Category Archives: media messages

Media Messages about Fossil Fuels Don’t Tell the Whole Story

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

People sometimes declare that the world has always had periods of warming and cooling. So — how do we really be certain that today’s warming is primarily caused by humans? How do we know that putting too much carbon into the atmosphere (CO2) when we burn coal, oil, and gas or cut down forests is really the cause of current global warming trends? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, we know human activities are driving the increase in CO2 concentrations because atmospheric CO2 contains information about its source.

Carbon from fossil fuels has a distinct “signature” — its composition of heavier and lighter atoms of carbon. The smaller the ratio of heavier to lighter carbon atoms, the higher the proportion of carbon from fossil fuels. Over the years, the ratio of heavy to light carbon atoms has decreased as the overall amount of CO2 has increased. This information tells scientists that fossil fuel emissions are the largest contributor of atmospheric CO2 concentrations since the pre-industrial era.

fossil fuel primer

The US Environmental Protection Agency states that current levels of the greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — in our atmosphere are higher than at any point over the past 800,000 years, and their ability to trap heat is changing our climate in multiple ways. Climate change encompasses not only rising average temperatures but also extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, rising seas, and a range of other impacts. All of these changes are emerging as humans continue to add heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Renewable Energy Technology Will Make Fossil Fuels Obsolete

Look around your neighborhood. Why are we starting to see wind turbines, solar panels, or electric vehicles nearly everyday in our regular travels? That’s because these and other renewable energy devices are getting cheaper and more abundant by the day. Technology and cost of production for renewables are coalescing in favor of the consumer. And the result is that the demand for coal, oil, and natural gas is falling.

What will happen as the demand for fossil fuels diminishes?

The price for fossil fuels will fall, and fall, and fall, to the point where it won’t be profitable any longer for companies to mine for coal or dig oil wells. They won’t be able to obtain a profit by extracting that fuel. The fossil fuel companies will fail before 2035, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Renewable energy sources will become common in every home in the US well before fossil fuel prices fall precipitously. By taking over a small, but significant share of the market, renewables will force producers to slash costs to stay competitive. There will be a delicate dance in which fossil fuels will become really inexpensive while renewable technologies become commonplace. Why?

Fossil fuel companies will want to sell any coal, oil, or natural gas they own before these become worthless — known as stranded assets. Investors are moving away from fossil fuels as it becomes increasingly evident that continued expansion of oil, coal, and gas is exacerbating global conflicts and prompting corruption. The processes involved in fossil fuel production, distribution, and burning threaten biodiversity, clean water, and air. They infringe on the rights of indigenous peoples and vulnerable countries and communities.

As more and more individuals buy electric vehicles, fewer gasoline stations will be needed. When people find how warm, efficient, and convenient electric heat pumps are, they’ll turn away from natural gas to heat their homes. Electricity that is available from solar panels and home batteries will be so affordable and reliable that people won’t want to buy power from a coal- or gas-fired power plants.

fossil fuel primer

The Media and Climate Change Responsibility

As recently as 2018, there were a number of significant developments on climate change.

If climate change was so in-our-face in 2018, why did the media do such a lackluster job in reporting it? Okay, you’ll say, the media did better in 2018 than 2017 in covering the topics on the list above. Maybe so, but it wasn’t enough.

Public Citizen wanted to know which media coverage of topics relevant to climate change garnered significant attention in 2018 — like extreme weather events — and the extent to which media outlets explicitly connected them to climate change. In 2018, only 8% of newspaper articles, 5% of television transcripts, and 16% of online news articles mentioned solutions or mitigation in pieces discussing climate change. Public Citizendetermined that news media have a major role to play in providing key information about the crisis and solutions to inform those actions. One way to report on the subject, they say, is simply to connect everyday coverage to climate where relevant. Another is to cover the climate crisis directly, including by discussing how we can mitigate it.

But a larger question looms — Why do so few media outlets thoroughly cover climate change, which we know is directly related to putting too much carbon into the atmosphere (CO2) when we burn coal, oil, and gas or cut down forests?

fossil fuel primer

Why Do We Need Transparency from the Media?

