Critical Literature on Media and Climate Change

‘Four cultures: new synergies for engaging society on climate change’
Authors: Matthew C Nisbet, Mark A Hixon, Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael Nelson
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Ecological Society of America (8.6, 2010), pp. 329-221


  • A shift in societal attitudes towards climate change requires a multidisciplinary approach and cannot be managed only by scientists and the scientific community
  • Current state of matters:
    • Scientists tend to bring more and more technical information in response to slow societal reaction to climate change news
    • Top-down approaches tend to ‘fuel polarisation and public disengagement’ (329)
  • Four cultures of environmental sciences, philosophy and religion, social sciences and the creative arts – all required to work in synergy to convince the public to care about climate change
  • Communication research demonstrates that much of the public have no ability or motivation to be informed about the details of climatology, choosing to rely on social identity, cultural traditions, personal experience, localised knowledge and/or popular media to comprehend climate issues
    • Thus the most effective method to rouse action is when it is framed in terms of community values or a subject they are familiar and concerned with
  • One of the proposals was that a digital news community be formed, with the suggestion that social media tools are used to match up members from different disciplines to discover complementary expertise, and to plan and coordinate a diversity of communication and public outreach initiatives

‘Climate Change as Meme’
Author: Samir Nazareth
Economic and Political Weekly (46.2, 2011), pp. 17-19, 21


  • According to Richard Dawkins, memes are ‘cultural ideas which include symbols and practices that can be transmitted through various forms of communication’ (17)
  • Three main memes examined: renewable energy meme, energy efficient meme, and transformation of the pollution meme
  • Memes do not only propagate ideas but act as ways to comprehend complex phenomenon and encourage climate change action

‘Climate change oppression: media production as the practice of freedom’
Author: Grady Walker
Consilience (9, 2013), pp. 97-106


  • Use of participatory media as an effective tool for climate change education
  • Media scholar Henry Jenkins: ‘We are moving away from a world in which some produce and many consume media toward one in which everyone has a more active stake in the culture that is produced’
  • Paper argues that adaptation is as necessary as mitigation to combat climate change, using participatory video distributed online on social media platforms as the main example

Climate Change and Participatory Arts

I have been searching for more secondary sources on climate change and social media, and found this fascinating piece exploring several examples of case studies done in the global south.

Most of our research so far has been strongly London-based and emphasises climate change’s effectiveness on the northern hemisphere and Western countries, but considering its cross-continental effects on the global south with a focus on Asia-Pacific is something worth thinking about too. Perhaps not for our presentation’s central point, but as an issue we can acknowledge – knowing that the effects on the global south, and the differences in social media usage and distribution of technology, will also create a divide in how people approach climate change and the urgency with which they do so.

I found it particularly interesting how social media is used as a tool for participatory arts practices and disaster documentation and archiving, as seen in the following source:

‘Screen Cultures in the Asia-Pacific’
Authors: Larissa Hjorth, Sarah Pink, Kristen Sharp and Linda Williams
Book: Screen Ecologies: Art, Media, and the Environment in the Asia-Pacific Region (MIT Press, 2016),  pp. 57-88


  • Social media (particularly mobile media and its platforms) allows users to become active members in the experience, management and aftermath of environmental disasters
    • Example: in Japan, in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in March 2011, mobile phones were used extensively to capture and disseminate images around the globe. For many people, Twitter messages and still and moving images taken with camera phones not only embodied the effect and affect of the disaster but also became the repository for various forms of personal and communal grief and bereavement (Hjorth and Kim 2011)
    • Note that national Japanese broadcaster NHK had deliberately withheld information from the public on the government’s orders
    • Social and mobile media act as both witness and alibi
  • In contrast, those without access to mobile phones had less opportunity to mobilise and take agency in the dissemination of information and media about environmental disasters
    • Example: in the Philippines an initial lack of images surrounding Haiyan was due to the fact that many affected people shared one mobile phone among a family, and most of these phones did not have cameras. Instead the images that emerged from the disaster were by professional photojournalists. They were well conceived in terms of the conventions of photojournalism, with attention to composition, and could be interpreted as being highly contrived. These were not the highly personal, intimate, DIY images associated with mobile media.
  • New media artists e.g. New Zealander Janine Randerson
    • In 2008, Randerson monitored the effects of climate change on animal and bird migration, then combined scientific data visualisation with found amateur footage from YouTube to create her video installation Cascade
  • Camera phone apps and images can be used for documenting, sharing, communicating, and critically commenting on environmental disasters to everyday experiences of the environment, but themselves contribute to the perpetuation of the consumer society that is a factor in climate change
    • Digital platforms break down parameters between the amateur and the professional, leading to a democratisation of media usage and dissemination
    • Camera phone as a critical part of the environment being an embodied and affective experience of place
    • Note that accessibility expansion via social media must be understood in relation to ways in which the technologies are part of globally distributed corporate and institutional power relations supported by national agendas and consumer cultures
  • Mobile media nevertheless still plays a significant role in the making of critical and participatory arts practice in relation to climate change
    • How can environmentally responsible uses of digital media engage in the mitigation of climate change through arts practice?

