Media and Carbon Literacy: Shaping opportunities for cognitive engagement with Low Carbon Transition in Irish media, 2000-2013

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Brenda McNally


This paper sheds light on the challenges facing communication praxis for transition by reporting on an exploratory, thematic analysis of media reports about reducing carbon emissions. It maps the deployment of ideas about the rationale and multi-faceted processes for moving to a low carbon society in the Irish press. The aim is to show whether and how media reports prioritize or marginalize specific conceptualizations of low carbon transition and decarbonisation. The findings shed light on the socio-cultural factors shaping opportunities for cognitive engagement with transition. In doing so, it contributes to knowledge about how media representations shape carbon literacy or the mainstreaming of routine messages about carbon management and low carbon living. An Irish case study was chosen as it exemplifies the problems of transition for economies dependent on regrowth. It provides an opportunity to investigate the unintended consequences of the now widespread mantra of economic benefits and to highlight potential implications for citizen participation in broader social change.

The research identified six media themes about reducing carbon emissions: (Targets and Regulations; Environmental Concern and Climate Change; Protecting Economy and Costs; Sustainability and Technological Innovation; Negative &/or Critical; and Radical Social Change). The study found that the dominant media themes privilege elite interests with policy-driven, economic arguments about the opportunities of transition and decarbonisation. Overtime, the analysis highlighted the marginalization of themes promoting socially-relevant conceptualizations about carbon reduction. As a result, it is argued that Irish media reports mainstream top-down conceptualizations of the multi-dimensional processes of transition and inadequately address the range of viable, alternative understandings of this societal challenge.

The findings indicate a need for greater attention to carbon literacy in both media reports and by communication practitioners. In particular, communications strategies to encourage broad public engagement with transition should consider highlighting the socio-cultural and political dimensions of carbon reduction activities.


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McNally, B. (2015). Media and Carbon Literacy: Shaping opportunities for cognitive engagement with Low Carbon Transition in Irish media, 2000-2013. Razón Y Palabra, 19(3_91), 119–150. Recuperado a partir de