“The tragedy in the lives of most of us is that we go through life walking down a high-walled lane with people of our own kind, the same economic situation, the same national background and education and religious outlook. And beyond those walls, all humanity lies, unknown and unseen, and untouched by our restricted and impoverished lives.”

—Florence Luscomb, architect and suffragist (6 Feb 1887-1985)

When we are debating the future of energy, it’s important to know the sources of the information that we use to make our decisions, who’s authoring the information, and what their opinion and bias might be. In that way, we can form our own opinions about what we think the future of the energy system should be. It’s not enough to say, ‘My friends have always trusted it. That’s good enough for me.’

Media celebrities, partisan think tanks, and special interest groups funded by fossil fuel and related industries raise false doubts about the truth of global warming.

They minimize the significance of climate change. They insist that the US economy depends of the production of fossil fuels. They lobby for policies that limit liability from mining and burning pollution. They attempt to weaken existing pollution standards.

Constant media misinformation misleads and confuses the public about the growing consequences of global warming — and makes it more difficult to implement the solutions we need to effectively reduce the human-made emissions that cause global warming.

At a time when we need sound climate science and evidence to set the record straight, including resources to help each of communicate the real facts about global warming, the media is all-too-often mute.

Why is that?

fossil fuel primer

Ask Yourself: What is the Real Source of My Fossil Fuel Information?

Way back in 2012, the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out some research that said the press routinely quotes think tanks that bash clean energy policies and technologies. The article also noted that these media outlets also fail to mention that they receive significant funding from fossil fuel interests.

Do you think that the following statistics have changed in the last couple of years, or not? Conduct a little informal sleuthing yourself: how often do you hear media mouthpieces questioning climate science without disclosing their funders? Let us know in the comments section at the bottom what trends you think are happening in 2019 about media transparency, climate change, and fossil fuel interests.

When was the Columbia Journalism Review study? 2007-2011

How many media outlets did they study? 10 organizations, including the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute

How much $$ was spent on the media by fossil fuel industries? Around $16.3 million

Which fossil fuel companies/ foundations were responsible? ExxonMobil and 3 foundations

How many times were they mentioned in articles about energy issues? 1,010 times in 58 daily newspapers, the Associated Press, and Politico

How many times did the media describe their financial ties to the fossil fuels industry? Only 6% of the time.

How frequently did the news outlets use only an organization’s name? 53%

How often would they describe an organization’s ideology?

  • “Conservative:” 17%
  • “Libertarian:” 6%
  • By its location: 3%
  • Function, like “think tank” or “nonpartisan” group: 3%

Which outlets disclosed a group’s industry ties most frequently?

  • The New York Times: 10%
  • The Washington Post: 12%
  • Houston Chronicle: 15%

Why is it important for disclosure of media sources when fossil fuels are discussed? The power of think tanks to move pro-fossil fuels industry messaging is much more effective when they appear to be unbiased or neutral institutes. When media aren’t transparent about their funding, they dilute trust in authenticity and accuracy in climate science information. This really seems like planned deception, doesn’t it?

What sources are reliable for information about the fossil fuel industry — and why? The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was cited by Columbia Journalism Review as an independent institute —  a federally funded research laboratory. Its mission is to make sure the public and other parts of government know the facts about the research and development behind the clean energy industry.

Public Citizen, which conducted the more recent 2018 study of the media and climate change reporting, suggests that producers, editors, or reporters who want to know whether or how to discuss climate change in the context of extreme weather could look to Climate Central, in particular its Climate Matters program, and Climate Nexus, including its Climate Signals project.

And you can call out your favorite media outlet every time you perceive that they’re not fully transparent about their funding sources. It’s an important climate action that you can and should take.

Images copyright free via Pixabay.


Let’s Uncover the Language Used to Discredit Tesla — #MediaAnalysis

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

As I was researching an article about Tesla’s participation in the new EV Drive Coalitionabout a week ago, I came across a source from The Daily Caller on the subject. As I skimmed, this online newspaper’s right wing ideology was quite evident — not my worldview, granted, but didn’t Sun Tzu say in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles?” So I read on … and was amazed at how this newspaper, in the guise of reporting on new electric vehicle advocacy, offered its readers some targeted messaging, completely neglected to include many important facts, and chose language specifically intended to discredit Tesla without foundation.