Imagining Action Against Climate Change: Speculative Futures and Ecofuturism

As taking action against climate change becomes a wider and more mainstream issue, I have noticed speculative literature and other fiction responding to the matter and trying to imagine what potential solutions can be offered.

One of the genres that has gained prominence in the last decade is eco-fiction, that is fiction that is ecologically orientated. It often deals with climate change, and also speaks towards matters about sustainability and renewable energies.

There has been some debate on the effectiveness and the effect of climate/eco fiction in general. Few academic studies have been conducted on this relatively new subgenre, and the ones that have found that eco fiction readers tend to be younger, more liberal, and already with an active stake in the fight against climate change. However, a key aspect is that ecofuturistic stories not only remind readers of the severity of climate change but also compels them to imagine futures with the environment as a chief consideration. This needs to be further translated into present action, so the effects of fiction on active engagement with climate change are still not well-documented.

Articles and books that we can draw from in the future:
– Charlie Jane Anders’ Why Science Fiction Authors Need to be Writing About Climate Change Right Now
– Guardian article on ‘cli-fi’ and its focus on the immediate thread rather than scientific discovery (link)
– Academic journal article on horror fiction requiring more eco-futuristic and ecofiction analysis: Brad Tabas’ Dark Places: Ecology, Place, and the Metaphysics of Horror Fiction
– Jim Dwyer’s Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Eco-Fiction (2010)


Conflict Group A (22/01/2019): Proposing Research Question and Discipline-based Analysis

A summary of the discussion that took place on 22 January 2019, and next steps to be explored by Conflict Group A:

  1. Main ideas
    1. Power and conflict: ideals, people and the state
    2. Forgotten and marginalised narratives
    3. Group members’ various disciplines/essay focus had dealt with conflict between the state and the people
  2. Potential case studies
    1. Yellow Vest movement in France
    2. Extinction Rebellion
      1. Extinction Rebellion calls for a rethinking on global urgency of climate change, using open events and livestreams to make revolutionary change in the 21st century
      2. Can explore the vernaculars of resistance online as compared to offline, and the languages through which we can be effective online
      3. Analysis of audience targeting methods and intertextuality
  3. Further strands for exploration
    1. Conflicts mediated by digital development, enabling a different type of protest and different kinds of accountability
    2. Technology and media
      1. e.g. tech companies manipulating data information to shape mass opinions i.e. Cambridge Analytica
    3. State power versus grassroots resistance
      1. Accessibility of information?
    4. Social media and climate change
      1. Ecofuturism and speculative fictions/futures (solarpunk specfic)
      2. Echo chamber of the Internet: is it a space for productive dialogue, and does it actually translate to meaningful action?
      3. Digital economies and the politics of form
        1. What forms a symbolic resistance against capitalism and how do we co-opt resistance tactics from neoliberalism?
  4. Next concerns
    1. Potential research topic: how are specific narratives about climate change marginalised/amplified on social media as a result of institutions/movements/location?
      1. How does climate change impact you depending on location i.e. global north versus global south? Who has the keys to power to effect change and where are they located geographically/politically?
      2. ACTION POINT: group members to do research on the theories and literature of their own disciplines for this topic, to be discussed at the next meeting.
    2. What is a creative way of presenting this research?
      1. Will there be any human participation required? Note that there is a form to fill out if this is the case.
      2. Tentative agreement to have a focused research question through which we will examine various case studies, rather than concentrating on any one specific case study
        1. Would be good to broaden the case studies out to various locations/cultures beyond the Anglo-American/Eurocentric sphere.
  5. Miscellaneous
    1. Note that the presentation will take place 25 March 7.30-8.10pm TBC location, provided there is no clash with anyone’s schedules.