Version classiqueVersion mobile

The Environment in the Age of the Internet

Heike Graf

1. Introduction

Heike Graf

Texte intégral

1This volume is situated at the intersection of communication, environment, and media. Communication here is not understood as the pure exchange of information, or as dialogue, but instead in a more general sense, as the core element that constitutes society. Without communicating about our environment, meaning here especially the non-human environment, we have no knowledge about dangers such as climate change, pollution, deforestation, etc., and therefore cannot react to them. German sociologist Niklas Luhmann expressed the importance of communication as follows: ‘Fish may die, or human beings swimming in lakes and rivers may cause illnesses, no more oil may come from the pumps, and average temperatures may rise or fall, but as long as this is not communicated it does not have any effect on society’ (Luhmann 1989, 28–29). In other words, the non-human environment, nature, and the climate, etc., can only be a subject of social concern when it is communicated. And ‘[e]verything that can be formulated linguistically can be communicated’ (Luhmann 1989, 16).

2As the environment cannot speak itself or for itself, and, in the words of Robert Cox, ‘nature is silent’ (2013, 4), it has no possibility of communicating with society. The environment does not contain information or topics. It does not understand our speech, either. It cannot announce itself in terms of issues, saying, for example, that the climate will change. It can only irritate and disturb society by changing temperatures, melting glaciers, and so forth; disturbances which then receive public attention and become public and political concerns.

3In this way, the non-human environment can be seen as an actor influencing communication in society, or in the words of Bruno Latour, as an agent of ‘our common geostory’ (2014, 3). How to tackle these disturbances is the subject of social communication, where someone ‘makes claims (in public) about them’ (Hansen 2010, 15) and, in other words, tells ‘stories’. Stories about ecological dangers and risks can be described as an attribution process, that is, as a construction of an observer (an individual person or a social system) about the ‘possibility of future damage’ (Luhmann 1990, 225). ‘The problem becomes for all of us in philosophy, science or literature, how do we tell such a story’ (Latour 2014, 3, my emphasis). Or, in the words of Luhmann: ‘the whole problem thereby becomes an internal problem of modern society’ (Luhmann 1996, 6).

4Stories are told within a context; examining the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of these environmental stories demonstrates how contexts condition communication. These contexts affect what is said, written, and shown. Without these contexts, meaningful communication would not be possible. Still, even a carefully designed message cannot control its outcome, and therefore does not guarantee consensus or agreement with the message.

5The message as a kind of constraint enacted by communication always makes different understandings possible (Luhmann 1996). One may, for instance, expect that the picture of a charismatic mega fauna has a greater emotional impact than the features of an insect. However, it depends on the observer, and on the context of the message being observed. If we apply constructivist theories, the act of understanding allows for different ways of proceeding, because understanding is not predetermined by the message but instead relates to the observer/person who perceives it. The observer constructs meaning on the basis of what he or she is able to see and feel. Or, in the words of Stuart Hall: ‘we give them [things] a meaning’ through a ‘framework of interpretation’ (Hall 1997, 3). The image as such does not contain ‘any fixed and unchanging meaning’ (Hall 1997, 3). Hence, it is not the image that determines the meaning production, but the observer. Here again, the observer perspective is crucial when analysing communication processes. How else would it be possible to explain that there are persons who are more fascinated by insects than by charismatic fauna? The picture creates some restrictive conditions, but cannot ultimately control how it is understood, and cannot control emotional responses. There is no causal link between the image and its effect (Bateson 1979).

6We return to the relationship between the non-human environment and society by focusing on the concept of communication. This does not contradict indigenous approaches in which nature can only speak to those who listen, in order to know what is going on (e.g., Carbaugh 1999). Nature can, of course, be experienced by individuals as something with a voice. However, without further communicating what has been heard, nature stays in observers’ minds and cannot become a topic of social communication. What is central to this approach is that communication is understood as a social operation with at least two persons involved.

