Three-D Issue 29: Climate Cultures

News coverage of climate change and environmental issues often focus on largescale and planetary events; from the dire warnings issued by international scientific organisations, to dramatic footage of ice shelves collapsing, and global political summits on climate change mitigation. It is understandable that such content forms the core of journalistic considerations of climate change, aligning as it does with the overriding news values of the corporate media for eye-catching, dramatic and culturally significant stories. Aside from national news coverage of high-impact low frequency episodes such as catastrophic freak weather events and local news reports of environmental developments in the immediate vicinity, the ways in which ordinary citizens experience their environments and make sense of issues such as climate change sometimes take a back seat to more traditional, macro-level news framing.

However, in recent years, environmental discourses have become more closely entwined with the personal and the everyday. The work of celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio to align environmentalism with the experiences and responsibilities of the individual, the efforts of non-profit bodies to situate environmental concern within the domestic sphere, and the desires of some corporations to tie environmentalism to consumer practices, all point to the heightened prevalence of understanding the relationships between long-term, global phenomena and everyday, individual experiences. This raises many important questions concerning not only the relationships between the symbolic cultures and material practices that govern everyday environmentalism and sustainability, but also the impacts of these upon global environmental trends.

To interrogate such questions, the MeCCSA Climate Change, Environment and Sustainability Network convened a workshop in 2016, with the support of MeCCSA among others, that brought together scholars from a range of disciplines within the physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The event sought to explore the role of affect and the everyday in climate change practices and policies, and to understand the nature of what has been termed ‘climate cultures.’ Since then, the network has expanded this programme of interdisciplinary research and is in the process of convening a special issue of Climate Change, to be published in 2018, which brings together cutting-edge research to develop a more rigorous and complex understanding of the connections of culture, media and everyday practice in the context of climate change mitigation.

This programme of research is complemented by the two panels sponsored by the Network at the 2018 MeCCSA conference at London South Bank University. The first panel seeks to explore some of the pertinent ethical questions faced by producers and consumers of a range of visual and creative media on the subject of human impacts on the global environment. Collectively, the papers in this panel work to bridge some of the gaps between the micro-level everyday interactions between the individual and concepts of sustainability, and the macro-level impacts that mark the Anthropocene, while exploring some of the dilemmas involved in effectively communicating such issues. The second panel interrogates some of the prominent discourses of climate change, particularly those relating to migration, protest and corporatism. Together, the papers explore the potential for meaningful understandings of climate change in light of the different, sometimes competing, groups that have a stake in its communication. The papers outline some of the limits of climate change and environmental communication imposed by the structures of the corporate / mainstream media, and the ways in which this creates both a space for propaganda or ‘fake news’, and a seemingly legitimate space for corporate environmentalism.

Collectively, the recent work of the Climate Change, Environment and Sustainability Network and its members have endeavoured to bridge some of the gaps between the numerous scholarly disciplines in which research on climate change and the environment take place, and to emphasise the centrality of media, communication and cultural studies in on ongoing efforts to understand and advance environmental sustainability. The Network looks forward to building on this research in 2018 and hosting a number of interdisciplinary research events, to be announced.

Posted by Einar Thorsen