Students Must Learn How to Find Truth
Could there be benefits to climate change? Is it possible that it could lead to healthier outdoor lifestyle or easier access to oil? Believe it or not, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) presented both of these possibilities in their educational material for children, BBC Bitesize.
The United Nations Environment Programme has declared that we're living in a climate emergency and that it is a "code red for humanity". But on the BBC Bitesize page suggested taking a look on the bright side: The ability to grow more crops in Siberia, new shipping routes created by melting ice, and new tourist destinations. The page, initially created to help students studying for their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams, received swift backlash and criticism online for perpetuating the trend of fossil fuel propaganda, disinformation, and misinformation. Since then, it has been amended to align more with established science, but it's worth noting the site's intention to sway two influential groups: teachers and students.
UN: A major new UN climate report issues a code red for humanity, August 10, 2021.
"Fossil fuel companies and climate denial groups have long sought to influence climate education."
Fossil fuel companies and climate denial groups have long sought to influence climate education. Notably, in 2017, the Heartland Institute, an oil and gas-funded think tank, mailed 350,000 booklets to teachers across the country entitled, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming. This strategic propaganda campaign was full of cherry-picked data, misleading claims, biased information, and half-truths. Fossil fuel groups also created cute characters and activity materials for children, such as Oklahoma Energy Resources Board's Petro Pete, who mourns the loss of his petroleum products. As a former kindergarten teacher, this material is especially alarming because it mimics illustration themes and styles found in children's literature classics and elementary classrooms.
So while we are in a climate emergency, we are also in an information emergency. The ability to identify and understand different types of media and messaging they're sending is called media literacy. Critical media literacy is necessary for examining the dominant ideologies and power structures in today's world. In application, critical media literacy can make education more transformative and more likely to progress environmental and social justice.
"...with critical media literacy framework, students can re-represent a climate change story utilizing science to communicate facts in an engaging way. Students can investigate current media coverage and evaluate bias in messaging."
The Propwatch Project: The Need for Critical Media Literacy - Dr Jeff Share, April 15, 2021.
By learning critical media literacy, students can recognize and challenge dominant ideologies and narratives of race, class, gender, sexuality, or other topics they find misrepresented -- and create counter-narratives. For example, with critical media literacy framework, students can re-represent a climate change story utilizing science to communicate facts in an engaging way. Students can investigate current media coverage and evaluate bias in messaging. For example, Petro Pete and his "adventures" could offer an opportunity for students to create a counter-story that challenges the fossil fuel industry's attempts to control the climate narrative. Students can start applying critical media literacy by asking: what does the science say; what's left out and why; who does the material benefit and who does it harm; and what values are represented? While many everyday objects are made with petroleum, critical media literacy would help students recognize the extent to which the world relies on fossil fuels and petroleum products.
OERB: Virtual Classroom | Petroleum By-products, April 2, 2020.
Mass media plays an instructional role and serves as public pedagogy in setting the status quo and reinforcing information. It's imperative to learn how propaganda and advertisements function -- selectively framing facts, imagery, sources, and language to influence what the audience thinks and believes. This skill is fundamental because social media and the internet are now the primary sources of information, which means a commitment to climate justice requires an educational commitment to critical media literacy. Today's students must be equipped with the tools to analyze messaging about the fossil fuel industry as it relates to the climate emergency so they can become agents of change, combating myths and bias with counter-narratives rooted in the facts.