aim at enhancing a new political approach that is socially and ecologically just and economically sustainable (UNEP 2011; ITC-ILO 2010; Netzer 2011). The main tendency of local Chilean elites is to favor average and moderate solutions instead.

On the contrary and agreeing with the green alternative, Chilean environmental leaders support “…a logic of solidarity to share resources of the planet in order to save mankind” (environmentalist leader). “CC has no solution in the current paradigm, a paradigm of economic vision, where the search is to decrease costs, not a comprehensive, systemic or holistic vision” (environmentalist leader).

Many interviewed agree on the need for environmental education and the need for awareness of CC, but note that this has not been made a public policy. There is agreement among environmental leaders and opposition politicians that solutions against CC should involve citizens. Citizen participation in the context of interactive processes of environmental governance has recently been studied, showing the challenges and problems in multi-actor decision-making processes (Brenner and Job 2012; Braun 2010). None of these problems, however, are even mentioned by our respondents. The issue of civic participation is noted less by pro-government politicians and even less by the businesspeople for whom the most relevant issue is to raise awareness among consumers.

6 General remarks and conclusions: local elite’s insufficient awareness of CC or insufficient capacity for agency?

6.1 Research scope and limitations

Our research scope obviously has certain limits. It relies on qualitative data from a small sample of individuals and standard statistic generalizations are not possible. Also, we recognize that elite interviews are not a panacea; they have their own weaknesses as well as strengths. Further studies must verify whether the findings of the present research are valid in other contexts.

Despite these limitations, lessons from the Chilean case could be applied30 to several middle-income Latin American, African or Asian countries provided that although the elites and national history are not the same, certain general conditions and dilemmas originating from CC in emerging economies in a world system are similar. These general conditions and dilemmas are summarized below.

6.2 Synthesis of elite attitudes toward CC

Analysis of social environmental movements shows that “globalism” can be a factor updating radical agency (Ford 2003). In our case (in relation to the challenge of CC), most of the businesspeople and politicians interviewed have a local perspective. Few indeed “think globally” considering the national, transnational and planetary dimensions of CC. The ability to think of themselves as agents with the full capacity to participate as partners in global environmental governance was not present in the mainstream dominant elite’s discourse.

An integrated analysis of the discourse—in its qualitative and quantitative dimensions—allows us to classify the different positions. The synthesis presented below establishes whether elite discourse supports in the DSP or allows an AP within its social representations. Table 3 classifies the discourses of the different sub-groups of elites in terms of some of the main domains of the discourse: knowledge and assessment of CC; measures and alternatives to CC and vision of the human being-nature relationship. The position in the right column indicates less knowledge of CC, which was considered less serious, stresses economic growth over sustainability and consistently has an anti-ecological vision of nature. This is the discourse driven by the DSP. On the contrary, the left-hand position approves an ecological and alternative model of development, supporting the AP.
Table 3

Elites and climate change in Chile: a synthesis


Paradigmatic Preference

Elites and CC in Chile


Dominant social paradigm (DSP)

Intermediate position

Alternative paradigm (AP)

Semantic axes





CC knowledge

Less knowledge


Greater knowledge



EL + OpP

Nature paradigm

Less “green”


More “green”



EL + OpP

Gravity of CC

Less serious problem


Serious problem



OpP + EL + EMTB + RP

Measures to face CC

Only economic growth (less sustainable)


Sustainable development




Source Qualitative data from the discourse analysis of interviews. Research on Chilean elites 2011

AEB agro-export businessmen, EMTB energy, mining, transport, building sectors businesspeople, EL environmentalist leaders, RP ruling politician (right parties), OpP opposition politician (center and left parties), ND no data

Analysis shows that in general, the elite faction most linked to global food markets, agricultural exporters, is the one inspired by the DSP. Agro exporters also favor a model of economic growth or mixed alternatives not really supporting sustainable development. Their modern rational business choice is focused on the most efficient way to exploit natural resources.

Employers in the mining, construction, transport and energy sectors have a polarized view: they are disbursed between those who support the DSP and those seeking greater consistency between their industrial processes and the need to implement measures of mitigation and adaptation to CC.

