Environmental Humanities and the Media

Mass media has become one of the most important forms of communication in the world. People demand constant access to information on the events in their own local areas, as well as in foreign countries all over the planet (and sometimes beyond). Humans have developed an apparent dependence on having constant access to information and communication at all times; with modern day technology, these demands are met. The problem with this open access to media is that people simply pick through it to find what they think is relevant to them. In doing this, they often skip past important environmental issues which they should be aware of.

It is important that environmental issues are represented in the media, because unlike the social, political and economical issues which are constantly in the limelight, environmental issues have a direct effect on all of the living organisms on Earth. It is important to report these issues and find solutions to the problems in order to ensure that life on earth continues (and in favourable/healthy living conditions). It can be noticed that the media usually reports on the problems involved with environmental issues, although they do not often provide solutions to the problems. This is mentioned in Grant and Lawhon (2014:39-52) when it explains how the media often focusses on an isolated incident rather than on a broader problem. The media holds the most powerful tool to raise awareness about environmental issues, and to promote change (Grant and Lawhon 2014:43).

The articles that I have chosen display this. I chose articles which are based on ocean pollution and how it effects the marine life. I have always found ocean pollution particularly disturbing because I find it completely selfish how humans have polluted beyond the land on which we live- we have now disturbed life in places that we have not even explored yet. The media often reports on these incidents with a very pessimistic view on man’s impact on the world, it is not often that they offer valid and helpful solutions though.

The table below displays the main points of the articles.

National Geographic

Sperm Whales Found Full of Car Parts and Plastic

Global Research

Not a Fish Tale: Humans Are Ingesting Plastic Thanks to Ocean Pollution 


Mail and Guardian

Marine Waste Has Killed More Than a Million Aniamls

Who and what are the drivers of change? Researches investigated the thirteen beached whales that were found in Germany. This article is reporting statistics of ocean pollution supplied by various forums, scientists and researchers. This article is reporting some findings of the Environmental Investigation Agency.
What is happening?  The researchers found mass amounts of plastic waste in the stomachs of four of the beached whales. Although this did not cause the stranding of the whales, this would have serious effects on their health in time. Humans are producing extensive amounts of plastic which ends up as waste in the ocean. This mass amount of pollution will eventually result in our oceans containing more plastic than they do fish. This pollution effects the food web and thus compromises the health of marine animals, and could effect our health because of our ingestion of the fish that are being effected. Because of plastic waste polluting our oceans to such a large extent, hundreds of thousands of marine animals and millions of seabirds have been killed.
What can be done?  Not mentioned in the article. Dr Wallace J. Nichols believes that we need a new packaging approach as well as a zero waste approach to consumer goods. The biggest pollutant in this case is plastic. There should be limitations made on plastic. This can be done by increasing the price of plastic (this discourages the consumer from buying it). There should also be encouragement of recycling.
How can this be achieved?  Not mentioned in the article. We need to use more sustainable forms of energy and materials. People should be discouraged from using plastic by increasing the prices of plastic.
What are the means required to do it?  Not mentioned in the article. We need to find the social and political motivation in order to do this. Not mentioned in the article.

The table above shows how the media easily gives information about the problem, but does not offer much information in how to solve the problem. Even in the Global Research article which mentions some solutions, they are extremely vague and don’t aid in telling an individual how they can help fight ocean pollution within their community. This is the problem with the media reporting on environmental issues, it usually comes from a very negative point of view that makes the reader feel completely helpless in the situation- and therefore unlikely to find solutions.

860 undersea_trash

The drivers for change mentioned in the article have a direct relation to the “Great Acceleration” (Holm, 2150:980) of human technologies, powers and consumption. Human’s have advanced in many ways over the last 70 years, one of these advancements included the mass production of plastic. Plastic has become a main material for most uses for humans. The major problem with plastic is that it is not biodegradable and so instead of ‘returning to the earth’ the plastic pollutes it. Although some plastics are recyclable, most plastic is only used once and then disposed as waste. Some humans decide that the best way to dispose of this waste is into the ocean (if it’s off their land then it’s no longer their problem). And so there seems to be a cycle of this acceleration, the humans use their technology and power to mass produce the plastic, they then consume their mass production and merely dump it so that it is out of their way- and this may end up in the ocean.

The societal, institutional, political and cultural factors that drive the change all ends up being out of selfishness (by majority). In all of these factors, the people seem to think that it’s not their responsibility to solve these problems, even though they are the ones producing and consuming the things that pollute the environment. When in reality, it is their problem because this pollution is going to destroy the world on which they live if they don’t recognise and take responsibility for the pollution.

The absence and presence of solutions relates to the ‘Human Condition’ (Holm, 2015:983). If there is an absence of solutions (as in majority of the articles that are mentioned in this blog post), then there is a sense of helplessness from reader because they don’t know what to do about the issue. There is also a sense of despair and denial because of the helplessness that they feel. Often, people will attempt to distance themselves from the situation in order to get rid of any feelings of guilt. However, when (helpful) solutions are supplied to the reader, one can see that they gain a sense of hope and responsibility, and thus they are more likely to take action.

The proposed solutions do not engage with the business or corporate sector. Businesses that produce plastic should encourage the recycling of their product once it is used. Perhaps they could work on a cheaper refill system should someone bring the product back to the business to be recycled- this could be done for companies that produce plastic bottles. Well known businesses that don’t produce plastic should also promote recycling and disuse plastic products and aim for more sustainable materials and processes.

The proposed solutions and means to do it stem directly from collaborative processes of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation. The solutions stem from collaborative processes in that it is necessary that research is done in order to provide information about the environmental issue- this part of the solution is already being done. The research is being done and the information found by this research is being supplied through the media, but it seems like the process stops here in most cases because there is no solution provided with the problem. The difference here is that the research needs to be taken a step further; rather than just researching the problem, research needs to be done on solutions to these problems. Stakeholder engagement is also involved in possible proposed solutions because it is necessary that each individual takes responsibility for their contribution to the problem. Public participation also plays a role as it is necessary for a community to take action together in order to resolve the problem.

The solutions mentioned in the articles are not practical for the public to achieve. Often, the media is not helpful in informing the public on practical solutions. This is why the public needs to come together as a community and find a practical means to resolve the problem. If the public comes up with their own solutions then they will know that they will be able to follow through with the correct actions to resolve the problem.

In conclusion, the media has great power in reporting information about environmental  issues to the public. With this power, the media should take the responsibility to provide the public with solutions to the problems so that the public can take responsibility for the problems that they themselves created, and thus take action to attempt resolve the environmental issues.



Grant, S & Lawhon, M. 2014. Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of        rhino poaching. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 30:39-52.

Holm, P et al. 2015. Humanities for the Environment- A manifesto for research and action.    Humanities 4:977-992

Kings, S. 2015. Marine waste has killed more than a million animals. Mail & Guardian.   [O]. Available:                                                                                                     http://mg.co.za/article/2015-10-07-marine-waste-has-killed-over-a-million-animals Accessed 3 April 2016.

Malik, W. 2016. Sperm Whales Found Full of Car Parts and Plastics. National Geographic. [O]. Available:                                                   http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160331-car-parts-plastics-dead-whales-germany-animals/                                                                                                                            Accessed 3 April 2016.

Jamail, D. 2016. Not a Fish Tale: Humans Are Ingesting Plastic Thanks to Ocean Pollution. Global Research. [O]. Available:                                                                                                            http://www.globalresearch.ca/not-a-fish-tale-humans-are-ingesting-plastic-thanks-to-ocean-pollution/5516583                                                                                                                     Accessed 3 April 2016.







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