In honor of the land and those who are trying to preserve/save it from agribusiness, I’d like to give thanks to all those who treat soil, water, air and animals ethically. Along these lines, I’m posting a trailer for this nice little documentary, Land Awakening, about farmers in the Mediterranean who grow food sustainably.
“Land Awakening” is my personal journey to experience hands-on organic sustainable agriculture, turning into the discovering of alternative technologies and approaches to producing and gathering food. The experience resolves to a spiritual reflection into our deep and sacred relationship with the Land.
Inspired by his son’s voyage to learn about organic farming in Spain, Mexican-Canadian filmmaker Raúl Álvarez embarks on his own quest finding how chemical agriculture creates deserts, and Wild Nature provides far more nutritious foods when we stop controlling it.
Raúl’s odyssey expands around the Mediterranean and Canada, warmly portraying compelling characters living sustainably. He meets experts breaking paradigms and taboos on agriculture, wild plants and marketing food, making his journey deeply inspiring.
Imbued with a beautiful scenery “Land Awakening” proposes a spiritual, timely and concrete message of change in our relationship to the Land where our food comes from.
A Toys R Us ad that ridicules environmental education made fun of a fictional environmental organization called Meet the Trees. In response to the ad’s anti-environment message, some enterprising folks poke a little fun at Toys R Us by creating a web site for the Meet the Trees Foundation, the fictional organization featured in the ad. While I applaud the activists’ efforts–in particular its action page that helps people give Toys R Us a piece of their mind–the web site could use some help. I think the design and images reinforce a little of what the Toys R Us ad was mocking. Regardless, I’m glad someone took the initiative to have a little fun at the expense of Toys R Us.
The latest from the media gods, whose gifts keep on giving for all the wrong reasons. In the newest installment, this Toys R Us ad blows over all commons sense like a climate change induced hurricane. The ad depicts a busload of mostly kids of color who are being taken on a field trip to “nature” (I use quotation marks because it is ultimately a false distinction). It mocks environmental education by falsely depicting a boring, un-engaged presentation about oak leaves. Then suddenly the kids learn that they had been tricked and were actually going to Toys R Us. Like moths to a flame, they sprint ecstatically into a furnace of Chinese-manufactured toxins.*
The ad is wrong on so many levels, but let’s start with the demographic of the children. Urban kids of color have been shown to have “nature deficit” because of a lack of access to environmental education and “nature.” Under-served youths tend to live in cities and attend schools that don’t have the resources for environmental education. This problem is being addressed by the No Child Left Inside model, but there is a long way to go, and ads like this certainly don’t help the matter.
Toys R Us offers itself as a kind of WIllie Wonka of the consumer sublime, a concept developed by David Nye. Over the past hundred and fifty years or so as we have shifted into techno-scientific modernity, the sublime has transformed from an experience of awe of nature to awe of the technological cornucopia that surrounds us. The ad reinforces this by representing its toy store as a magical kingdom of discovery and amazement. But the ancient meaning of awe–“terror–comes closer to the reality behind Toys R Us, a kind of Lord of the Flies of globalization.
It just amazes me that the more we know about the state of our planetary ecological crisis, the more corporations shill denial. Also, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t made by The Onion.
* I’m not China bashing here, just drawing attention to where this crap is made. Just as the Colombians shouldn’t be blamed for our coke addiction, nor should we accuse the Chinese for our over-consumerism.
It is my hope and belief that media will help people see Earth as a system. Based on the preview for this NOVA trailer, I’m getting the sense that we are getting close to a good example of how it can be done. Unfortunately I’m restricted from watching it in Italy, but if you are in the US, you can check it out here.
This hypothetical propaganda video from the UN’s Division for Sustainable Development associates “healing the planet” with eradicating humans as if they are a planetary disease. It depicts a particular fear and misperception at the heart of Beck’ anthropocentric worldview. He equates concern for the environment as anti-human. This is the opposite of what most ecologists believe. While it is true that some environmentalists are anti-human/anti-civilization (I know this from direct experience), most care deeply about humanity. As an ecocentric parent, my empathy extends to ecosystems, animals, plants and fellow humans. It’s not one or the other.
As for Beck’s vision, however, it is certainly one or the other, which makes no sense on a practical level. Since humans are organisms that depend on fresh air, water and food to survive, I’m not sure how Beck’s vision of freedom ensures healthy ecosystems so that our liberties may be enjoyed. But if you spend anytime peering beyond Beck’s carefully cultivated media empire, you quickly see that he is no more than an irrational conspiranoid that has somehow amplified his worldview beyond that of a ranting psychitzophrenic on skid row. Without media literacy, many will fall for the trappings of serious journalism that Beck dresses his hallucinations with (again, I know from direct experience that it works on some people). Even worse, some will likely believe the “Remove Your Footprint” video is actually real.
Beck is no Orwell or Huxley, both of whom were deeply empathetic authors that cared more about humanity than for corporations. Their visions were based on empirical observations of the world and were by no means hawking conspiracy theories as political agendas. Heck, Beck didn’t even write the book. He just bought the rights to put his name on it. Which just about says everything about the literary qualifications of his anti-environmental stance.
If you’re looking for some good background information about the link between the Internet and climate change, please read this very important article: Power, Pollution and the Internet. Put starkly, the article states:
A yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.
Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found.
And there is the most shocking bit of information:
Energy efficiency varies widely from company to company. But at the request of The Times, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company analyzed energy use by data centers and found that, on average, they were using only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations. The rest was essentially used to keep servers idling and ready in case of a surge in activity that could slow or crash their operations.
There are technological fixes for the Internet’s environmental problem — moving data centers off the coal-fired power grid and onto hydro-electric, solar, geothermal and other sources; designing energy efficient devices; and using smart grids to regulate and reduce domestic and workplace energy consumption.But these fixes will not succeed without a corresponding transformation of our consumer culture into a culture of sustainability, one that ensures that social, political, and economic development does exceed or irreversibly damage the Earth’s abilities to supply and renew the natural resources upon which we depend.
Interesting graphic regarding the ecological impact of video games. However it seems to imply that downloading has no environmental impact, and that is simply not true. It is likely that downloading has less impact, but cloud storage is pushing high energy consumption on server farms. If the current trend continues, the CO2 emissions of the Internet and cloud will double in ten years. Already it’s equal to the aviation industry.
There are other impacts that video game consoles have as well. They require rare earth minerals that are often extracted in environmentally stressed zones. I write a little about this in The Media Ecosystem (pp. 5-6):
… researchers found an important correlation between the Sony PlayStation 2 and the decline of the gorilla population in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2000 speculation on the price of tantalum, a key precious metal used in microelectronics such as cell phones and gaming devices, was driven by the impending release of the PlayStation 2. This led to a massive mining boom in the Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega national park, severely impacting the population of many animal species, including elephants, tortoises, birds, and small mammals. The park is home of the Grauer’s gorilla, which represents 86 percent of the planetary population of lowland gorillas. As a result of the tantalum rush, the Grauer’s gorilla population declined from seventeen thousand to three thousand. Fueled by consumer demand for gadgets and market speculation driven by internet trading, this tragedy reflects the problem of an economic paradigm that fails to account for living systems. The inability of media and gadget companies to incorporate an Earth system ethic into their design leads to a loss of biodiversity. Not only is it immoral to create systems that disregard life, such a loss has huge implications for the climate, for as we decrease biodiversity, regional ecosystems lose the ability to thrive and adjust under conditions of the extreme ecological disruptions that are increasingly commonplace.
Another great video from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Here they combine top-notch journalism with animation to present a systems-wide perspective on the climate costs of the American burger diet. Not only do they do an excellent job of digesting complex data into a simple narrative, it strikes a good balance between alarm and fact. With a light touch and some humorous graphics, it avoids scare tactics that often drive people away from tough issues.