The ruling politicians tend to be located in more intermediate positions, therefore not supporting an AP. Both opposition politicians and environmental leaders tend to be located on the other side and support the AP, also known as the green pole of the spectrum. Albeit with nuances, the latter have more knowledge of CC, a more friendly vision of nature, and a more elevated consideration of the seriousness of the problem of CC; they also advocate for a model of sustainable development. Notwithstanding this, to be precise, we found in this type of discourse an openness to an AP but not full support for alternatives.

What we found in this sample of Chilean elites’ discourses is consistent with the government’s environmental policy in the region, which is driven by the elites.31 In fact, we must recall that in general terms national Latin American governments—including new leftist governments—have given low priority to environmental and CC concerns (Hogenboom and Fernández 2009; Bull and Sundt Næsse 2012).

Our analysis of the local elites’ discourse evidences that the construction of the “object” (CC) and its context is simplistic. For the majority, there is sufficient knowledge about CC, but there is no real perception about longue durée and global consequences for the future; uncertainties are considered to represent failures of information and education about this global challenge.32 Although all members of the elite questioned in the sample have high levels of formal education, we found that educational level33 and age34 were not variables that affect perceptions and views of these members of the elite interviewed.

Many business and political elite members affirm that CC is a problem that must be considered, and some even take it very seriously. The evaluation of both the seriousness and the alternatives to face CC are dependent on the relative position in the export economy’s productive structure (of businesspeople) and political ideology (in the case of politicians). Our findings are consistent with existing evidence on the influence of ideology and economic interests that shape CC views of the public and elites worldwide (Lorenzoni and Pidgeon 2006).

In spite of direct economic or corporate interests that evidently are influential, we must mention the ideological perspectives that are conditioned by the contradictions of an elite living in a peripheral society affected by globalization processes. These ideological influences affect both economic and political elites and are key to elucidating the elite’s acknowledgment of its capacity for agency.

Political and ideological positions in the case of politicians and social leaders are correlated with their relative position in the ideological spectrum: the rightmost positions are less favorable to environmental views and choose development models that aim toward economic growth and privilege market mechanisms. But, as happens within post-modern patterns of culture, this trend is not absolute since there are some right-wing elite members with environmental positions. We must note that the main findings mentioned are coherent with CC public opinion in many countries. The poll analysis of these cases reveals predictably politically polarized opinions.

In terms of the relevance of the environment with respect to other subject matters on the national agenda, the opinions of Parliamentarians (in a poll carried out in 2006) were divided by ideological cleavages: the environment was only considered of “null or little” relevance by 34.25 % of right-wing Parliamentarians, 25 % by center members of Parliament and 15.75 % by left-wing members. Left-wing members attributed the most relevance to the environment whereas right members attributed the least (Elites Parlamentarias de América Latina 2012).

As for businesspeople, those linked to agricultural exports or biomass exploitation increasingly support growth models and are less likely to promote sustainability and radical measures to address CC. An AP guides opposition politicians and environmental leaders. However, we found here all shades of green: from green in rhetoric only to deep ecology (the latter being a small minority of respondents).

Consequently, our first hypothesis was proven to be partially true: business elites are well educated and more aware of CC as expected. Real consciousness of CC in the dominant discourse, however, is poor and not well informed.

The main politicians show evidence of insufficient information. Although their discourse tries to do something to cope with the challenge, it evidences other short-term priorities.

6.3 Understanding of the acknowledgement of agency in the analyzed discourse

The analysis of the subject in the discourse tells us a key point: along with the lack of quality information about the object (CC), for the majority, the predisposition to minimize responsibilities becomes evident.

For many of the respondents, taking action to deal with CC would be attributable to factors beyond their own responsibility. The discourses pointed to (a) limited information provided by official agencies and the media, (b) lack of clarity of scientists, (c) insufficient measures at the institutional level, (d) structural and international causes and conditions, (e) responsibility of the state and regulatory failures (not failures of business).

The analysis has driven us to conclude that our second hypothesis is correct: the existing awareness—with its variance as we have seen—is not accompanied by full understanding of most interviewees’ capacity for agency. Since the DSP is present in a third of interviews and in an intermediate position in another third, the mainstream of social representations that construct the discourses of business and political elites is not leading to a paradigm shift concerning energy production and development models.

