How can we prepare citizens to create sustainable change and protect the environment? What makes people leap from ambivalence to connections about their own actions and impacts on the environment?
Sometimes it comes from a universal design of immersion, adaption, and repetition to develop an ecological perspective. Often it’s having the chance to join a community group where like-minded individuals come together to share ideas and models for communicating about climate change. Maybe it happens when we dialogue and analyze how the planet is depicted in advertising, or in documentaries, or on small and large screens. Or it could be slowing down news coverage of the climate crisis in order to spur reflection and recognition.
Perhaps it’s all of these, as well as making important conscious efforts to gain access to the tools and texts that help us that can sow seeds of permanent sustainable change.
Tools for Sustainable Change in Media Literacy Education
Many educators are working to enhance interconnectedness between sustainability and media literacy education as a way to personally engage young people in environmental issues. Here are just a few examples of the ways that teachers across disciplines are incorporating media literacy into environmental studies.
- Professor Theresa Redmond at Appalachian State University has created a website to help her students engage as citizens and build community through ecojustice inquiry.
- Project Look Sharp at Ithaca College has created a free online curriculum that includes developmentally-targeted lessons. Particularly, Kelsey Greene’s lower elementary units about plants, animals, and water work from local identifications and issues, to deconstructing book covers about environmental actions, to impacts to our own plant communities, to viewing a student-produced video, to identifying how children conduct environmental analysis, and then, ultimately, composing their own texts about environmental issues.
- A Teaching Tolerance lesson connects racism and environmental hazards, demonstrating how environmental racism occurs when dangerous materials (such as toxic waste and other kinds of pollution) are regularly placed in, or near, communities of low-income or minority people. Instructors and students can work to prevent environmental racism by insisting that underrepresented groups and low-income community members are involved in decisions about where to place hazardous materials, for example, and by influencing their government to distribute those materials more equally among all communities.
- A conference like the National Association for Media Literacy Education offers lots of tools, texts, and networking to help people to intersect environmental studies and media as a way to foster social change.
Two Texts You Have to Read about Sustainable Change & Ecology
If you haven’t read it, The Media Ecosystem by Antonio Lopez explores the connections between media and the environment. His argumentation essentially demonstrates how the world’s powers have seized and exploited the physical territories and natural resources of the earth. This is called a colonization of “cultural commons,” which compromises the space of ideas that everyone shares. Instead of foregrounding mechanistic thinking, like is so common today, Lopez suggests that ecological intelligence would enrich people’s lives. Ecological intelligence can teach us to foster relationships with every other living thing on the planet.
In order to create a more sustainable media ecosystem — just like the preservation of organic ecosystems — Lopez says we must reconnect our daily media activities to their impact on others and the environment. He calls this becoming “organic media practitioners.” This is important, he says, because we:
- must become aware of the impact of media use on the environment
- recognize media’s influence on our perception of time, space, and place
- understand media’s interdependence with the global economy
- be conscious of media’s interaction with cultural beliefs
- develop an ethical framework in order to act upon these understandings
Importantly, Lopez asks media producers and consumers alike to rise up to a place where ritual and collaboration coalesce with the process of communication. It can become an instrumental way to utilize collective intelligence and support a new culture of participation around sustainable change for the planet.
Another powerful text that offers an excellent grounding in sustainable change is A People’s History of the World. When we look at the history of the planet from the perspective of struggling peoples throughout the ages, it changes the way we perceive our relationship to the planet and each other. Some of the key points incorporates environmental understandings and includes descriptions about how:
- early agricultural societies remained internally egalitarian
- agrarian Europe emerged as a capitalist society in the thirteenth century
- the nature of plantation slavery fostered emergent racist ideology
- historic transformation through conquest, class restructuring, and the industrial revolution unalterably changed human productive capacity
Advocacy Efforts that Promote Sustainable Change
Connecting with others who are invested in sustainable change is quite empowering. Here is a series of policies and spaces that are excellent to survey as a way to learn how to advocate for sustainable change for the planet.
- The Paris Agreement: With the central aim to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, the Agreement prompts nations around the world to achieve a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It will be a mechanism for countries to deal with the impacts of climate change through appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework, and an enhanced capacity building framework.
- The Citizens’ Climate Lobby: This organization exists to create the political will for climate solutions by enabling individual breakthroughs in the exercise of personal and political power. They believe that, by building constructive, working relationships with members of Congress, they can seek passage of the Carbon Fee and Dividend, a climate change solution that bridges the partisan divide.
- Join groups of others who have dedicated themselves to divestment as a way to make their dollars work as efficiently as possible toward reducing anthropogenic climate change. Make sure our stocks have a green energy foundation really makes investors listen.
- Start local: find recycling centers, farmers’ markets, bike and walking paths, or explore energy efficiency options for your residence.
Yes, each of these is only a small step. But, when we build small steps together, we can create mindprints that become habits. That’s where the real sustainable change for the planet will take place.
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