Let’s do a little discourse analysis to uncover the meanings, methods, and messages within the article. It’s really fascinating! And it speaks to how much the fossil fuel industry has to lose by Tesla’s ascendancy in the automotive and energy markets through its model of a sustainable tomorrow for the planet.

The Daily Caller offers the following “About Us” information on its website:

“Founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson, a 20-year veteran journalist, and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Cheney, The Daily Caller is one of America’s largest and fastest-growing news publications. … From exposing shocking mismanagement of Republican National Committee funds to exclusively revealing the FBI’s interview with Hillary Clinton, The Daily Caller’s reporting has been thorough and tough on members of both political parties. … The Daily Caller’s reporting is distributed worldwide to over 20 million unique readers each month through our highly-visited homepage, wildly popular newsletters and apps, countless citations from the world’s other top news sites, and our vast social media following.”

discredit Tesla

Courtesy of Media Bias/ Fact Check

From the people (“Tucker Carlson,” “Neil Patel,” “Vice President Cheney,” “Hillary Clinton”), to its topics of interest (“Republican National Committee funds,” “FBI’s interview,” “both political parties”), to its audience (“unique readers”), and its self-congratulatory adjectives (“largest,” “fastest-growing,” “shocking,” “exclusively,” “thorough,” “tough,” “highly-visited,” “wildly popular,” “countless,” “vast”), The Daily Caller self-defines in terms of strongly right-biased story selection and self-aggrandizing exclamations. Noted for conservative media opinion writers and deep-thinking essayists rather than journalists who do original reporting, the news and opinion website has been labeled by Media Bias/ Fact Check as “mixed” for its numerous failed fact checks.

discredit Tesla

Framing the Status of EVs Today in Order to Discredit Tesla

Media texts represent aspects of the world that contribute to establishing, maintaining, and changing social relations of power, domination, and exploitation, according to social linguist Norman Fairclough. In today’s Trumpian world in which immigrants are enemies, the Supreme Court is partisan, health care certainty is tenuous, free trade is under fire, and tax reforms preference corporations and the über wealthy, it makes sense that Tesla would be a target of right-wing conservative attacks.

Let’s look at The Daily Caller article, “Tesla Joins Forces with GM and Others Seeking to Save Electric Car Subsidies.” The title is fairly innocuous, right? “Joins forces” has a sense of strength, and GM is certainly a stalwart Big 3 US automaker. “Save” is accurate to the intentions of the EV Drive Coalition, which says, “Without a modification to the policy, consumer demand will suffer and so will the future of EVs in the US.” And “seeking,” “save,” and “subsidies” are alliterative (repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words), so the article starts out blandly enough to draw in a wide audience of readers.

Soon into the article is the statement, “A coalition of electric vehicle companies led by Tesla is pushing and prodding the federal government to expand a tax credit set to expire that allows customers to undercut the auto market.” Ah, here’s that alliteration again (“pushing and prodding”) which, as a figure of speech, catches and holds the reader’s eye. The connotation is negative, as if a small child is pestering an adult who has more important, mature matters to handle. Then comes the first whammy (“allows customers to undercut the auto market”), which wags an admonishing finger at consumers who want to get more for less at the expense of the kindly, established US automakers. We’re led to believe that these automakers have spent decades establishing themselves through a meritocracy inherent within the American Dream. Forgotten/avoided is the US government’s $80.7 billion bailout of the auto industry that lasted from December 2008 to December 2014. Called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the program cost US taxpayers $10.2 billion.

Referring to the newly formed EV Drive Coalition as “so-called” is quite strange in a subsequent sentence. Usually, “so-called” means something that is alleging to be something you are not sure it is. That is the Coalition’s name, so the implication is that it’s really not a coalition in actual practice — it’s a convenience for press releases and governmental advocacy.

“Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously mentioned that the company can survive without government assistance” combines 2 notions — 1) survival and 2) federal cash injections to prop up a faltering business model. Now The Daily Caller has a rallying cry that the far right can grasp. Using long-debunked myths about renewable energy, the article echoes sentiments from the Heritage Foundation: “Conservatives believe in free markets, not central planning. They believe in fiscal responsibility, not waste.” EV companies and customers, by extension, that require tax credits as major purchasing factors of electric vehicles are wasting taxpayers’ money. So the right-wing website asserts.

discredit Tesla

Soon the article states that “the market for inexpensive electric vehicles will dry up without the extension.” Actually, that’s not what the EV Drive Coalition says on its website. Instead, it argues, “Without a modification to the policy, consumer demand will suffer and so will the future of EVs in the US.” Both use existential propositions, suggesting that such a concept is absolutely going to happen. Now, you and I who understand that the future must have zero-emissions transportation might have suggested slightly different wording to this Coalition sentence. Yes, losing the tax credit may hurt sales in the short term. But once more people learn that 59–62% of the electrical energy of an EV is converted into power to turn the wheels, as opposed to a gasoline engine, where only 17–21% of the chemical energy in the fuel is turned into useful work — and once they realize how that relates to their bank accounts — EVs will be more in demand. (Source: Designing Climate Solutions, Chapter 8.)

Then The Daily Caller article turns specifically to Tesla and its CEO, telling its audience that“Musk frequently assures people that Tesla does not require government help.” The article cites a 2015 interview with CNBC where Musk says of tax incentives, “None of them are necessary; they are all helpful.” Essentially, the claim that alternative energy entities like the Tesla network exist because of government subsidization is not really true. The reality also is that even without the existence of such programs, the companies in question could very well have remained viable simply by expanding more slowly than they have — the support programs are mostly a means of increasing the rate of development/growth. Governments provide help (“government subsidies,” “government loan,” “heavy government support”) in order to stimulate economic activity, maintain technological stature with other countries, and, in the case of Tesla, lower pollution levels. (If you want to learn more about Tesla and its government subsidies, check out this CleanTechnica article.)

Moving back — finally — to the title topic of EV Drive Coalition launch, the articles cites unnamed “analysts” who argue that Musk’s companies are “particularly sensitive to the whims of legislators.” If dialogue is rich communication between people as social agents and as personalities, then we absolutely need attribution to know to whom it is we are speaking when we refer to such “analysts,” presumably smart people who decry Tesla’s viability as “particularly sensitive.” How else could we ask them questions and learn more? How could we judge their expertise?

Moreover, by describing US representatives as conceding to “whims,” the article is lambasting both sides of an entrenched partisan Congress. Even the Koch brother-funded candidates are under attack here — stand your ground, you who vacillate with your conscience!

Noting that “Californians made up nearly 50 percent of Tesla’s customers” reminds rural audience members that those who buy EVs aren’t really in your tribe, anyway, so do you want to even consider purchasing an EV and being associated with those tree-hugging socialists?

Reinforcing its premise that “elimination of the tax credit could seriously hobble Tesla” (with “hobble” as an allusion to rugged individualists whose lives depend on mobility), the article says that Tesla still has an “inability to mass produce vehicles at the scale of its larger competitors.” Yes, that’s true in a literal sense. Tesla hasn’t sold the numbers that much older automakers have, and it’s still ramping up its robotic assembly lines for optimal manufacturing.

Then again, Tesla was incorporated in 2003 and now, 15 years later, sells the Model S, Model X, and Model 3 vehicles, Powerwall and Powerpack batteries, solar panels, solar roof tiles, and related products. But Tesla’s strategy is to change the automotive industry by fitting innovative pieces together in a “complex coordination” that’s really different in marketing, production, sales, and technology from its competitors. Perhaps that’s what’s more important right now than Tesla’s current scale — the possibilities for Tesla to reinvent what manufacturing looks like in the US at a time when disenfranchised voters have turned to an avowed racist to lead the country due to their ennui about a loss of US manufacturing.

Final Thoughts

Discursive strategies can be used in the media to produce particular effects and contribute to the construction of social realities. The narrative that The Daily Caller drew upon to question EVs, generally, and Tesla, specifically, supports biases or points of view that were transmitted by an informative discourse conveyed by conservative media.