This means that although we have found that there is some understanding of the capacity for agency it is not fully deployed with regard to CC. It is true that the rather general awareness of the CC problem is accompanied by a favorable attitude toward NCRE in the studied elites—a fact that must be considered by policymakers—but not by a real paradigm shift in order to promote a sustainable development model. In a significant segment of the analyzed discourses, we found a dose of pragmatism: “Others have to do things. I cannot change the global system and I’m just doing what is possible.”

Therefore heteronomy is a factor in this mainstream discourse. CC is a problem that must be addressed. Nevertheless, the mitigations or adaptation actions to be held have a limited scope: they are to be deployed in the medium term or courtdurée, limited to the national level and moderate. No great changes can be introduced toward a non-polluting productive system. This is what can be called heteronomous peripheral thought. It is not dependent thought because it has relative autonomy to represent environmental issues, but it has reduced capacity for agency.

One of the probable causes of this avoidance of a paradigm shift lies in the fact that we are talking about the discourse of domestic elites in a developing country. In addition since CC is a global issue, the discourse justifies not having a global responsibility due to a lack of access in the international arena where decisions are made.

This reduced agency reveals a great challenge from the point of view of the local capacities demanded by international bodies to face CC (Baser and Morgan 2008; UNDP 2011b). In general, considering that elites are the country’s leadership, there is a failure in the way business and senior executives of private and governmental institutions are responding to the challenges of CC and sustainability at both local and global levels.

Due to the deficits observed above, there is clear awareness that business should consider environmental issues. Nine out of ten of the sample interviewed stated that the concept of corporate social responsibility35 should consider the environment. Though with respect, we must not forget the risk of employing formal and rhetorical procedures to avoid real changes—in other words, greenwashing in corporate strategies (Ramus and Montiel 2005).

Faced with the urgency of global warming, there is a set of measures and alternatives that have been implemented in the majority of industrialized and developing countries. Measures so far, however, seem to be inefficient to counter the growing emissions of CO2, a fact that it is now evident.36 This is a dilemma for all societies in the process of development.

Local elites—especially business elites and political right-wing elites—do not feel fully responsible for the emission of GHG and CC; they also blame the industrialized countries and a number of external factors. To that extent they do not assume their own responsibility—their agency—to cope with CC. Even the need to overcome poverty and to raise living standards—a progressive agenda—can result in the best alibi to postpone real measures to face environmental challenges. Many leaders of developing countries have advanced for a long time the idea of an Ecological Debt owed to the Third World by the First World, and have asserted that no international environmental agreement should restrict the rights developing and poor countries have to access full development.

The majority of the analyzed discourse reflects wishful thinking about the environment and CC, including the willingness to act (giving priority to moderate over radical solutions). However, a significant percentage (including most businesspeople and right-wing politicians) still believe that the priority of the country is economic growth, supporting the DSP.

6.4 Domestic elites going from rhetoric to action?

In general, the analyzed evidence (with exceptions of some of the center and left politicians and environmental leaders) found that the studied domestic elites will not support an AP adopting emissions reduction policies and supporting green technologies and NCRE, even when these desires are present in the discourses of a majority.

A careful analysis of the discourse gives clues about how the elites think of the transformation from rhetoric into action. Everything suggests that the local elite’s rhetoric about CC could become a real political will only when information, communication and awareness of the elites are driven by the following joint factors:
  1. (a)

    Changes in the institutions and regulatory framework (national but especially international agreements and global environmental governance).

  2. (b)

    The social pressure of a conscious and proactive citizenry on environmental matters.


These factors could transform the partial understanding of the domestic elites’ capacity for agency into a full understanding. But they can also be vectors of local elites’ resistance to changes.

One of the main conclusions of this study is that we cannot expect measures and decisive changes to address the global challenge of CC to come from local elites in developing countries. It will be mainly from the international political arena—at multilateral and global levels—that decisive changes can be expected to face CC, as international politics tends to lay the foundations for agreements that will then be followed by domestic elites.


  1. 1.

    By “local elites” or “domestic elites,” we are referring to national level elites.

  2. 2.

    Chile hosts at least seven major climatic sub-types, ranging from desert in the North to alpine tundra and glaciers in the East and Southeast, humid sub-tropics in Easter Island, an Oceanic climate in the South and a Mediterranean climate in central Chile.

  3. 3.

    Additionally, the probable intensification of the El Niño and La Niña phenomenon will increase periods of drought in both the North and central areas. This may not only provoke an increase of pulmonary infections caused by hantaviruses, but also generate an increase in sea levels and temperatures that directly impact the coastline, particularly the fishing industry.

  4. 4.

    In the global context, Chile is not a significant emitter of GHG according to international statistics (International Energy Agency (IEA); World Resources Institute (WRI)), which consider only CO2 emissions and statistics whose calculations are based on CO2 equivalents, including carbon capture related to forestry and changing land use. Its contribution is about 0.2 % of global emissions, and this percentage has remained stable in recent years. Furthermore, Chile appears in 90th place with respect to CO2 emissions per capita in the world by the year 2004, with a value of 3.9 t of CO2/inhabitant, according to the Human Development Report 2007–2008 (UNDP 2007).

  5. 5.

    Studies have shown that it is not population growth that drives the increase in GHG emissions, but rather the growth in consumerism (Satterthwaite 2009). In the global context, Chile exemplifies how the growth of the middle class and demand in emerging economies (particularly countries where main exports go like Brazil and China) stimulates economic growth, which affects the environment. In South America, Chile has the second highest CO2 emissions per capita and its emissions of GHG are significantly increasing (CONAMA 2006, 2008). This fact may be explained by the growing middle class in Chile, which has higher purchasing power given that the country has a small population (only 17 million inhabitants) and a growing export sector.

  6. 6.

    A review of the existing literature on CC attitudes and perceptions shows that levels of concern and awareness about worldwide CC have been steadily rising over the past 20 years in many nations. However, CC remains of lower importance than other global or personal issues (Leiserowitz et al. 2011; Pidgeon 2010; World Bank 2010b; Lorenzoni and Pidgeon 2006). For Chile and other Latin American countries, we have observed the same tendency in environmental and CC attitudes in the World Value Survey (WVS) database and in much empirical data of research conducted locally (WVS n.d.; Corporación Latinobarómetro 2011; Parker 2008, 2011a, b; Parker and Muñoz 2012).

  7. 7.

    We define agency as the capability of the subject (social actor) to act efficiently of his/her own will. This capability is updated (in praxis) by (a) the cognitive belief structure, (b) the perceptions held by the society and the individual and (c) the favorable circumstances (mainly structures) of the environment in which the actor is involved.

  8. 8.

    In this respect, the contributions of Haas (1992) and Cross (2012) on epistemic communities are valuable because they conceptualize how the intellectual elites, bureaucrats or technocrats have influenced the implementation of measures, institutions and laws in Latin America. Nevertheless, our study does not focus on this type of elites.

  9. 9.

    Some of the opinions of elites included the statement that pollution, strains on ecosystems and destruction of forests were the unavoidable price of material progress, and that, in the case of Bolivia, claims made by environmentalists were exaggerated (Mansilla and Collo 1997).

  10. 10.

    The process of disembedding analyzed by Giddens refers mainly to symbolic tokens (money) or expert systems in rationalized organizations. These mechanisms depend upon abstract trust. In the case of CC, it is clear that the definition of the phenomenon depends highly on an expert system: the science of climate change. But the way actors—elites in our case—decode this science depends precisely on their own vision of their capacities as agents with power to interfere with the predicted events (see Giddens 1990).

  11. 11.

    We must remember that the term environmental governance emerged in the neoliberal era (Baud et al. 2011).

  12. 12.

    The majority of writings within the field of political ecology in Latin America highlights inequalities and power relations as a point of departure of environmental analysis. Access, production and consumption of natural resources reinforce or reduce existing social and economic inequalities (Bryant and Bailey 1997, pp. 28–29). The political ecology of Latin America has made major contributions to the understanding of the natural resource component of the conditions of coloniality and the construction of modernity (Leff 1994; Alimonda 2011) and to the ideologies and struggles of current environmental movements.

  13. 13.