7Therefore, society is ‘prevented’ from directly communicating with the environment, and can only communicate about it or ‘tell stories’, even if voices claim to speak for the environment. Epistemologically, a story of Gaia cannot be equated with nature. It is a story about nature. Consequently, there are as many stories as there are persons telling them.

8The above-mentioned distinction between society and the non-human environment should not be confused with a hierarchal distinction that values one side over the other, as criticised in ecocritical studies (Urry 2011). It is not about a division that places society on one side and nature as the external environment on the other without any correlation. This distinction has to be understood as a cognitive one, which according to observation theories (Schutz 2011; von Foerster 1960/1984; Maturana and Varela 1987) means that our point of departure is communication. Observing means to make an indication in the context of a distinction. We claim, for instance, that this last winter was warmer than the winter before. We first distinguish winter from other seasons, and then indicate the winter side of the distinction. Observing as an operation means ‘using a distinction for indicating one side of the distinction and not the other’ (Luhmann 1993, 485). If we do not make any distinctions, we cannot claim anything. Consequently, making a distinction between humans and nature does not per se imply seeing nature as something subordinated or separated. According to observation theories, we cannot indicate the ‘human’ side of the distinction without keeping it distinct from something which is not ‘human’. So, every observation carries with it the other side of the distinction, meaning what is not indicated. Here, the notion of humans carries with it the notion of nature. The approach of drawing distinctions is seen as a basic, cognitive operation of communication as such.

9This approach of phenomenology does not compete with ecocritics, as they have another point of departure. Ecocritics see the distinction between society and nature as a normative and hierarchical one. They already look at what kind of indications are made; they criticize ‘the colonial dominance of European philosophical traditions’ (Rust et al. 2016, 2) where the environment is seen as something to conquer. Humans have subdued and controlled the non-human environment for their own needs without considering the consequences. Human progress is seen in terms of society’s exploitation of nature (Urry 2011). Consequently, humans are divided from nature, a division that is questioned by ecocritics who say that society cannot exist without nature. Therefore, they demand ‘new frames of references and the ability to reframe familiar media frames’ (Rust et al. 2016, 5).

10Here, the points of departure are on different levels, with the first one based on observers’ cognition and the latter on patterns of communication, e.g., on indications made by observers (European philosophers, media, activists etc.). By looking further at what kinds of claims are made, and at what kinds of distinctions they are based on, we can see how the relationship between humans and nature is constructed. This operation of analysis is also based on distinctions that can be either descriptive or normative. The consequence of this communicative approach is that it draws focus to the observer making claims about the environment, and prompts us to examine who this observer is: a theoretical perspective that relates to the phenomenologist Alfred Schutz (2011).

Resonance in News Media

11Since the environment does not announce itself in the media, there has to be someone who can linguistically formulate environmental issues, and therefore begin communicating about them. Whatever we know about the environment, both non-human and human, we know from the (mass) media (Luhmann 1996, 4). Or more metaphorically, in the words of Mark Deuze: ‘Media are to us as water is to fish’ (2012, x). So, media play the central role in constructing and spreading communication about environmental issues in order for them to be recognised as public or political concerns.

12Luhmann defines the relationship between the environment and society, as well as that between the environment and media, through the concept of resonance (Luhmann 1989). Strictly speaking, this concept is contrary to the traditional realist notion of media as a mirror of reality or to the notion of news media as ‘windows’ on the world (Hansen 2010, 17). It is similar to the lived-body and consciousness: our body has no direct communicative channel to our consciousness, telling us, for instance, what is wrong when it hurts. Instead it irritates us with feelings of pain, pressure, etc. (Luhmann 1989, 29).

13This concept of resonance refers to constructivist approaches which claim that our picture of the world depends on who is doing the observing. If we look at media organisations as the observer, we claim that they can only observe what is going on in the environment on the basis of their internal operations, and this is related, for example, to issues of media logic (Altheide 2013).

14Not everything can be said, written about, or spread through the media; selection must be made and based on a ‘very restricted resonance capacity’ (Luhmann 1989, 17) of each medium or even communication forum, finally resulting in a media-specific description of the natural environment. In the words of Latour: ‘[…] journalists are journalists, mere storytellers, just like novelists; you know how they are: they always feel obliged to add some action to what, in essence, should be devoid of any form of will, goal, target, or obsession. Even when they are interested in science and nature, they can’t help but add drama to what has no drama whatsoever’ (Latour 2014, 11).

15Hence, the purpose of this volume is to investigate the ways in which the environment finds resonance in different communication forums, understood as observers in the sense described above. Of particular interest to us is to look at how different communication forums respond to the environment and therefore reveal their own conceptions, their own stories of ‘the’ environment by using different media devices and formats. Environmental concerns are packaged, narrated (Labov and Waletzky 1967), or framed (Entman 1993) according to the observers’ or group’s own operations. Understanding these contexts can assist in showing how specific environmental issues arise. In other words, this volume is about how humans engage with each other in the context of their own operations and the environment, including the media environment they are situated in. We assume that communication about nature affects the way we engage with the non-human environment.

16If we look at how the environment finds resonance in traditional mass media, we discover a bulk of research. In this respect, most media research is about media coverage, that is, about how media portray the non-human environment (e.g., Hansen 1993; Lester 2010). The media introduce their own means of grasping natural events, and these events appear to them as information. Media observation of the environment is highly selective, and certain distinctions that can be described as having news value (novelty, proximity, scandals, norm violations, conflicts, quantities, etc.) guide the news production process (see e.g., Boykoff and Boykoff 2007).

17We know from research that news media mainly create their own preferred meanings of environmental issues by tackling them as problems and dangers (e.g., Cox 2013; Foust and O’Shannon Murphy 2009). News coverage prefers conflict, and with the help of the rhetoric of fear or what Altheide calls ‘production of fear’ (Altheide 1997), we as media consumers learn that something is wrong with our environment and that we are faced with risks and dangers. For example, environmental stories are unlike other science stories, as they are mainly ‘marked by negativity’ (Einsiedel and Coughland 1993; Olausson 2009) and told in a ‘fear-generating’ manner. These stories are about an ‘uncontrollable nature’ that poses risks to people, made vivid by the use of attention-getting words and phrases such as ‘disastrous effects’, ‘increased mortality’, ‘diseases’, ‘treacherous bacteria’, ‘catastrophe’, and ‘accidents’. These ‘establish the negative and frightful context in which climate change is discursively constructed’ (Olausson 2009, 11). According to a survey of U.S. mainstream news media’s coverage of risk (Lundgren and McMakin, 2009), ‘mass media disproportionately focus on hazards that are catastrophic and violent in nature. […] Drama, symbolism, and identifiable victims, particularly children and celebrities, make risks more memorable’ (cit. in Cox 2013, 168). Global climate change, for instance, is covered as ‘something to collectively fear’, and if we do not behave in a climate-friendly way, ‘we should feel guilt’ (Höijer 2010, 727). In sum, the term environment itself is associated with problems in news media (Hansen 2010, 1). As a result, scholars complain that complex environmental issues are packaged as simplistic and dramatised (Cox 2013). What appears in the media as the reality of nature is simply the product of media production that emphasises certain things and de-emphasises others.

18Fear-related communication can be understood as a principle of resonance (Luhmann 1989). Such communication states the worst and is therefore infused with morality in its explanations of what is good and bad for society and the non-human environment. Fear is an attractive and universal rhetoric when it comes to justifying moral judgments. It becomes almost a duty to worry about our natural environment; one can expect that others share our worries, and one has the right to demand changes (Luhmann 1989, 161).

19This journalistic tactic nevertheless has an impact on our relationship to the environment. The massive amount of negative and problem-oriented news reports about our physical environment (air, water, food) promotes a sense of numerous crises and risks. The fear frame does not allow for arguments that any progress has been made concerning environmental issues. ‘As such news media can foster public anxiety about issues that scientists find less worrisome’ (Cox and Pezullio 2016, 167).

