What media literacy can do to combat climate enemies


Which future will BP fuel? One that ends civilization as we know it? [video link]

“The Earth is not dying – she is being killed. And those who are killing her have names and addresses.” Utah Phillips

If you haven’t read it yet, Bill McKibben‘s recent Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” is absolutely required reading. To summarize, he points out that the carbon industry–mainly the globe’s major oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP–have valued their stock based on the extraction and burning of enough fossil fuels to raise global temperatures by 11 degrees celsius. What that means is that if they do what they promise for their investors, civilization is over as we know it. It’s hard to imagine such perverse and short-sighted thinking, but such is the state of our current economic system.

So what can media literacy advocates do about it? McKibben argues that there is power in identifying the enemy. If we can target and discredit their operations, the perceived value and reasons for continuing business as usual can be crippled. Such was the case with Apartheid and how a global movement made the cost of doing business with the South Africa regime bad for business. And as media literacy advocates know, Big Tobacco was severely hampered by educators and media campaigns that countered their nefarious messaging.

Right now the major oil companies are able to dominate the discourse around climate change. Moreover, they deploy sophisticated communications strategies to greenwash their operations. One example is the BP “Fueling the Future” ads (see above video clip) and the Team USA ad running in the US during the Olympics. Shame on the Olympics for partnering with BP, which should have gotten the corporate death penalty for trashing the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Instead, the Olympics give a veneer of legitimacy for a shady corporation that is doing little to prevent the global catastrophe that is ingrained into its business plan.* Instead BP offers up a “target neutral” strategy for corporations to engage in unsustainable, shallow ecology.

The Climate Reality Project has already produced several videos aimed at linking the climate deniers with the PR strategies of the tobacco industry. Likewise, I believe that media educators should put deconstructing and challenging the oil industry at the center of their projects. The same skills that we use to critically engage alcohol or tobacco marketing can be applied to the way in which the carbon industry dominates discourse around climate change.

* I’ll need to comment in a separate post about the incredible integration of Olympics media coverage on NBC and the corporatist agenda. Suffice to say that there is a seamless fusion between patriotism, branding, corporatism and sport. Add to this the amazing capacity for the Olympics to transform any host site into a police state.