Media exerts strong influence in several domains — social, political, economic, legal, and behavioral, and it operates from a symbolic perspective. Symbolism can lead us to consider the information transmitted as a “view” of the event, a construct, rather than as the clipping of a given reality. Anytime we can slow down our reading of the media and look at political discourse as the process of production and interpretation of a text in meaningful political, social and cultural contexts, we all benefit.

The Ticket To Ride: Elon’s Tweets + Participatory Culture

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

The recent US Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) censure of Tesla CEO Elon Musk due to his tweets points out how far removed many US major institutions are from the reality of effective contemporary communication.

Social media, with its potential for candid and fluid back-and-forth chats, can develop relationships in a more natural, organic, and influential way than corporate communications historically have.

It also promotes and reinforces knowledge and thoughtful discussion, sometimes hastening important social change.

Musk’s social media messaging is indicative of today’s participatory allure, in which consumers have a real chance of grabbing Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame and in which corporations can learn and improve.

Elon's tweets

Warhol’s epiphany into the post-modern individual anticipated that, as cameras shrank and screens multiplied, the barriers to everyday people’s fame would be reduced.

An individual like Elon Musk, who possesses power in the current moment as well as a keen vision of a sustainable world tomorrow, epitomizes social power asymmetries where the famous interact with the familiar.

Elon’s tweets, as far as we have seen after much research, have never come across as fraudulent statements nor misrepresentations of fiscal status.

Yet, the SEC has demanded that Tesla “put in place additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk’s communications.” Not only are many of us skeptical that Musk will adhere to the exact letters of the SEC deal, but it seems incredibly obvious that the SEC has missed out on the big picture of contemporary social media marketing and has attempted to stifle something it should be promoting — transparency and communication between companies and their shareholders and customers.

Interconnections between Tesla’s rise in the marketplace and Musk’s tweets have never been a secret, as the SEC acknowledged in its settlement press release (“despite notifying the market in 2013 that it intended to use Musk’s Twitter account as a means of announcing material information about Tesla and encouraging investors to review Musk’s tweets”). The specific argument that the SEC has made about one specific idea or possibility for the company (claiming that there were “false and misleading tweets about a potential transaction to take Tesla private”) seems contradictory to how Elon Musk uses Twitter and how his followers understand he uses it, which is to engage with consumers and shareholders and thus provide them with more of a voice on substantial company matters. Announcing the idea on Twitter was a way — the most logical way — to specifically ask all shareholders for their perspective on that idea. Musk used the term “considering” and said in the end that the decision to proceed or not was up to shareholders. What more could a shareholder want than to be involved in such a momentous decision?

A Market Playing Field that’s More Even with Musk and Twitter?

“The future of advertising is the internet.”
— Bill Gates

Tesla’s 2018 settlement with the SEC included an agreement that Musk would not tweet about the company without clearance from the company’s legal team. (“Tesla will establish a new committee of independent directors and put in place additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk’s communications.”) For anyone who spends at least a small time each day on one of the many and evolving social media platforms, we know that such an agreement — if it could actually be enacted — takes Musk’s voice and authenticity out of what has been long understood as Tesla’s primary method of marketing.

Tweeting is part of the Tesla marketing palette that includes YouTube as well but not traditional advertising or Facebook. The Tesla consumer base closely watches and clings to Musk’s tweets, not Tesla’s YouTube channel or even its corporate Twitter channel. The authenticity and substantive information provided by Musk on Twitter is partly why he is followed 23 million users on Twitter, while the Tesla account has attest to a mere fraction of that amount. Additionally, Musk is more playful and exposed when he Tweets. He inserts normal, human musings about the importance of innovation, particularly with regard to Tesla.

Should spur-of-the-moment comments be slowed and stifled by a panel of tweet reviewers?

Since its rise to public recognition, Tesla has insisted that traditional print advertising just isn’t the right fit for the clean energy and electric car company. The closest it got was a 2017 amateur video ad contest suggested by a 10-year-old, something Musk seemingly discovered via Twitter. Musk then announced the competition via Twitter and revealed the winner to his 11 million Twitter followers.

The tools and strategies for communicating with customers have changed significantly with the emergence of social media. Fluid internet-based messages have become a major factor in influencing various aspects of consumer behavior — consumer awareness, spread of information, opinion molding, purchase behavior, and post-purchase communication and evaluation.