About this Volume

20However, mass media organisations are not the only ones who communicate about the environment in public; there are also other actors. In this volume, humanities scholars and social scientists analyse the communication of different actors who more or less claim to create awareness of the non-human environment. This volume contains research on communities formed by environmental activists, including a grassroots organisation based in Argentina and two environmental NGOs in Uruguay who led protests against the construction of pulp mills on the banks of the Uruguay River and against monoculture forestry in their country (Melían). It also touches on the local people of Sápmi, the traditional area of settlement of the indigenous people of northern Europe, who have made their voices heard against the growing mining industry in northern Sweden (Cocq). This book also discusses activists from indigenous organisations that represent natural ecosystems from across the globe and seek to shape public opinion on the effects of climate change on indigenous lands (Roosvall and Tegelberg). This volume contains research on a mixture of non-traditional environmental groups: ‘ordinary’ people in Sweden and Germany who blog about their hobby, gardening, and argue for more or less ecological behaviour in the garden (Graf), and neo-Nazi environmentalists in Germany who use ecological engagement to increase their movements’ visibility and to project a positive image (Hurd and Werther).


21Generally, we have to admit that the communication forums examined are situated in a (post) modern media environment characterised by information overload (Andrejevic 2013) or by a surplus of meaning and ‘the culture of dealing with this surplus selectively’ (Baecker 2011, 5). These media-saturated contexts are especially challenging for marginalised groups who want to make their voices heard. We are particularly interested in how different types of communication media create different discursive fields and performances in a mediatised society. Or, in the words of Luhmann (Luhmann 1989), how the environment finds resonance and is communicated by different groups. Media comes into play in different ways for all of the above- mentioned groups. Activists in Argentina and Uruguay used digital media, especially websites, newsletters, e-mails, and mobile phones, in their articulation, dissemination, and organisation of environmental protest actions (Melián). That was years ago: social media have now become the main means of harnessing attention for, e.g., the concerns of local people in the Sápmi area (Cocq). Blogging is used by ‘ordinary’ people in order to spread opinions and experiences regarding gardening (Graf). In addition to the face-to-face world of direct action, neo-Nazis spread their ecological messages via party websites and quarterly magazines (Hurd and Werther).

22The use of different media as well the perspectives of the producers of information have an impact on a group and its organisation (see Bennett and Segerberg 2013) in addition to what is being communicated. This volume also includes a text focusing on activists working for indigenous perspectives on climate change. These activists reflect on the impact of the different media landscapes — national, mainstream, local, alternative, and non-/indigenous — that they are confronted with, and on how they develop strategies to overcome the marginalisation of their voices (Roosvall and Tegelberg). The activists speak of a national news ecology which rarely makes room for indigenous perspectives or knowledge of nature. Hence, indigenous people’s own media practices attempt to generate awareness of these issues in the public sphere, which, of course, influences the way their messages are framed. The mainstream media are still seen as the most powerful vehicle for increasing awareness and are, therefore, addressed accordingly. Mainstream media remain a powerful source of meaning production. In the case of a garden blogger, the growing number of TV programs and magazines on gardening affect how a garden is perceived and how it is communicated in the blog community. It has been considered common sense to prioritise sustainable gardening, to work towards increasing biodiversity, to attempt to conserve natural resources, etc. This may explain why communication about damaging the environment, by using chemicals for example, is almost absent (Graf).

23Of course, the different media formats influence the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of environmental communication. Various media employ more- or-less strict forms of how things can be said or visualised. Newspapers follow certain ritualised narrative forms. In social media, a blog group makes use of blog entries and replies by referring to traditional media; for instance, a video clip is based on narratives from motion pictures. Media converge and overlap, from the traditional newspaper to the social media forum of the Internet (Jenkins 2006). Digital formats can be easily shared by an audience that is, in our case, receptive to arguments about sustainability, environmental preservation, the traditional use of natural resources, and respect for the natural and cultural landscape as described by Coppélie Cocq.

