Greening Media Literacy, NAMLE Presentation


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This presentation is a basic introduction to the connection between media, environment and media literacy. For more information, please visit:

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  • 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, 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, to seeing them as connected.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Ecology can be thought of as “household management,” because where and how we dwell is connected to the environment.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • But the environment and media are closely linked
  • 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.
  • Mining precious metals also exacerbates wars, which of course are disastrous to humans and their environments.
  • 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.
  • Then there is media’s “mindprint” which affects our beliefs and perceptions of the environment.
  • Think of the media as a kind of ecological education that teaches how to act upon the environment. Even if they are not consciously doing so, media communicate how to value living systems.
  • Public policy is impacted by how environmental issues are framed in the media; and consumerism promoted by marketing drives environmental destruction.
  • Media also impact our sense of place, time and space, which is the essence of environmental awareness.
  • Media also have a positive affect. They can help coordinate social action and promote environmental values.
  • Solutions exist.
  • 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.
  • But we still need to link the environment with media because people often talk about media ecosystems outside the context of sustainability.
  • 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.”
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I leave you with a final question, which can guide curriculum design: what constitutes a healthy media ecosystem? 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 isolated 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.
  • Thank you for your time. For links to background information and source materials, please visit or write me:
  • Greening Media Literacy, NAMLE Presentation

    1. 1. Greening Media Education Antonio López NAMLE, July 2013
    2. 2. “This is more than an environmental crisis: it's an existential threat, and it should be treated like one, without fear of sounding alarmist, rather than covered as just another special interest, something only environmentalists care about.” A Convenient Excuse, Wen Stephenson excuse/#ixzz2C7hgtXbx
    3. 3. Perceived Boundaries
    4. 4. Oikos: Household Root of economics/ecology
    5. 5. “Household management”
    6. 6. Mechanism
    7. 7. NIMBY: Not in my back yard.
    8. 8. Media’s Ecological Footprint
    9. 9. Media gadgets in the US (2013): 78% of teens have a cell phone 37% of all teens have smartphones (up from just 23% in 2011) 23% of teens have a tablet computer 95% of teens use the internet 93% of teens have a computer or access. Pew Research Center (2013)
    10. 10. Mining rare earth minerals contributes to civil war and loss of biodiversity
    11. 11. Cloud computing mainly powered by coal Cubitt, Hassan, & Volkmer (2011)
    12. 12. E-waste Planned obsolescence
    13. 13. Media’s Ecological “Mindprint”
    14. 14. Media are Environmental Education
    15. 15. Space, time and place
    16. 16. Regenerative mindprint: Empathy Connection Coordination Storytelling Education
    17. 17. Solution
    18. 18. Media Ecosystems “Blogging and the media ecosystem” Naughton (2006) .pdf “Facebook ecosystem” “iPhone ecosystem”
    19. 19. Humans are culture/organism/environment combined
    20. 20. Green Cultural Citizenship: Embodying sustainable behaviors and cultural practices that shape and promote ecological values within the interconnected realms of society, economy and environment.
    21. 21. Ecomedia Literacy: Understanding how everyday media practice impacts our ability to live sustainably within earth’s ecological parameters for the present and future.
    22. 22. Ecomedia wheel
    23. 23. Ecomedia literacy’s four lenses: Environment (earth system) The material conditions of media, including extraction, production, e- waste, energy and emissions Culture (hermeneutics, cultural studies) Text and discourse analysis of media texts; mapping cultural behaviors and attitudes Political Economy (world system, critical theory) Ideological structure of the global economics system, paying attention to the reasons why designers design what they do Worldview (phenomenology) Media’s impact on our perception of time, space and place
    24. 24. Enduring question: What constitutes a healthy media ecosystem?
    25. 25. Problem: Separation, division, i solation Solution: connections, relations hips, systems
    26. 26. More info/contact: