A counter account of the EAA Congress Gala Dinner’s keynote

Posted by Alessandro Ghio - May 18, 2022
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“Our house is on fire”. Three years have passed since these famous Greta Thunberg’s words at the World Economic Forum and at the European Parliament. Countless global strikes, manifestations and discussions have taken place since then. We are also witnessing a growing interest in social and environmental reporting/disclosure, including from regulators and policymakers. However, we are still celebrating oil companies, their activities, and their investment strategies.

The recent keynote at the 2022 EAA Congress gala dinner in Bergen showcased how Norges Bank Investment Management (responsible for managing the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund) has become a very large investment company by extracting and selling oil. They now own large stakes in multiple companies throughout the world. The presentation emphasized how they benefited from the financial crisis and the large profits they obtained by having deep pockets to invest in during a downturn – and how they sustain renewables by investing 0.1% of their portfolio in a wind farm.

We will not engage in reporting well-known numbers to show the crises we are living in. Extensive research has provided substantive evidence of the green and social wicked problems we are facing. We will not play on the logos rhetoric but rather on the pathos to counter account for this keynote.

We need to panic. Indeed, many of us fear the environmental damages oil extractions and fossil fuel use are doing to our planet. Many of us vividly remember the sufferings, the inequalities, and the tensions during the financial and sovereign debt crises.

In our field, both mainstream and alternative accounting research, in different times, ways and traditions, have now shown the importance of social and environmental organizational decisions. We talk about accountability. About accounting for natural resources. About (planetary) sustainability to discuss how to report and improve (broader, not-only-investor-focused) social and environmental issues. So why didn’t we react to this keynote? Why the big applause at the end of the speech?

The responsibility for the acceptance of this speech even in 2022 is probably in part also ours. We have not been able to create that societal sensibility that our social science research should generate. Is it due to our limited engagement with society? Is it due to the permanence of a neoliberal turbocapitalist accounting and business education?

We believe that this keynote must represent an important wake-up call for accounting researchers. The need for positive activism and societal change must occur soon. We believe that the risks at stake are too big to let important evidence remain buried in academic journals. Our voices need to enhance understanding, sensibility, and accountability towards social and environmental issues.

Alessandro Ghio (Laval University, Canada)

Charles H. Cho (Schulich School of Business | York University, Canada)

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