24We do not mean that these different media formats simply determine how the message is expressed, but instead see them as conditioning factors. To put it differently, media technologies condition what is possible in concrete media practices, that is, the construction of a message in some way. For instance, as Cocq notes, the format of a short video in participatory media requires a degree of message simplification if one wants to reach out. The same goes for the other communication forums. A website also demands simplification, as does a blog post. In other words, media formats generally enforce selectivity, which in turn leads to a reduction of complexity.

25The reduction of complexity is also related to the imagined target group. If one wants to attract the mass media, one tries to adopt media logic. When one makes use of news values, for instance, by playing up a story’s sensationalism, then the aim is to receive attention from the mass media, a process described by Anna Roosvall and Matthew Tegelberg. If instead the target group is one’s own blog community or political community, one then follows the communicative rules and common understandings of this group to connect, as shown in both Heike Graf’s and Madeleine Hurd and Steffen Werther’s chapters.

26Technological conditions also apply. Given the fact that smartphones were not available at the time of the protest actions against the construction of pulp mills in Latin America, activists did not exclusively use the Internet to organise the protest or directly disseminate information. As Virginia Melían notes, the dissemination of information had to be both digital and analogue to overcome the digital divide in this region. However, the Internet was extensively used for establishing an organisational infrastructure composed of different environmental groups, and was also a source for retrieving information and spreading alternative discourses which otherwise had difficulty entering the public sphere. Often, the content of emails and newsletters were printed out and distributed among people at meetings, and local radio stations also broadcast information about the protest.

27The chapter by Roosvall and Tegelberg broadens our perspective by looking at ‘media ecology’ as bounded by nation states. ‘Ecology’ in this sense means the entire media technology landscape in which indigenous actors are situated. Since it is still dominated by mainstream media, which rarely make use of indigenous perspectives, especially when it comes to traditional ecological knowledge, indigenous actors have limited access to the types of communication required to reach a larger audience. Here, we can also speak of a form of media divide, in which indigenous actors are restricted to social media platforms to disseminate their own messages. The authors argue that this media imbalance requires a reshaping of the current media ecology to address climate change issues from a broader perspective, one which includes traditional ecological knowledge.

28The way in which the non-human environment finds resonance in different communication forums relates not only to the non-human and media environment but also to the political environment. For example, in the case of the protest actions in Latin America, activists’ choice of arguments was greatly affected by the ruling left-wing coalition in Uruguay. These activists carefully selected their arguments to avoid being cut off from communication (Melían).

29Does communication matter? Examining the impact of communication, and following the communicative approach detailed above, demonstrates that communication succeeds first of all when connections can be established, and then again when recipients take the communicated information as a premise for their own actions and meaning production. There are two cases in this volume where such impact can be noted. In the case of the resistance against mining companies in the Sápmi area, less than two years after the publication of the first YouTube videos discussed in the chapter, the topic has shifted from the periphery to the centre of the public debate (Cocq). The environmental protest actions on the banks of the Uruguay River, which took place between 2005 and 2009, are now considered turning points in the public and political awareness of environmental issues, due to increased mass media attention (Melían).

Frames of Communication

30We are interested in exploring how different groups react to ecological issues, and how they package their messages: what kinds of topics or types of approaches are used to create awareness and receive attention in the present media environment? Themes have to be adjusted to the groups’ conditions of communicability. They are ‘framed’, meaning according to Robert Entman, ‘to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text’ (1993, 52). The examples included in our volume allow us to identify the following frames of communication.

31Against the backdrop of a political situation in which environmental issues are downplayed and seen as luxury problems by political elites, environmental activists in Argentina and Uruguay initiated spectacular events in order to receive media attention (Melían). Information about their eye-catching actions was sent directly to mainstream media journalists via mobile phones, for instance, in order to interest them in covering the events. The news values selected here were those of oddity and drama. On activists’ websites, environmental concerns were framed as political and economic concerns by highlighting the risks of pulp mills, rather than as purely environmental issues. By making use of news values such as consequence and proximity through highlighting the risks, and by topically connecting the environment issue to ongoing political discourse, the actions attracted a high level of media attention. Using mostly the frames of danger and risk, these groups finally received attention from mainstream media as well as from politicians.

