Communicating the Crisis

Media and Cultural Studies in an Uncertain World

Communication and Carbon Capitalism: Confronting Climate Crisis


Last year was the warmest year on record. Polar ice caps are melting. The barrier reef is bleaching. Rubbish has been found in the deepest trench in the world’s oceans. Pollution is at unstainable levels. We are now, in the words of David Carlson of the World Meteorological Organisation, “truly in uncharted territory” and we need radical action to address the fundamental causes of climate crisis the before it is too late. How we organise our media and communication systems is key to this.


Carbon Capitalism and Communication: Confronting Climate Crisis brings together leading researchers and activists to explore why the dominant roles played by communications within capitalist economies reliant on fossil fuels are a major  part of the problem and how changing communications can contribute to solutions.


As case studies presented in the book confirm, voices dismissing the scientific evidence, backed by financial resources from fossil fuel industries, can rely on sympathetic newspaper and television station owners to promote their views and since his election as President of the United States, on Donald Trump. Money may talk but it cannot secure silence. As other contributors to the book detail, the mounting opposition to the coal and oil industries organised on a global basis by Greenpeace and other movements and on a local basis by protests against new mines and pipelines, has successfully employed direct action, memorable images, and staged events to force issues of environmental degradation and social justice onto the public agenda.


These clashes are fought out in full public view, often on media platforms that rely on advertising for their financial viability. Smart phones and social media sites employing consumer surveillance as a business model have significantly boosted product promotion, reinforcing the hyper-consumerism that fuels the ecologically destructive pursuit of ever rising rates of economic growth as the sole measure of o good society.


Digital media also contribute substantially to climate crisis in another, fundamental but less visible way. The networks they rely on and the devices they employ deplete scarce resources in their production, consume increasing amounts of energy in their use, and contribute to pollution and waste as they are discarded at rapidly increasing rates. The shift to cloud computing and the arrival of the internet of things will intensify these impacts.


Carbon Capitalism and Communication is the first book to bring together authoritative comment from leading researchers and activists on all three of these ways that communication systems are involved in struggles over climate crisis.


But the book also looks beyond the problems to consider possible solutions. From the immediate impact of disinvestment campaigns and The Guardian’s ‘Keep it in the Ground initiative’, to the role of alternative media, and the wider struggle for a non-commercialised communicative commons that places ecological sustainability at the heart of its organisation and practice and contributes to rebuilding a relation to the natural world based on custodianship rather than exploitation.


Graham Murdock, May 2017


© Springer Graham Murdock is a professor of Culture and Economy at Loughborough University.  Carbon Capitalism and Communication is available now.