    Indeed, a main motive for Giddens to introduce a focus on strategic action was what he considered the predominantly one-sided focus on homogenizing ‘institutional analysis,’ leading to the relative neglect of the ‘analysis of the strategic conduct’ (Giddens 1984: 373).

  14. 14.

    In the final sample, all parties were represented besides the (independent democratic league (UDI), a rightist party whose members refused to speak on CC issues.

  15. 15.

    The final sample included 26 individuals representing top members of the ultra elite of the country, 22 men and four women: within them ten political leaders (parliamentarians), 12 top-level businessmen and four national environmental or social leaders. The sample of our qualitative study is appropriate given the fact that the total population of possible interviewees is small, and that judgment was used to establish the logic and pertinent quotas for each strata of the ideal theoretical sample (Curtis et al. 2000; Devers and Frankel 2000). Additionally, we stress that the appropriate sample size for a qualitative study is one that adequately answers the research question (Aberbach and Rockman 2002).

  16. 16.

    The interviews were conducted in the interviewers’ workplace. Each interview took between 25 and 60 min with a mean of 45 min. The interview followed the standard ethical protocols and the interviewees had to sign a standard informed consent form.

  17. 17.

    The empirical qualitative data were additionally triangulated with another previous study with a sample of qualified informants (mostly advisors, technicians, government officials and businesspeople of small high-technology environmental industries) (Parker 2011b), and secondary data provided by the media, documents from the institutions related to the interviewees, information provided by stakeholders and previous studies.

  18. 18.

    The structural analysis of the discourse has not been employed, but has taken into consideration the overall logic of global discourse, its narrative structure and its semantic and paradigmatic axes (Barthes 1966; Greimas 1976, 1966a, b).

  19. 19.

    All the indicators and final questions of the open-ended questionnaire and closed questionnaire were drawn from this framework.

  20. 20.

    Indeed, following different authors, we can mention the following factors that make public understanding of CC difficult: (a) geographic and demographic scale; (b) time scale; (c) complexity of the climate system; (d) complexity of models and their uncertainty; (e) personal and daily reality including effects, imagery and values; (f) personal beliefs: spiritual or philosophical beliefs or ideology; (g) economic and financial interests; (h) risk perceptions (see Neimeyer et al. 2004; Leiserowitz 2006; Scerri 2009; Ross and Warren 2008; Pidgeon 2010; Akerlof and Maibach 2011).

  21. 21.

    All quotations are translations from the original Spanish, language in which the interviews were carried out.

  22. 22.

    It is well known that in industrialized countries, especially in the United States, there has been debate on the science of CC and shifting attitudes toward measures to face CC (Lashof 2011; World Bank 2010b; Gore 2009; Kellstedt et al. 2008; Maassarani 2007; Riley 1991). These international campaigns that deny the scientific consensus on CC have had only a moderate influence on Chilean local elites.

  23. 23.

    Although this comparison gives a general idea, it must be taken with caution because we compare statistical random samples with a qualitative small sample.

  24. 24.

    The conditions of the actors’ action and agency capacity are given in the historic space–time as a social construction. This time dimension is formed by the interrelation of three time constructs: existential time, everyday time and the longue durée time (Braudel in Tomich 2008).

  25. 25.

    In the recent history of CC, it has been established that developed industrialized countries are responsible for most GHG that remains in the atmosphere. Currently, industrialized countries, with 20 % of the world's population, account for 46.4 % of global emissions of GHG, while developing countries, where 80 % of world population lives, cause 53.6 % of global emissions (Netzer 2011: 10; Rogner et al. 2007; Cutlip and Fath 2012).

  26. 26.

    The interpretation of these views should not obscure the fact that in Chile, there are environmental institutions and legislation, and all business projects must undergo environmental impact assessments (EIA). In this context, only this 10 % of businesses that have taken significant measures can be taken as an indicator of real changes in the modes of production toward real sustainability in relation to CC (Parker 2011b).

  27. 27.

    In 2007 a survey of businesspeople worldwide found that CC was an important issue for executives. They see both opportunities and risk in it. Nearly 60 % of the executives from different areas (mining, transport, energy, manufacturing and finance) perceived CC as an important issue to consider in the companies’ overall strategy, including corporate reputation and brands. However, few companies translated the importance they placed on CC into corporate action (Enkvist and Vanthournout 2007: 2).