32In the case of YouTube video clips produced by the activists aiming to direct national and international attention to the Sápmi area, the frames used are those of disrupted harmony, conflict, and uncertainty (Cocq). Images of indigenous people’s respect for the natural and cultural landscape are contrasted with images of devastation and destruction wrought by the mining industry. Proximity (as a news value) is also employed. The viewer is involved in the story by being asked ‘What is YOUR choice? Take a stand!’, and by being offered a solution to the conflict, namely ‘join the movement’. The mode of communication is borrowed from (advertising) media and is therefore familiar and recognisable in terms of language and framing. As a result, the mining boom on indigenous land has received greater attention in Swedish public debate.

33The same goes for indigenous peoples’ voices in the ongoing debate over climate change. Their voices are barely heard in mainstream media, despite the population’s extensive experiences with environmental issues (Roosvall and Tegerberg). Their media practices consist of an active presence on social media platforms in order to document and share indigenous knowledge about nature. Since the impact of these alternative channels is limited, the activists also seek mainstream media attention by making use of media’s news values. For example, by selecting values of proximity and consequence, dangers relating to community health risks are highlighted. By engaging celebrities, their information is given prominence and novelty. The exoticism card is also played: at public events such as demonstrations and press gatherings, many indigenous activists wear traditional clothing in order to stand out and direct attention to cultural identity issues.

34In the case of gardening blogs, ecological topics have to be adjusted to themes of garden life (Graf). This implies that if one wants to be part of this blogosphere and intends to trigger connecting communication in the form of comments and ‘likes’, one should include ecological concerns, such as global warming, as part of gardening issue content. For example, climate change as such is not discussed but, in relation to dryness, it can be connected to methods for keeping the soil moist for longer periods. In other words, communication is framed in such a way that blog entries are constantly coordinated with each other. These frames conform to the norms of the examined blogosphere with respect to subject matter and the manner of communication. The author concludes that gardening issues are characterised by frames of pleasure, enthusiasm, and mutual agreement. These blog networks establish a kind of feel-good atmosphere that stands in stark contrast to the apocalyptic rhetoric of the news media’s coverage of environmental issues.

35In contrast to the above mentioned community, the online communication of neo-Nazis is ‘brisk and angry in tone’ (Hurd and Werther); environmentalism is placed within xenophobic arguments by propagating a German ‘biomass’ ideology as an ‘argument for territorial exclusiveness’. By highlighting distinctions of proximity and consequence, what is implied is that German landscapes are indissolubly connected to German culture, which is in danger from invasive human and animal immigrants. In line with this militant environmentalism, ecological messages are mainly framed as threats against the German people and culture. For example, genetically manipulated foods and low-wage food imports are presented as harming local production. Nature is integrated into the human condition primarily by using the rhetoric of fear as well as those of nostalgia and love. In the long run, ecological arguments work to gain acceptance for xenophobic ideologies in society. As this chapter shows, environmental communication can be marshalled to promote xenophobic ideas.

36In sum, it is striking to note how necessary it is to adapt media logic, as in the selected frames of communication, to acquire public attention. This illustrates mediatisation theories (e.g., Hjarvard 2013), which claim that the logic of media institutions condition how messages are communicated. Journalistic news values are used, including negativity, oddity, proximity, consequence, and prominence. Conflicts are the focal points: environmentalists versus politicians and companies, indigenous knowledge versus mainstream knowledge, nature versus society, idyllic Heimat versus global capital, and so forth.

37This volume also shows that the frequent use of the rhetorical strategies of fear and threats is not limited to news media communication, but also belongs to the common repertoire of rhetorical strategies employed by activists, environmentalists, and ideologists. By primarily using frames of danger and risk, their emphasis is placed on worst- case scenarios, which can evoke emotions of fear, anxiety, and anger. Environmental movements use these frames in order to influence attitudes and promote the adoption of environmentally-conscious roles, while political movements use them to attract supporters. However, if the aim is not to persuade people and merely to communicate about a hobby such as gardening, ecological issues are framed in a positive and enjoyable manner. If conflicts arise, they have to be addressed in an ironic tone in order to follow the normative rules of garden blog communication. In sum, the communication preferences, aims, contexts, etc. all condition the way in which things are said, written, and shown.

