This is a video prepared for the National Association of Media Literacy Education conference in July 2013. The session is on greening media literacy, co-presented with Cyndy Scheibe from Project Look Sharp.
Good afternoon NAMLE, and welcome! I’m Antonio Lopez and I teach and write about media education and sustainability. I’m speaking to you from Rome, Italy. I’m sorry I can’t be there in person, but hopefully this disembodied representation of me will suffice!
The goal of this short presentation is to offer a framework for thinking about how to connect media education with sustainability.
I have two goals. First, to explain why media education and the environment matter; second, I will outline framework for thinking about how to incorporate sustainability into your work. They key is to shift from the seeing the issues as being disconnected, so seeing them as connected.
Slide: Crisis environment stupid
I’m probably preaching to the converted, but it’s important to remember what is at stake: the climate crisis is so serious that it needs to be addressed by all sectors in society, including media education.
Slide: Perceived boundaries
According to my own experience and research, with only a few exceptions, environmental issues have not been addressed by media educators. One of the reasons has to do with perceived boundaries between our various disciplines.
Originally, when the biologist Ernst Haeckel coined the term “ecology” in 1866, it was based on the Greek root oikos, which means “household” and is also the root of economics.
Slide: Household management
Ecology can be thought of as “household” management, because where and how we dwell is connected to the environment.
Slide: Mechanism: duck machine
But with rise of mechanism in the 19th century—which views the universe as a programmable machine—environment got separated from economy to be viewed as something disconnected from humans that can be manipulated without consequence.
Slide: Mechanism school
Incidentally, this is the source of the idea in education that students are programmable machines.
The net result of mechanistic thinking is the experience of separation, division and isolation from the environment.
The division of ecology from other disciplines has resulted in NIMBYism: Not in my backyard. This means that even though people care about an issue, they believe it is not necessarily their problem to deal with. It also helps explain why people may not see the relationship between media and the environment.
Slide: Media’s ecological footprint
But the environment and media are closely linked
Slide: Media gadgets
First of all it is important to understand that media are part of a materials economy. As these statistics demonstrate, the use of personal media gadgets is on the rise. These gadgets don’t just materialize out of the ethers.
For example, in year 2000 the pending release of the SONY PlayStation 2 drove up the price of tantalum, a rare metal used in media gadgets. This caused a mining boom in the Congo, which led directly to a decline in an endangered gorilla population, resulting in a drop from 17,000 to 3,000 Grauer gorillas.
Slide: Conflict minerals
Mining precious metals also exacerbates wars, which of course are disastrous to humans and their environments.
Slide: Cloud computing
Currently our servers produce the same C02 as the aviation industry. If current trends continue, this figure will double in ten years. The reason is that the internet cloud is primarily powered by coal.
Built-in and perceived obsolescence also creates an obscene amount of e-waste.
Slide: Media’s Mindprint
Then there is media’s “mindprint” which affects our beliefs and perceptions of the environment.
Slide: Media as environmental education
Think of the media as a kind of environmental education that teaches how to act upon the environment. Even if they are not consciously doing so, media communicate how to value living systems.
Slide: News, consumerism
Public policy is impacted by how environmental issues are framed in the media; and consumerism promoted by marketing drives environmental destruction.
Slide: Time, place, space
Media also impact our sense of place, time and space, which is the essence of environmental awareness.
Slide: Regenerative media
Media also have a positive affect. They can help coordinate social action and promote environmental values.
Part 2: Solution
Slide: Solutions exist.
Slide: Media ecosystems
A place to start is to change our metaphors for media. In the past media have been viewed as a kind of machine that programs people, but nowadays people are increasingly using the “media ecosystem” metaphor to describe how media are about connections, relationships and systems.
Slide: Human and environment
But we still need to link the environment with media because people often talk about media ecosystems outside the context of sustainability.
Slide: Green cultural citizenship
One way to coordinate the media ecosystem metaphor with the environment is to link media with green cultural citizenship, which is “embodying sustainable behaviors and cultural practices that shape and promote ecological values within the interconnected realms of society, economy and environment.”
Slide: Ecomedia literacy framework
The approach that I have developed through my research and work is a framework I call, “ecomedia literacy,” which is defined as “understanding how everyday media practice impacts our ability to live sustainably within earth’s ecological parameters for the present and future.”
Please see the handout for more specifics regarding skills and performance indicators.
Slide: Ecomedia Wheel
The primary heuristic for this approach is the ecomedia wheel. Which looks at a boundary object from four different perspectives: worldview, ecology, economy and culture.
A boundary object is something that has agreed upon properties, but its meaning and use change according to environmental context. For example, we can all agree that an iPhone can make calls and access the internet. But for each person it will have a different purpose. The boundary object can also be a media text, such as an ad or film.
Slide: Four lenses
Using the ecomedia wheel, we can look at the boundary object from the perspective of worldview, ecology, economy and culture. Each approach yields different understandings. For example, from the worldview perspective we see how the device affects our sense of place, space and time. From the ecology perspective we see how the device impacts livings systems. From the economy perspective we see how the gadget interacts with economic systems. From the culture perspective we can learn how the gadget contributes to sustainable and unsustainable cultural practices.
Slide: Enduring question
I leave you with a final question, which can guide curriculum design: what constitutes a healthy media system?
To answer it, you can incorporate many of the suggestions made in this presentation that draw on traditional media literacy techniques. Other suggestions are outside the normal parameters of media literacy, but I think you will agree with me that it is possible to breakdown some of the boundaries that have separated these various perspectives.
It is my personal belief that the concepts outlined here can help us move from approaching media, ecology and sustainability from the perspective of separation, division and isolation to an emerging view based on connections, relationships and systems.
Slide: More info.
Thank you for your time. For links to background information and source materials, please visit ecomedialit.com or write me: firstname.lastname@example.org