Cudos to CIR for innovating and evolving investigative journalism so that it can thrive in the post-newspaper environment. Also check out their excellent YouTube channel, The I Files.
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.
* 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.
This is why I donate to Democracy Now! Where else do we get alternative perspectives on debacles like Rio+20? Here environmentalist David Suzuki concisely breaks down why we keep making the same mistakes over and over again by trying to shoehorn the environment into an broken economic model. He makes the simple but obvious point that we need to remember that we are animals and that we depend on clean air, water and food to survive. If we shrink the earth down to the size of a basketball, the layer of atmosphere that sustains life would be thinner than plastic wrap.
If we are such intelligent creatures, how is it possible that we can’t focus on these basic facts? Media that do not address this paradigm are essentially immoral and insane. And for those of us who are media educators, we need to do a better job of highlighting and advancing this ecological perspective.
Well, right on cue, Gasland director Josh Fox released a new video which serves as an excellent companion to my previous post. The Sky is Pink is a condensed version of Gasland, but updated to target New York governor Andrew Coumo’s efforts to allow fracking in his state. The thing I like about this video is its effort to debunk industry criticisms of Gasland by offering a mini-lesson in media literacy (“the sky is pink” refers to the PR strategy of making false claims that are then covered by news media for the sake of being “balanced”). I think that you will agree that after watching this Tom Ridge and his industry cronies are villains in the truest sense and that independent media makers are heroes!
For more background info about this short film, click here.
In what can be seen as the evolution of propaganda, for better and for worse the networked public sphere has been Konyfied. This means that slick aesthetics and creative storytelling combined with social networks has the potential to spread any message far and wide.
No doubt, Kony 2012 did inspire eco-communicators to think of new ways to spread the concept of sustainability. But we have also been broadsided by the likes of a video produced by Free Market America, “If I wanted America to fail” (posted above). It pushes a right-wing anti-environment business agenda with slick, youth appeal aesthetics (I can’t wait for the mash-ups!). Though I find this kind of propaganda somewhat disturbing, I’m not sure if it works. It uses a confusing language of irony that contradicts its own messaging. Psychologists have remarked how conflicting it is to say something like “Don’t do drugs” because “don’t” and “do” in the same sentence usually cancels out the negative (“don’t”). By combining “If I wanted American to fail” with all the the actions they don’t support, they in fact are encouraging those behaviors! But then again, most rightwing propaganda is designed to be a mind-frak anyways, so maybe that’s their intention.
Just to be clear, the video offers to expose the “extremist” agenda of environmentalists (and by implication the Occupy movement as well), yet the views expressed here are really those of extremists who are ready to let the planet fail at the expense of an outmoded ideology. The reason why free market radicals are now doubling down on their madness has to do with a psychological need to reinforce an entrenched worldviw in the face of utter contradiction. How can they ignore, for example, that the economic crisis since 2008 basically demonstrated that the free market cannot survive without government intervention or subsidies, or that every year the scientific consensus gets closer and closer to near unanimous acceptance that climate change is caused by humans? Friends, denial ain’t a river in Phoenix (it’s a dry riverbed!).
Apparently Fox doesn’t like the video either, not because they disagree with the main premise (see video below). Rather, it’s because they think it’s a little too over-the-top to convince the non-believers. How’s that for the kettle calling the pot black!
Just as every month is Black History Month, every day is Earth Day. To mark this year’s passing, Alternet.org features a fabulous review of nine environmental documentaries that bring ecology to the center of our cultural awareness. In particular it led me to Surviving Progress, a necessary critique of our current notion of “progress.” Based on the book, A Short History of Progress, this film has been called a mash-up of Koyaanisqatsi and The Corporation. I’m all for anything that problematizes our notion of technological evolution.* Moreover, I feel this is an area of critique generally lacking in media education. For one, youth media educators could problematize how mediamaking devices are produced and disposed of. Media lit educators focused on textual analysis could zoom in on how technology works as a trope for a variety of values associated with consumption and unlimited growth. Along these lines, here are some more suggestions for ways media education can be greened:
Discourse analysis: Media literacy has pioneered techniques for analyzing the way media frame and discuss issues, both visually and textually. Since discourse analysis can be applied to news and propaganda, green media educators can use this tool to examine how a critical issue like climate change is covered in the news, or how to detect greenwashing. Claims makers–from BP to GreenPeace–vie for public attention. What strategies do they use, and what systems enable some voices and not others?