Musk’s early understanding of social media’s potential as a hybrid promotional mix created the very mentor-to-consumer conversations which the SEC has designated as problematic. Honestly, though, Elon’s tweets are a signifier of the types of conversations that major corporations the world over are now incorporating to drive the marketplace. To stifle such a notable corporate user of Twitter is to suppress a shift to more fluid, open, public approach to communications.

Musk’s Tweets Translate into a Kind of Everyman Communication

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”
— Mark Twain

Wall Street Journal conducted an analysis of Musk’s tweets from 2018 and prior, and although that exposé predated the SEC debacle, it does offer us some fascinating good insights into Musk’s tweets. His ubiquitous presence in social media everyday life has largely been about persuading an audience to drink the Tesla Kool-Aid. That should not have come as a surprise to anyone, including the SEC.

However, he does so in a way that is highly atypical of large corporate CEOs — he replies a great deal of the time to fellow Tweeters. He is not only disseminating a message. There is clearly mutual reciprocity in this communication — a genuine back and forth. Many consumer ideas are incorporated into the products, and it appears Musk intends to engage shareholder ideas in a similar way.

Elon's tweets

Graphic via WSJ

It gets even more interesting.

Elon’s replies are not exclusively for big-named individuals with gigantic numbers of followers. Rather, they tend to be directed more to people who have fewer than 500 followers than those who have over 2000 followers. That makes Elon Musk a kind of Everyman — in a sense, he is just another social media user who shares experiences, interpretations, and perspectives.

Musk validates participants who use social media — people aiming to generate ideas about society’s sustainability problems and solutions, people aiming to improve Tesla’s products, and people simply looking for some connection with one of the most influential people in society, someone who inspires them. His insistence on behaving as an Everyman rather than an uberman gives others the confidence to aspire to the same level of success, realizing that he is just human as they are.

Social co-production, in which humans produce something together despite being miles apart, is the foundation of social media. The SEC agreement alienates communicative co-production across classes and geography.

Elon's tweets

Because Musk’s Twitter tone is casual, he seems more approachable and real than other corporate CEOs. As early as 2006, Henry Jenkins coined the term “participatory culture” to describe US teens who were becoming media creators. Web 2.0, as it has also been called, transformed information dissemination and formalized digital technologies’ role in social persuasion. It designates the involvement of users, audiences, consumers, and fans in the creation of culture and content.

Elon Musk’s tweets have become more than a give-and-take with followers and even contain the occasional self-deprecating humor. Indeed, Jenkins‘ description of participatory culture as having “relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices” is a keen explanation of Musk’s relationship to his Twitter followers. He is the experienced techno-geek participant who is sharing his physics background and sustainability vision to individuals who, in turn, decide if and what type of buy-in — whether financial or philosophical — they will offer.

Wired correlated Musk’s Twitter activity and Tesla’s tumultuous stock price, highlighting the moments where the market’s evaluation of the company’s worth rose or fell based on the CEO’s posts. Is this fraud or finesse? A dialectic or disingenuous digital marketing?

Elon's tweets

Elon's tweets

Final Thoughts

“Advertising is the art of convincing people to
spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.”
— Will Rogers

Elon Musk’s tweets as effective climate change infotainment and for-profit argumentation should be distinguished from out-and-out overt attempts to unfairly manipulate the capitalist system.

Musk is an object lesson for the rest of us about the profit and persuasion inherent within social media. As he is unlike corporate CEOs in many other ways, Elon’s tweets, too, are uniquely Elon. While most CEOs have an invisible infrastructure that designs media messages as carefully controlled speech, Musk is authentic, unpredictable, and representative of our society today. It is one of the things his followers absolutely love about him and Tesla.

Social media offers a melting pot communicative exchange, a disregard for traditional media measures, and an opportunity to make transparent participatory culture’s influence on social norms and markets. Let’s let Elon be Elon, shall we? We’ll benefit in the long run from his art and spontaneity.

Elon's tweets

Effective Climate Change Messaging: A Media Lit Primer

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

As climate change advocates, we know how important it is to connect with our audiences through effective messaging. Training and technical assistance for environmental decision-makers is typical, but many of these leaders crave communications management. They understand communication challenges and recognize the importance of the “mindset” in framing our climate change communications.