38Even if we are all more or less worried about climate change or other ecological issues, communication forums base these issues on their own preferences and purposes. Some voices are more prominent in public than others. Indigenous people might view nature as sacred based on their traditional ecological knowledge. Activists base their environmental protests on the attempt to protect nature by preventing and stopping the exploitation of natural resources. Gardeners might label nature, the garden, as a commodity they can enjoy. Neo-Nazis might see nature as an idyll they are willing to fight for with militant xenophobia.

39Here, we can isolate some of the fundamental problems of communication about ecological issues in society. We see different meanings about the non-human environment constructed in these cases. All the groups covered in this volume communicate in different ways when articulating the problem and elaborating on possible solutions. The non-human environment can be addressed from all conceivable angles. Nature is everywhere, but is observed differently. For example, when the Spanish slug invades gardens, the advice given is to kill them. When the mining industry devastates indigenous land, one is asked to join the protest movement. When the Heimat is changing, you have to stop immigration of all kinds.

40We all refer to different things when we speak about the non- human environment as we approach the non-human environment from different angles. The news media treat ecological issues from the perspective of what is newsworthy or even entertaining. The tiny blog community looks at matters from the vantage of what is enjoyable. Politicians as well as activists approach the issues from the angle of power over decisions, while business and economic interests approach these issues from the point of view of economic value. And if we look at scholars, their point of departure is from what is scientifically verifiable (Luhmann 1989). These different perspectives (or communication systems) complicate successful communication about ecological issues, since we have to consider that every observation has structural limits. Such complication also applies to any kind of scientific observation of nature. Hence the problem of social communication as such, which is that of acquiring different kind of insights (Luhmann 1989).

41Scholars claim that a ‘new vision’ (Corbett 2006, 307) able to combine all of the different insights is required to change human behaviour. On the one hand, theoretically, it would be difficult to establish a new vision, or a new morality, in a modern and highly-differentiated society that makes use of varied social systems and agendas in addressing environmental concerns. No one element, be it political or economic, can claim to represent society holistically. There is therefore no single counterpart to the non-human environment. However, the more differentiated a society is, the more likely it is to produce resonance and continue to develop (Luhmann 1989, 15). On the other hand, if we look at it empirically, it seems that in the public sphere the frequently used frame of fear and anxiety has led to a new style of morality in our society. This new style is based on a common interest in the alleviation of fear and anxiety; that is, so that people can live without either. The fear and anxiety frame is universal and, hence, can be used in all contexts. Moreover, the communication of fear and anxiety is always authentic; speaking of suffering from fear and anxiety ‘resists any kind of critique’ (Luhmann 1989, 128). No one who addresses the fear of climate change or, more concretely, the fear of genetically modified food appears in a negative light. Fear as such cannot be forbidden or falsified by scholars; it is just there. Hence, it cannot be contested in social communication. Communicating about the environment from this kind of emotional vantage point, it is unclear how the relationship between society and the non-human environment can be improved. Only the future can show whether fear and anxiety have been justified (Luhmann 1989).


Altheide, David L., ‘The News Media, the Problem Frame, and the Production of Fear’, The Sociological Quarterly, 38(4) (Autumn 1997), 647–668,

Altheide, David L., ‘Media Logic, Social Control, and Fear’, Communication Theory, 23(3) (2013), 223–238,

Andrejevic, Mark, Infoglut: How too Much Information is Changing the Way We Think and Know (New York and London: Routledge, 2013),

Bateson, Gregory, Mind and Nature. A Necessary Unity (New York: Dutton, 1979).

