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Environmental Conflict and the Media


Libby Lester and Brett Hutchins

Has the hype associated with the «revolutionary» potential of the World Wide Web and digital media for environmental activism been muted by the past two decades of lived experience? What are the empirical realities of the prevailing media landscape?
Using a range of related disciplinary perspectives, the contributors to this book analyze and explain the complicated relationship between environmental conflict and the media. They shine light on why media are central to historical and contemporary conceptions of power and politics in the context of local, national and global issues and outline the emerging mixture of innovation and reliance on established strategies in environmental campaigns.
With cases drawn from different sections of the globe – Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Europe, Latin America, China, Japan, the Pacific Islands, Africa – the book demonstrates how conflicts emanate from and flow across multiple sites, regions and media platforms and examines the role of the media in helping to structure collective discussion, debate and decision-making.
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17 “Skeptics” and “Believers”: The Anti-Elite Rhetoric of Climate Change Skepticism in the Media: Alanna Myers


In a 2000 article about the sociological barriers to widespread public understanding of climate change, Sheldon Ungar begins by admitting that after a decade of clipping articles from Science and Nature, a layperson’s sense that climate change is real “ultimately boils down to picking the experts you think you can trust” (2000: 297). Not only is the problem neglected in the mass media, Ungar argues, but those individuals who do seek a deeper understanding through books, films and the Internet “remain utterly dependent on experts for evaluating the global circulation models on which the whole game is predicated” (2000: 297). Acknowledging the necessity of non-scientists deferring to experts on questions of scientific complexity, Ungar simultaneously underlines the problems that such a one-way relationship entails: the intimation that, even among experts, there is disagreement; and, more significantly, the inherent social divide that arises between those who have scientific knowledge and those who do not.

On the one hand, much has changed since Ungar’s article was published: mainstream media coverage of climate change has increased dramatically, and a subsequent decade’s worth of articles in Science and Nature indicate that there is now very little disagreement among scientists that current global warming trends are caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions (Anderegg et al., 2010; Doran and Zimmerman, 2009). On the other hand, Ungar’s concern over the disconnect between expert and ← 261 | 262 → lay understandings of climate change science is as relevant as ever. In Australia and the US in particular, public...

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