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How can media literacy help to empower the social justice and environmental justice movements?

Climate Change

Critical Media Literacy, Environmental Justice, & Climate Change

How can media literacy help to empower the social justice and environmental justice movements?

Environmental justice calls for fair treatment of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, and it necessarily includes the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Environmental justice also requires meaningful involvement of underrepresented groups in power structures in society.

According to the EPA, we will achieve this when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and has equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

environmental justice

Social justice and environmental justice are innately connected. Naomi Klein, in her book, This Changes Everything, says that we can no longer ignore social or environmental justice. The myth of universal vulnerability, or “We will all be affected equally,” makes us fall into serious issues of injustice. So, too, does the myth of universal responsibility, or “We’re all to blame equally.” Actually, no. Different constituents are disproportionately responsible for their contributions to climate change, and climate change affects individual and groups unequally. We can bust these myths and challenge power about climate change, especially of those who are most privileged.

Environmental Justice and Systemic Media Deconstruction

We need to know the ins and outs of our philosophies and own up to them, especially if we want to empower others to critically analyze climate change as embodied in media texts. Then we will be able to ask, “What media systems and structures are allowing some ideas to appear ‘normal’?”

Did you know that cloud computing is powered by coal? How has planned obsolescence affected consumption and waste? Consumerism is a primary destructive force of the environment, and media messages today that continue to promote fossil fuel use tend to gloss over the ominous negative consequences of those energy sources. Propaganda in the news media is prevalent among media sources across space, time, and place, regenerating messages that create a mindprint in which climate change can seem to be someone else’s problem. NIMB, right?

Systems thinking isn’t new. Buddhism has a significant foundation in systems thinking. When we ask where a system of environmental impact is embedded within a common technology, we need to look at interconnections. Media and the material environment are interconnected, as media intersect different ecologies — cognitive, sociocultural, environmental, and aesthetic, among others.

environmental justice

Media literacy has a critical history — ideas that recognize ideology and culture as an important component of media. These critical components are important to remember or they get watered down, especially in today’s world where we’re asked to read and write images, sounds, advertising, and popular culture, as well as print. Literacy, in all its different forms, is the ability to critically analyze the relationship between knowledge and power in society. And being media literate is imperative if social and environmental justice movements are to dissipate the power of media messages.

Multiple Media Texts that Speak to Environmental Justice

Media can infuse audiences with appreciation for nature and the environment. Think Avatar or the Lord of the Rings trilogy as powerful examples. With a strong philosophical and theological basis, these films connect audiences to environmental concepts that they may never have previously encountered. Sometimes called “constructivist media literacy content,” media deconstruction of global warming gives audiences the tools to move from mentor guidance to independent analysis of textual messages around anthropogenic climate change.

That approach makes us all ask questions about the environmental texts that the media disseminate to audiences. See Project Look Sharp for some of these deconstruction activities. All ages take to this type of deconstruction, as it speaks to multiple perspectives and engages metaphorical thinking.

And it’s not just film that is a good space for this kind of textual analysis. Think Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” or “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell. Cat Stevens’ “Where Do the Children Play?” is another musical text that can drive media deconstruction and invite inquiry that leads to environmental justice revelations.

And maybe these audiences will take the next steps to go public and share what they’ve learned about climate through media deconstructions, joining the advocacy movements of both social and environmental justice.

Photo credits:, anokarina via / CC BY-SA

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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