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Television, Climate Change and Knowledge (Panel 1)

posted on 2024-06-28, 08:23 authored by Elke WeissmannElke Weissmann, Melissa Beattie, Dor Burato, Evdokia Stephanopoulous

Critical Studies in Television Conference 2024

Melissa Beattie (independent scholar)

A Forecast You Can Trust?: Local News Meteorologists and Climate Change

Anthropogenic climate change is happening. This is an overwhelmingly accepted fact, with greater than 99% of scientists in agreement (Lynas et al, 2021). Yet responses to climate change science vary amongst both local news meteorologists in the US and their audiences, with some well-known meteorologists with large social media followings like Alabama’s James Spann being climate change sceptics (Bagley, 2012). In this paper I will give an overview of the presumed parasocial relationships between local news meteorologists and their audiences (Henson, 2010), discuss how that relationship can be problematised (Beattie, 2023) and engage in a case study of Chris Gloniger, formerly the chief meteorologist of KCCI in (majority-conservative) Des Moines, Iowa, who was sent death threats by a viewer over his support of climate change science (Milman, 2023). Through a virtual ethnography focusing upon a qualitative discursive analysis of comments on the KCCI YouTube channel of representative recordings of Gloniger’s work involving climate change, this paper will analyse the discourses surrounding climate change and its denial, the place of the local news meteorologist in climate change education and surrounding the specific case of the threats to Gloniger.

Dorothea Burato (University of Bari "Aldo Moro")

The Active Role of Italian Public Service Broadcasting Against Climate Change

To foster a veritable change toward being a ‘sustainable community’, new practices should be developed together with new environmental sensitiveness and consciousness. Media communication plays a pivotal role in leading towards this typology of community. Since the 1970s, Rai – Italian Public Service Broadcasting – has been producing programs dedicated to environmental education, including documentaries, debates, informative programs, and talk shows featuring industry experts. Among them, Superquark (1995-2022), one of the most famous science popularization programs, and the more recent I Lincei per il clima (2020-2022), produced by Rai Cultura in collaboration with the "Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei", and the podcast La Temperatura della Terra (2023).

Over the past few years, with an acute sense of the urgency surrounding climate crisis issues, Rai has significantly ramped up its efforts to tackle these challenges more comprehensively: the broadcaster has supplemented its content dedicated to knowledge and awareness with promotional activities on-field. The Prix Italia has been a pioneering effort towards this goal for the past couple of years. Founded in Capri in 1948 as an International Competition the Prix is today a major International Event, a crossroad of exchanges, and a showcase for university students to promote their proposals through the contest "YLAB", a creative laboratory where students bring their proposals to change the world, exchanging experiences with experts and international guests.

For this very reason, the 75th edition of the Prix (2023), titled "Engage Me", has been chosen by Rai as a pilot project for the production of ESG sustainable live events, starting a process to progressively reduce the impact on the environment, in symbiosis with the territory of Puglia. The edition has promoted everyone's involvement in the "fight against climate change and responsibility" – both individual and collective – "for sustainable development, in consideration of the energy crisis and the Puglia Region commitment to achieve decarbonisation and objective no. 7 of the UN Agenda 2030" (www.rai.it/prixitalia). The challenge to university students was on Energy Sustainability: students were asked to conceive projects to contribute to the topic, whether engineering, social/political, or research and media communication. The students had the opportunity to attend webinars, workshops, masterclasses, and a pitching session. They were involved in international research laboratories and invited to conceive and develop festival storytelling methods (such as video blogs, visual stories, and social activities) to subsequently determine how to integrate student productions into RAI professionals' journalistic activities.

Considering that public television still manages to intercept a substantial part of the Italian public, the paper aims first to analyze its ability to mediate between discourses provided by different sources and reconstruct the meaning of scientific knowledge, institutional choices and individual practices. Secondly, by analyzing the latest Rai content focused on climate change and examining the Prix case, including the activities, stakeholders, and presented projects, this paper aims to examine the tangible steps taken and, more broadly, the educational role played by Rai in stimulating processes of social learning and raising awareness of environmental issues.

Evdokia Stefanopoulou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)

Extrapolations (Apple TV+, 2023) and Climate Change.

The cultural pervasiveness of climate change shapes contemporary film and television even in an implicit way, echoing Anthropocene anxieties. A more explicit engagement with anthropogenic climate change is evident in Extrapolations (Apple TV+, 2023), an anthology series of interconnected stories that portray a future world ravaged by ecological catastrophes and extreme weather conditions. In this future Earth, a world-leading company called Alpha creates technologies that offer temporary solutions, while contributing to further environmental destruction from which it profits. The stories that unfold in this not-so-distant future span many decades and focus on different aspects of global warming, illustrating the various political, social, economic, and environmental effects of climate change: poverty, lack of sources, deterioration of public health, growing inequality and species extinctions among others. In this way, the show extrapolates from our current situation, imagining a “what if” scenario where governments around the world disregard the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which point to how issues such as health, education, inequality, and climate change are inextricably linked. The series can be situated in the broader cli-fi category; however, in opposition to the majority of such texts where the effects of climate change are irreversible, creating a radically changed world (e.g. The Last of Us (HBO, 2023-), Snowpiercer (Netflix 2020-2024), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), etc.), Extrapolations is set —in the words of the show’s creator Scott Z. Burns, in the “messy middle” (Freedman 2023). That is, the show unfolds in the near future when humans still have some agency to shift course on greenhouse gas emissions. Scott Z. Burns —known for producing the impactful 2006 climate-change documentary An Inconvenient Truth and writing the prophetic Contagion (2011)— stated that the main influence for Extrapolations was Amitav Gosh's 2016 book The Great Derangement. Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Freedman 2023). In this book, Gosh argues that the majority of ‘serious’ artistic and literary production of our time has been unable to address climate change properly and urges contemporary cultural production to take seriously the reality of our times. Extrapolations is indeed a response to Gosh’s call, bringing to the foreground climate change. Drawing on Gosh’s arguments, the present paper argues that in opposition to the majority of films and television series where climate change remains in the background, serving as the text’s “Anthropocene unconscious” (Bould 2023), in Extrapolations anthropogenic climate catastrophe takes centre stage. This is achieved with the show’s aesthetic traits which combine elements from the environmental documentary with dystopian features, to illustrate a not-so-distant world to which contemporary audiences can relate with their own reality. Despite the show’s simplistic ending and other flaws that disregard the complexities in preventing climate catastrophe, I argue that Extrapolations presents one of the rare instances in television fiction where climate change is negotiated straightforwardly, thus attempting to seriously think (to paraphrase Gosh) the entanglement of the human with the non-human world and the “forces of unthinkable magnitude” (Ghosh 2016, 63) surrounding climate change.


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