But what are the best approaches to designing constructive, persuasive messages about climate change? What works to convince resistant audiences? What do deliberate climate change communications look like? These are important questions that need answers, because by understanding climate interpretation, we can change the national discourse — especially from the media — and focus on meaningful solutions that bring divergent groups together toward collaborative solutions to climate change.

climate change communications

Climate Change Communications Must Target Mental & Cultural Models

Jennifer West, coastal training program coordinator at the Narragansett Bay Estuarine Research Reserve, spoke at the Land & Water Conservation Summit at the University of Rhode Island campus in Kingston on March 10, 2018. She started out by outlining what climate change advocates need to know prior to composing climate change communications.

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What does your audience know and think?
  • What would you like your audience to know, think, and do?

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“I’d Like to Drive a Hybrid Car” Hyundai Commercial Debunks Stereotypes

[Note: This post was originally featured on Gas2]

Hybrid cars should have much higher sales in the U.S. They’re a compromise between the conscious knowledge that fossil fuel engines hurt the environment and the subconscious stress produced by range anxiety. So, why aren’t more people buying hybrid cars?

Maybe it’s because of misinformation campaigns from fossil fuel-funded news outlets like Breitbart, which states that, “Apart from being poky and tinny and smug and expensive and utterly useless for long distances, electric cars are also terrible for health and the environment.”


Whew! There is so much research out there to contradict these Breitbart fallacies. Here are some stories that demonstrate how foolish the Breitbart claims are. (Hang your cursor over the explanations.)

The popularity of hybrids is growing annually, and they have the potential to unseat gasoline as the fuel for our cars, which scares the bejesus out of oil companies.

Yet, let’s acknowledge a fact about consumerism: people tend to buy items that are highly marketed. Since U.S. automakers have devoted nearly nothing to advertise any type of electric vehicle, their appeal remains relatively low in the U.S.

That is, until now. The folks over at Hyundai have a new commercial out on the television airwaves right now that pitches the 2017 Ioniq, a hybrid vehicle. The commercial is an overt attempt to debunk stereotypes of a hybrid driver. Instead of hiding behind research data, Hyundai has created a marketing message that explicitly addresses the average U.S. person’s concerns about driving a hybrid car. It’s funny, self-deprecating, and very effective.

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Seven Techniques that Donald Trump Uses to Control the Media

[Note: This post was originally featured on PlanetSave]

At the time of our nation’s inception, the Founders supported an open, free exchange of ideas as a necessary ingredient for the survival of a representative democracy. As Benjamin Franklin proclaimed, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Freedoms of speech and press in the First Amendment, according to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black are essential to the U.S. constitution. “The Framers knew that free speech is the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny.” Censorship is used to stop truths or ideas from emerging, to prevent the ability to draw attention to powerful people or governments, or to undermine ideology. President-elect Donald Trump understands the power of a free and independent press, according to Robert Reich, and does what all tyrants do: he tries to “squelch it.”


Reich, the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has outlined seven techniques that Donald Trump has used to undermine the power of the press. Reich calls these strategies “worrying.”

1. Berate the media: Trump “summoned” two-dozen TV news anchors and executives and berated them for their election coverage.

According to Vanity Fair, sources told the New York Post that Trump, in a dressing-down, characterized the assembled media execs as a “fucking firing squad,” with the president-elect attacking CNN in particular. “Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong,’ ” the source said.  Reich related how another person who attended the meeting said Trump “truly doesn’t seem to understand the First Amendment. He thinks we are supposed to say what he says and that’s it.”

2. Blacklist critical media: Trump’s Facebook page read that the Washington Post was “phony and dishonest” and later revoked their press credentials.

Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said, “Donald Trump’s decision to revoke The Washington Post’s press credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press. When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished.” CNN Money has the Trump Blacklist of media outlets, which includes Huffington Post, Politico, and Buzzfeed.

