January 16, 2021 by Cláudia
My master’s dissertation in Human Ecology sought to understand how climate activism is represented to a general public and how its actions are framed. To this end, I analyzed articles published on climate activism between January 2015 and June 2019.
2020 being finally over, a disruptive year in several different ways, namely in the suddenly halt of the growing consolidation of the climate movement in Portugal and around the world, I felt like it was significant to revisit the conclusions of my study, both in the trends that apply to the current moment, and in those that contrast with it.
My data collection ended in June 2019, a period of unprecedented growth in the climate justice movement and significant affirmation in the media space, partly due to the unprecedented entry of the student climate strike in the civic participation field. The evolution I observed between 2015 and 2019 showed a clear trend of increasing media coverage of climate activism, particularly in 2019.
2020 promised to be the year of climate action. On the one hand, 2019 had been the most intense year for climate activism to date. On the other hand, symbolically, as the start of a new decade, there was hope for turning a new page away from chronic climate inaction. By 2020 We Rise Up, the climate justice movement said, young students occupied the streets and public spaces worldwide and 2020 would be the climax of several waves of civil disobedience and internationally coordinated protests.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic came to halt this evolution abruptly and emphasize the uncertainty experienced by the climate movement when it comes to our collective ability to face the climate crisis. As with any immediate crisis, the media have once again sidelined the climate emergency, with possible disastrous consequences in terms of collective climate action and the sustainability of the social movement. Actions planned over months, such as the March 13th Climate Strike, had to be cancelled or, like most activities, had to be converted into digital format.
The pandemic hindered civic participation, but the movement has shown resilience to a cause that is time sensitive. The action #GalpMustFall, the first online demonstration in Portugal, marking Galp’s General Assembly, was paradigmatic of this adaptation and resilience. The digital, however, cannot replace street protests, still activism’s main symbolic space of action.
If the climate movement has made an effort not to let the climate crisis fade from the collective consciousness, the same cannot be said of the media. While its effects continue to manifest, reminding us that climate change is not waiting for us to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the link between natural disasters, extreme weather events, temperature spikes and the climate crisis has become significantly less evident to the collective consciousness.
My research was built around this recognition of the media as agents that create social representations and, therefore, shape reality itself. Collective recognition of the urgency of climate action is the only glimmer of hope we have for minimizing the destructive effects of the global climate crisis. In this sense, while the climate justice movement continues to demand urgent and ambitious climate action, the media can no longer afford to keep silencing the biggest challenge we have ahead of us. In a decade that is undoubtedly decisive for the future of humanity, the climate crisis cannot be quarantined.