Semiotics: Basic media literacy is a primer for the deconstruction of symbols. Often times semiotics is used for studying representation, in particular racial, gender, and cultural stereotyping. Animals and living systems are also used and stereotyped in a variety of ways. Why and for what purpose?
Marketing: Media literacy techniques have mastered deconstruction, drawing attention to nearly 30 different persuasion techniques used to manipulate and hook our attention. The primary technique, emotional transfer, is represented by how marketers (or propagandists for that matter) generate feelings in order to transfer those sensibilities to brands. But the various emotions generated by sex, fear, and humor are tied to more ancient needs related to our connection with living systems. Media literacy could point out that when advertisers are playing with our emotions, they are trying to tap into deeper experiences of authenticity and resonance that can be fulfilled by activities that don’t require consumption, and could even tie into our primary need to connect with humans and nature.
Ideology: This is usually applied in the form of critical media literacy, and aims to challenge the claims made by corporations and governments. In the age of Occupy, much attention will be applied to the way in which economic values are propagated through media. To this extent it is absolutely necessary to examine those discourses surrounding growth and consumption, and how they lead to debt on multiple levels: personal, social, and ecological. To what extent are both economics and ecology ultimately two sides of the same coin?
An additional dimension can be explored: different media promote a range of environmental ideologies–beliefs about how we act upon the world– spanning from anthropocentric to ecocentric perspectives. What implications do these different worldviews have for ecology? Moreover, given that most media literacy aspires to greater democratic participation, it would be good to examine the kind of democracy we believe in. Is it anthropocentric, or could we work towards what Vandana Shiva calls Earth Democracy, which incorporates living systems?
The Cultural Commons: Educators pushing for media justice can link the enclosure of the techno-communication system by telecoms and media corporations with the enclosure of culture. IP law, anti-piracy legislation, and corporate mergers all have the effect of limiting democratic participation and access to cultural resources. This process began with colonization and witch hunts, which eliminated indigenous and female participation in order to promote patriarchal control. Now these processes are extending to the enclosure of all ideas: it is the colonization of our interpersonal realities. This can be challenged by highlighting the importance of open culture, reformed copyright laws, and a less restrictive approach to sharing.
Intertextuality: People should not just think about ecosystems, but think like ecosystems. This means looking at our mental models and learning to think in terms of systems, relationships, and connectivity. Our social networks do this naturally, but what about media texts? Traditional media literacy tends to focus on single texts (like an alcohol ad), but what if we looked at texts as if they were a node in the media ecosystem? The way the web makes all texts open works does that for us. Consider how Kony 2012 became a dialog between many different texts produced by a vast range of critics and supporters. Or how a WikiLeaks document becomes linked to a Web of ideas and practices. Or look how we make sense of a film like Avatar, with its linkages to various genres and tropes from other films, and then how fans and activists remixed and spread various memes from the film.
Gadgets: As mentioned, media education programs rarely critically engage the tools used to make media. We should celebrate the creative process and promote the empowerment of media making, yet we should not take our eye off the fact that the gadgets we use have an increasingly negative impact on global ecology and social justice. Can we get away with making critical documentaries without also examining our own complicity within this production system?
Phenomenology: Most media literacy looks outwardly to ask questions about what media do to us. Sometimes the question is changed to focus on what we do with media. But what about the manner in which media influence our cognition–for better or for worse? How does media engagement impact our sense of space, place, and time? What are the “splaces” we are engaging? How might this experience of extending ourselves into media networks impact our sense of planet? How can we become more mindful of our attention so as to not lose ourselves in the dreamworlds of other people’s design (Kony 2012 seemed to be quite hypnotic in that sense)?
