Assuming online magazines like TrendHunter are truly trend hunters, we are all in a craze for all things “design-conscious, cost-effective, and low impact alternative[s]” (Pijak 2018); from eco-packagings to eco-vehicle and eco-house, the slope sure is slippery. That is by no means to say we are a blind herd of trend-chasers, but it sure puts some wondering in one’s head—why are us consumers the (seemingly) only ones responsible for changing all of our habits to save the Earth?
In my video (above), I addressed this imbalance in the media’s coverage of environmental responsibility—how it’s biased towards individuals and not major culprits when putting the blame, and its link to one of the overarching themes of one recent uni subject, Global Media Interventions (BCM322, taught at UoW): media censorship by governments and corporations, whose interference and intervention with information flows have a lasting ripple effect.
The information we consume that is about urgent environmental issues comes largely from the (mass and social) media (Esa 2010, cited in Keinoken et al. 2014, p. 33), as does the majority of our fundamental environmental knowledge (Asunta 2003, cited in Keinoken et al. 2014, p. 34). The sad facts, however, are that: (1) this information is strikingly limited compared to entertainment content (Adel 2013; according to whom even the Kardashians receive more coverage than ocean acidification), and (2) a large part goes through censorship pre-release.
This is done by both governments—e.g. in China, environmental policies are at odds with continuing government’s censorship of critical discussion regarding these issues (Wang 2016) and in the US, environment is one of the top censored topics (Iacono 2013)—and businesses as well as media corporations to feed into their own agenda of public relations and brand image maintenance (Raj & Sreekumar 2011, pp. 2-3). One common tactic is to avoid asking the right people the right questions; when knowledgeable, qualifying experts are not properly consulted, the outcome is unusable, uninsightful information (Roll-Hansen 1994, p. 325). The escalating monopolisation of global media ownership surely does not help (p. 1).
These ripples then become waves of blame on the individual—the citizens, the consumers—as those solely responsible for making a change. In the first sequence (43 seconds) of the video, the digitally drawn animation clips with some ambience background sound effects on the left half of the screen unpacked how we, as individuals, are urged to turn our “consumerist” lives around, once straw/one plastic bag/one beeswax wrap (or maybe two or three or all of those) at a time. We follow, and become, key opinion leaders—Youtubers (e.g. Lavendaire) and ethical companies (e.g. LUSH) and campaign founders (e.g. #SydneyDoesntSuck)—in our relentless fight for the Earth, as illustrated with real-life footage on the upper-right corner.
Yet all these commendable efforts would be in vain, unless corporations carry their part, for environmental problems are colossal and systemic and require collective action by all stakeholders to tackle; individuals can make individual, deliberate, choices but the feasibility of those is dictated by authorities (Lukacs 2017, Tallullah 2018). The animated Earth-clock with sprouts wilted as it keeps ticking down, completely incongruent with the mounting individual efforts, emphasise this. It’s one thing to learn how large a carbon footprint you leave, but it’s another to acknowledge, instead of (being misled to) turning a blind eye on, the damage dealt by corporations and government policies.
A few moments after the screen turned black (as the timer buzzed), an animated industrial scene faded in, alongside news headlines and real-life footage touching on businesses’ environmental impact. The sequence, deliberately made shorter compared to the previous to convey the ratio between the coverage of these two stakeholder groups in real life, depicted the truth about the massive dent left on Earth by a handful of corporations (Goldenberg 2013, Om 2015, Riley 2017).
The antidote is revealed in the final sequence, with the camera (representing the media) turning from one side to the other, zooming in on the corporate side of the situation, and a final message,
Because if we don’t, who knows how far the ripples are gonna spread?
Mia (Minh-Anh) Do
- Goldenberg, S 2013, ‘Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions’, Guardian, 21 November, viewed 16 October 2018, <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/20/90-companies-man-made-global-warming-emissions-climate-change>.
- Iacono, M 2013, ‘Can we trust the reporting of environmental issues by the mainstream media?’, Cassandra’s Legacy, weblog, 13 January, viewed 17 October 2018, <https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2013/01/can-we-trust-reporting-of-environmental.html>.