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She’s in the News at the Boston Marathon

On Patriot’s Day each year, eastern Massachusetts reinvents itself with the Boston Marathon. Over half a million visitors in 2015 are expected to generate $181 million for the greater Boston economy, according to the Boston Athletic Association.  Starting in Hopkinton, running through six cities and towns, and ending on Boylston Street in Boston, the Boston Marathon is open to runners 18 or older from any nation, but they must meet certain qualifying standards.  006For example, prospective runners  aged 18–34 must run a time of no more than 3 hours and 5 minutes if male, or 3 hours and 35 minutes in the same age range if female,  Qualifying times are not the only areas in which males and females differ at the Boston Marathon.  Elite male and female runners have different start times, with Elite females beginning about 30 minutes prior to the Elite males.

Which female runners make the most news?

And the news stories about male and female runners differ significantly, even though 46% of the 2015 field is female. elite womenThe top 2015 story about Boston Marathon female runners wasn’t even about someone who actually ran the race; in fact, it was Kendall Schler who made the news.  Schler, who was initially reported to be first woman to cross the finish line at the GO! St. Louis Marathon, which would have made her eligible for the Boston Marathon, was disqualified.  According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,  officials said that Schler did not register any times on the route and marathon photos failed to turn up images of her on the course.

The Schler debacle, of course, rejuvenates the collective memory of another marathoner, Rosie Ruiz, who famously used public transit system to augment her run but was exposed as a fraud after she crossed the 1980 Boston Marathon finish line first. And the Boston Globe has reported that this year’s Boston Marathon will not include the 2014 defending female champion Rita Jeptoo, as the Kenyan is serving a two-year suspension for doping,

Caroline Rotich (KEN) and Mare Dibaba (ETH) sprint to the finish during the 2015 Boston Marathon. (Photo: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

The Good News about the Female Runners

So, are there positive stories about female runners that the press might focus on as they cover the 2015 Boston Marathon?  Sure, this field of female athletes is the strongest ever to run the Marathon.   We’d like to know more about the Kenyan winner, Caroline Rotich, and Ethiopians Mare Dibaba and Buzunesh Deba, who brought the fastest female runner times to Boston. We could chronicle the strong American female contender, American Desiree Davila Linden, or remember Lisa Larsen Rainsberger, who took the female title in 1985. And it goes without saying that we must continue to honor Kathy Switzer, whose attempt to run in the 1967 Boston Marathon under a gender-neutral name caused then-Boston Athletic Association director Will Cloney to argue that “we have no space in the Marathon for any unauthorized person… If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her.”  By 1972, females were allowed to register for the Boston Marathon, and progress for women’s rights in sport has continued.

A Few Steps Forward with a Couple of Steps Back

But to what degree has progress been made?  We might turn to one of the top 2015 stories about females and the Boston Marathon: The Best Manicures at the Boston Marathon.  To accentuate the status of elite female athletes, we all must speak vociferously about their accomplishments at the Boston Marathon and elsewhere.

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Blended Learning Conference

Carolyn delivered a presentation at the Blended Learning Conference called “The Art of Digital Challenge and Choice: Curated Collections of Texts for Student Inquiry.”  Participants in this workshop experienced a hands-on, action-based digital curriculum that emphasizes choice and inquiry. After moving through a series of quick tutorials on how students access and utilize materials, participants surveyed thematically-based curated collections and explored how students convert their play-lists into original digital compositions and creations. Highlander Institute, Providence, in conjunction with URI’s Media Education Lab. May, 2014.

Rhode Island Writing Project

Carolyn delivered a presentation titled, “Modeling the Digital Writing Workshop” at the Rhode Island Writing Project annual spring conference.  She demonstrated how teachers can move from pre-assessments into scaffolded learning events and onto student proficiency in digital analysis and composing. March, 2013. Providence, RI.

National Council of Teachers of English

Carolyn shared two curriculum units at NCTE.  The first was “(Re)Imagining Ibsen’s A Doll’s House with Critical Literacy.” The second was “Online Persona Role Plays: Advertisement Analysis.”  Each offered participants the opportunity to see how students can depersonalize their literacy experiences to more keenly relate to individuals, settings, and cultural practices outside what’s considered “normal.”  Digital media literacy analysis and composition helped students create critical distance from media messages. November, 2013. Boston, MA.