Alternative Cultural Practices: There is a tendency among many media educators to focus on the negative aspects of media. But we also need to support positive media practices. After all, media are a necessary means for solving problems. While I fully endorse critical approaches, I also would like to warn against too much negativity that leads to learners feeling powerless and victimized. We need to pull people towards aspirational solutions. This is a slightly different take on problem-solving pedagogies that focus on how to fix problems. Rather, we should encourages learners to create solutions. The difference is subtle but important. What we are aiming for is supporting lifelong learning skills that build towards sustainable cultural practices that can envision a positive response to a very wicked problem.
These suggestions are part of a larger project I’m working on to re-orient media education towards a green worldview. These points barely scratch the surface of what I’ve been developing. If you are interested in joining me or offering feedback, please comment below.
Happy Earth Day!
* For what it’s worth, to question technology is to not be anti-technology. Hopefully people will come to realize that thinking critically about technology is not a desire to go back to the Stone Age, but rather to consider the boundaries and limits that can be placed on how technology fits within the context of ecology and human experience, and not the other way around.
What the BP case shows is that media decolonization requires decoupling our media from the carbon economy. For those of us who use computers and networks, this will mean a transitional period, since currently our consumption of electronics and energy use are increasingly large sources of C02 emissions. In fact, computer networks now produce more carbon emissions than the airlines industry. A Google server farm will use as much electricity as a city of 250,000 people, so efforts by companies like Google to transition to renewable energy is absolutely necessary. But with the exponential growth of the information economy, we may be drowning in data anyway. For example, some communications scholars argue that data clouds, bloated software, redundant archiving, and media rich data centers are pushing the overall planetary impact of physical data storage to unsustainable levels (“The Internet Begins with Coal” titles one report about network power consumption). They suggest that it will become increasingly necessary to ration data, meaning that people should be sharing copies of media rather than having to access them from multiple clouds. Unfortunately, the current push toward cloud computing by dominant corporate providers Balkanizes the net into data fiefdoms, leading to less compatibility and sharing.
As long as we perpetuate the current fossil fuel regime, the belief that unlimited data is harmless to the biosphere will remain intrinsically bound to the creed that information is weightless and immaterial. This situation, the researchers argue, parallels our treatment of the oceans, which are being pushed to the brink of ecological collapse because people have assumed their capacity for producing food and absorbing pollution is limitless. Not only is linking computer and network usage directly to their impact on the environment a crucial step toward green cultural citizenship, it’s a radical challenge to a status quo predicated on tightly restricted intellectual property. Proprietary control of data is the ultimate tragedy of the commons. Ultimately, only a culture based on a cultural commons that values sharing resources would ensure that the next wave of computing doesn’t result in black clouds in our atmosphere.
Sometimes media can help us see that which we can no longer sense. Here NASA’s imaging of Earth’s ocean currents reminds us how interconnected everything is, and that the world is in constant motion. Is this a bridge from the technological sublime to the natural sublime?
Just in case you didn’t watch the Grammy Awards (I didn’t either), it featured this commercial, which is a fairly good example of ecological communication. By explaining a complicated system with concrete symbolism, this is a good demonstration of how advertising techniques can promote positive thinking. Chipotle, which you may have seen featured in the documentary Food Inc., wants to highlight its “food with integrity” program that promotes the humane treatment of animals and a decentralized food system. The soundtrack features Willie Nelson covering Radiohead. Wow!
“Forced austerity makes the poor and working families pay for the excesses of limitless greed and accumulation by the super rich. Chosen simplicity stops these excesses and allow us to flower into an Earth Democracy where the rights and freedoms of all species and all people are protected and respected.”