Baecker, Dirk, ‘What Is Holding Societies Together? On Culture Forms, World Models, and Concepts of Time’, Criticism, 53(1) (2011), 1–22,

Boykoff, Maxwell T. and Boykoff, Jules M., ‘Climate Change and Journalistic Norms: A Case-Study of US Mass-Media Coverage’, Geoforum, 38(6) (2007), 1190–1204,

Bennett, Lance and Segerberg, Alexandra, The Logic of Connective Action. Digital Media and the Personalization of Continuous Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013),

Carbaugh, Donal, ‘Just Listen: “Listening” and Landscape among the Blackfeet’, Western Journal of Communication, 63(3) (1999), 250–270,

Corbett, Julia B., Communicating Nature. How We Create and Understand Environmental Messages (Washington: Island Press, 2006).

Cox, J. Robert, Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2013).

Cox, J. Robert, and Pezzulio, Phaedra C., Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2016).

Deuze, Mark, Media Life (Cambridge: Polity, 2012),

Einsiedel, Edna F. and Coughlan, Eileen, ‘The Canadian Press and the Environment: Reconstructing a Social Reality’, in The Mass Media and Environmental Issues, ed. by Andreas Hansen (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993), pp. 134–149.

Entman, Robert M., ‘Framing: Towards Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm’, Journal of Communication, 4 (1993), 51–58,

Foust, Christina R. and O’Shannon Murphy, William, ‘Revealing and Reframing Apocalyptic Tragedy in Global Warming Discourse’, Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, 3(2) (2009), 151–167,

Hall, Stuart, ed., Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (London: Sage, 1997).

Hansen, Andreas, ed., The Mass Media and Environmental Issues (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993).

Hansen, Andreas, ed., Environment, Media and Communication (New York: Routledge, 2010),

Hjavard, Stig, The Mediatization of Culture and Society (London: Routledge, 2013).

Höijer, Birgitta, ‘Emotional Anchoring and Objectification in the Media Reporting on Climate Change’, Public Understanding of Science, 19 (2010), 717–731,

Jenkins, Henry, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006).

Labov, William and Waletzky, Joshua, ‘Narrative Analysis’, in Essays on the Verbal and Visual Arts, ed. by June Helm (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1967), pp. 12–44.

Latour, Bruno, ‘Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene’, New Literary History, 45(1) (2014), 1–18,

Lester, Libby, Media and Environment: Conflict, Politics and the News (Cambridge: Polity, 2010).

Luhmann, Niklas, Ecological Communication (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

Luhmann, Niklas, ‘Technology, Environment and Social Risk: A Systems Perspective’, Industrial Crisis Quarterly 4 (1990), 223–231.

Luhmann, Niklas, ‘Observing Re-entries’, Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, 16(2) (1993), 485– 498,

Luhmann, Niklas, Die Realität der Massenmedien (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1996),

Lundgren, Regina E. and McMakin, Andrea H., Risk Communication. A Handbook for Communicating Environmental Safety, and Health Risks (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2009).

Maturana, Humberto R. and Varela, Francisco J., The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (Boston: Shambhala, 1987).

Olausson, Ulrika, ‘Global Warming — Global Responsibility? Media Frames of Collective Action and Scientific Certainty’, Public Understanding of Science, 18(4) (2009), 421–436,

Rust, Stephen, Monani, Salma and Cubitt, Sean, ‘Introduction’, in Ecomedia: Key Issues, ed. by Stephen Rust, Salma Monani and Sean Cubitt (London and New York: Routledge, 2016),

Schutz, Alfred, Collected Papers V. Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, ed. by Lester Embree (Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London and New York: Springer, 2011),

Urry, John, Climate Change and Society (Cambridge: Polity, 2011).

Von Foerster, Heinz, Observing Systems (Seaside: Intersystems Publications, 1984 [1960]).


Heike Graf (heike.graf[at] is Associate Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Södertörn University, Stockholm. Her research and teaching centre around environmental communication, with specific interest in theory and digital communication. Recent publications include ‘From Wasteland to Flower Bed: Ritual in the Website Communication of Urban Activist Gardeners’ published in Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research in 2014 and ‘Examining Garden Blogs as a Communication System’, published in the International Journal of Communication in 2012.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search