- Keinonen, T, Yli-Panula, E, Svens, M, Vilkonis, R, Persson, C & Palmberg, I 2014, ‘Environmental Issues in the Media–Students’ Perceptions in the Three Nordic-Baltic Countries’, Journal of Teacher Education for Sustainability, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 32–53, <https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:748927/FULLTEXT01.pdf>.
- Lukacs, M 2017, ‘Neoliberalism has conned us into fighting climate change as individuals’, Guardian, 18 July, viewed 15 October 2018, <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2017/jul/17/neoliberalism-has-conned-us-into-fighting-climate-change-as-individuals>.
- Om, J 2015, ‘Ten companies directly responsible for third of Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution, Australian Conservation Foundation report finds’, ABC News, 18 March, viewed 16 October 2018, <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-18/ten-companies-responsible-for-third-of-greenhouse-gas-pollution/6330562>.
- Pijak, J 2018, ‘From Futuristic Food Pop-Ups to Socially Conscious Subscription Boxes’, TrendHunter, 27 January, viewed 24 October, <https://www.trendhunter.com/slideshow/eco-trends-for-2018>.
- Raj, SJ & Sreekumar, R 2011, ‘The Commercial Misrepresentation of Environmental Issues: Comparing Environmental Media Coverage in the First World and the Developing Nations’, Amity Journal of Media & Communications Studies (AJMCS), vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 1–11.
- Riley, T 2017, ‘Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says’, Guardian, 10 July, viewed 16 October 2018, <https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change>.
- Roll-Hansen, N 1994, ‘Science, Politics, and the Mass Media: On Biased Communication of Environmental Issues’, Science, Technology, & Human Values, no. 3, pp. 324-341.
- Tallullah, T 2018, ‘Why we can’t rely on individuals to fix climate change’, Climate Lemon, 5 January, viewed 15 October 2018, <http://theclimatelemon.com/individual-collective-fixing-climate-change/>.
- Wang, C 2016, ‘Let’s Talk About Smog: Censoring Environmental Issues in China’, US-China Today, 29 March, viewed 15 October 2018, <https://china.usc.edu/lets-talk-about-smog-censoring-environmental-issues-china>.
- African Coalition for Corporate Accountability 2016, Impacts of Mining, online video, 1 November, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvJZY14fOgk>.
- BuzzFeed Nifty 2017, DIY Beeswax Food Wraps, online video, 15 April, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ85FZ0Ah60>.
- Clean My Space 2018, 7 DIY CLEANERS | My Favorite Natural Cleaning Products!, online video, 30 June, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwa3f3ghBro>.
- Greenpeace Australia Pacific 2016, You wouldn’t eat plastic bags, online video, 7 Jun, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldsqY37Pp3M>.
- KBS News 2017, Industrial Pollution, online video, 28 June, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8porDTUWe4>.
- Lauren Johnson 2018, 5 Favorite Ethical Fashion Brands: Where to Shop for Ethical Clothing, online video, 15 October, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Dm87NKHk4c>.
- Lavendaire 2017, 10 Ways to Reduce Waste | Zero Waste for Beginners, online video, 18 October, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OagTXWfaXEo>.
- LUSH 2011, Lush Cosmetics Presents: A Beach Clean Up, online video, 13 August, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E0a6hrVPGg>.
- Sydney Doesn’t Suck 2018, #SydneyDoesntSuck, online video, 23 July, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFBwdugk8YA>.
- Talltanic 2016, 11 Worst Pollutants in the World, online video, 10 October, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GI2LNiJYMMA>.
- TEDx Talks 2015, Why I live a zero waste life | Lauren Singer | TEDxTeen, online video, 27 May, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF72px2R3Hg>.
- Transport For NSW 2017, Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 – Environmental Impact Statement, online video, 30 August, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjcECdCYXW0>.
Screenshots of headlines:
- Cusick, D 2013, ‘Corporate Climate Pollution Grows’, Scientific American, 16 September, viewed 14 October 2018, <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/corporate-climate-pollution-grows/>.
- Young, T 2010, ‘Corporations Cause $2.2T in Environmental Damage Every Year’, GreenBiz, 19 February, viewed 14 October 2018, <https://www.greenbiz.com/news/2010/02/19/corporations-cause-22t-environmental-damage-every-year>.