“The Yale cultural cognition project has looked at cultural worldview and climate change, and what’s clear is that ideology is the main factor in whether we believe in climate change. If you have an egalitarian and communitarian worldview, and you tend toward a belief system of pooling resources and helping the less advantaged, then you believe in climate change. And the stronger your belief system tends toward a hierarchical or individual worldview, the greater the chances are that you deny climate change and the stronger your denial will be.”
What can kickstart the planetary mobilization to shift our economic and ecological priorities? It has already started. If you haven’t yet had the chance, dig into Paul Mason‘s recent Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions. A journalist and economics editor for the BBC, Mason travels the world’s emergent insurrections to give us an explanation and insider’s glimpse into the forces shaping rapid social change. From Greece to Egypt, from London to Madrid he shows the interconnection between these global uprisings and why they are succeeding (he also points to the dangers and traps that lay ahead). I plan to do a longer post about the book later–it is so full of ideas and insights that I haven’t properly digested them quite yet–so I’ll leave it to you intrepid explorers to follow the links and check it out for yourself (for starters, click here for a talk he gave based on the book at the London School of Economics)
The latest outrage is the emergence of a “Truffula tree friendly” SUV ad for a Mazda (posted above).
In response, the best quip comes from Mediate: “Having The Lorax shill for a sport utility vehicle is like using clips of Requiem For A Dream to sell diet pills, it goes completely against the spirit of the source material!” Appropriately, Jason Bittel offered this little Dr. Seuss-esque ditty:
A Lorax-branded combustion engine? I mean, seriously?
In a new RSAnimation, psychiatrist Iain McGilchristc revises the great divided brain debate, something I discuss in my book, Mediacology. To recap, in the ’70s the idea that the left and right brain hemispheres serve different cognitive functions entered into popular culture (represented by books such as Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain). In The Global Village, Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers run with this concept, arguing how different kinds of media favor or bias the cognitive processing of our brains. Reading and writing are distinctly left brained, whereas nonlinear media like TV and music are favored by the right hemisphere.
Many authors posit that writing has turned us into an overly rational and patriarchal culture. In the Alphabet Versus the Goddess, neurosurgeon Leonard Shlain argues that writing mimics the same mental processes of hunting: the pen replaces the spear.
McGilchrist doesn’t contradict these arguments. Rather he points out that it’s not an either or situation. Sight and sound are processed by both sides of the brain, but what happens is that the left hemisphere handles detailed and focused thinking, whereas the right hemisphere deals with field-like vision or hearing. Consider how we differentiate between seeing and watching, and listening and hearing.
What I find intriguing about the animation (a mix of both right and left brain media), is the possibility that sustainable behavior comes from cultivating right brain thinking. This is what I argued for in my book, but this video does a much better job of articulating how that’s possible. My main point was that traditional media literacy was mainly left-brained, because it focuses on reductionist deconstruction techniques, whereas new media involve right brain skills, and therefor should be incorporated into the concept of media literacy.
He points out that the right brain’s job is to inhibit immediate responses to situations so that we can use our wit and empathy to work out solutions. It also helps map and simplify the world so that we can make better sense of it. Metaphor, implicit meaning, body language, embodied experience, and a disposition for living rather than mechanical reality characterize the right brain approach to the world.
The machine model is self consistent because it made itself so. It’s what he calls the “Berlusconi of the brain” because it controls all the “media”– the right hemisphere doesn’t have a voice. The left brain model of the world is like a hall of mirrors, a reality bubble. And this is exactly the kind of problem I see in media theory which rarely challenges the mechanical model of cognition and communication. This is also why I believe media theory has not significantly tackled ecology (not in the “systems” sense, but in the sustainability sense).
Finally, McGilchrist argues knowledge within the left hemisphere is a closed system that demands perfection. By contrast, the right hemisphere’s understanding of the world is an open system.
In the end, it’s not reason versus imagination, he says, but both working together. You can’t have one without the other. The problem with our current world system is that it’s based on a closed, machine-like model of the world built by an unbalanced, and ultimately, insane mind. To restore sanity, we need to re-balance how we perceive the world and ourselves.