  28. 28.

    Some studies have found that among the major drivers for corporate environmental responsibility, government legislation or the threat of legislation is the number one driver. It has even been established that business leaders support more government intervention in the form of policies, including legislative, to encourage or force greater corporate environmental responsibilities (Dummet 2006).

  29. 29.

    In fact, the greater energy investments over the past few years in the country have been in coal thermal mega power plants.

  30. 30.

    In fact, the qualitative moderatum generalization method based on theoretical inference (Payne and Williams 2005; Fairweather and Rinne 2012) may permit us to generalize conclusions.

  31. 31.

    This fact is consistent with national policies. In general terms, the majority of Chilean representatives in fact support a non-environmentalist policy. In the 2012 Chilean budget, the items oriented to support the national plan to face CC—mainly resources in the energy saving plan and the incentives for renewable energies—decreased by 5.2 % compared to the 2011 budget.

  32. 32.

    Social representations of CC are framed by mental patterns that are socially constructed (Berger and Luckmann 1966) within common language influenced by education and mass media. Social communication can be understood as a process of transmission of framed information and knowledge—that is, the scientific facts are assumed to speak for themselves with their relevance and policy significance interpreted by all audiences in similar ways. However, what recent research has discovered is that unfortunately, quality news coverage is only likely to reach a small audience of already informed and engaged citizens. Just as in other debates, such as over stem cell research, abortion or gun control, the rest of the public either ignores the coverage or reinterprets competing claims based on partisanship or self-interest, a tendency confirmed across several decades by public opinion research (Nisbet 2009).

  33. 33.

    Formal education is a key element in the professionalization and quality of the activities performed. On average, the current educational level of top businesspeople and politicians in Latin America is high. For the parliamentarian elite of the continent the evidence shows that nine out of ten have a university degree and a third have done some graduate study (Martínez 2006). The Chilean case is marked by the high qualifications of its legislatures. In our sample, 19 % of the interviewed hold a PhD, 15 % hold Masters degrees and the rest have completed university studies. In our sample, only a few of those who have studied at a doctoral level had better knowledge about CC and were slightly more ecologically oriented. This fact was not found to be significant.

  34. 34.

    In the interviewed sample, 4 % were between 20 and 30 years old; 15 % between 31 and 40; 23 % between 41 and 50; 31 % between 51 and 60; 19 % between 61 and 70; and 8 % over 70 years old. As for the gender variable, it could not be tested because a low percentage of women were in our sample.

  35. 35.

    Concerning corporate social responsibility see Carroll (1999), Arroyo and Suarez (2006), Brammer et al. (2012).

  36. 36.

    It is a fact that the measures implemented to cope with CC worldwide are insufficient. The UNDP declares that: “The financing needed for development—including for environmental and social protection—will have to be many times greater than current official development assistance. Today’s spending on low-carbon energy sources, for example, is only 1.6 % of even the lowest estimate of need, while spending on climate change adaptation and mitigation is around 11 % of estimated need.” (UNDP 2011a: p. V).



The authors want to acknowledge the support of FONDECYT (National Fund for Science and Technology, Government of Chile) for its contribution to the research on which this paper is based and the International Research Project ENGOV, Environmental Governance in Latin America and the Caribbean: Developing Frameworks for Sustainable and Equitable Natural Resource, EUROPEAN UNION, ENGOV, FP7-SSH-2010-3, Project, 2011–2015, of which the authors are the Chilean partners. The main results of this paper come from the project FONDECYT No. 1090797; others comes from the project FONDECYT No. 1120662. Some conceptual frameworks’ inputs for this paper are driven from the International Research Project ENGOV from its WP3 and WP4. We thank Cristián Cuevas, Claudia Oliva, Rodrigo Guerra, Gabriela Flores, Rigoberto Muñoz, Claudio Peralta and Luis Peña, who made valuable contributions to the research. We specially thank Benedicte Bull for helping in the conceptualization of elites and the environment and the anonymous advisors that read the manuscript. Their comments have been of real value.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Advanced StudiesUniversidad de Santiago de ChileSantiago de ChileChile
  2. 2.CICESUniversidad de Santiago de ChileSantiago de ChileChile

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