Mediatized logics of capitalism and imperialism: how coverage of the climate crisis bites into the same systems of domination that spurred the crisis in the first place
By Nikita Tanguturi,
A quick Google search (as of February 3rd, 2020) reveals the following statistics:
When you google “Brazil fires 2020”,
There are about 231,000,000 results.
When you google “Australia fires 2020”,
There are about 1,700,000,000 results.
There is 735% the amount of coverage for the Australia fires in comparison to the Brazil fires.
For those of us who are unaware, the Amazon rainforest is one of the great bulwarks that helps to regulate the climate in the status quo. The forests take in carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis and convert it into oxygen. The excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the main contributor to the trapping of heat that causes the phenomenon known as “global warming”.
However, when the forest burns, the released carbon dioxide pollutes the atmosphere and contributes to the excess that already exists and as a result, exacerbates current environmental destruction.
So why is the topic so vastly uncovered in mass media in the status quo? Let’s examine the general scenario that caused the rise of the #australiabushfires.
The first is that the socioeconomic statuses of the people impacted by the Australia fires are the key reason they gain press coverage, and press coverage is what feeds into the capitalist system of mass media. The following chain of events is what I think underlies the problem:
1) The Australia fires erupt
2) Media sites hear about it and start to release articles
3) Influential people catch on and tweet about it
4) Media in Australia spreads images of destruction
5) The general public sees the fires and reacts to it, increasing the number of “hits” on every news article
6) Ad sales go up, sites get more clicks, editors get more money
8) Big industries feel the need to donate for news coverage, which then sparks criticism (for example, Jeff Besos was criticized for not donating enough), and then more coverage pops up
The endpoint of all of this is that the media gains money- more articles from more trending topics means more site clicks, increased ad costs, and a bigger paycheck at the end of the month. But why does that matter?
Capitalism, no matter how much we try to avoid it and conversations about it, seems to be the structuring factor. I believe that is reason number one. The way that capitalism structures the media means that there is a concrete incentive for them to overcover the Australia fires and undercover the Amazon Rainforest fires because it was the easiest way to gain money. The need for productivity and the desire for the accumulation of wealth are the core tenets of capitalism, especially in the case of private corporations- this becomes the reason why resources are unequally distributed to whatever news article sells, and in the case of the fires, that’s the koalas, not the climate.
However, reason number one only explains why media coverage was insufficient but doesn’t explain why people only participate in the coverage of wealthy nations and ignore most of the Global South* and nations of color. Thus, reason two is settlerism. The brunt of people facing the immediate disaster in the Amazon are indigenous people, the number of which (while vastly unknown) ranges around 20 million people in the 8 Amazon countries. These peoples have lived in the rainforest for many thousands of years, and to them, the land is sacred. The fires are not only an economic event but also a spiritual event. The fires are destroying their spiritual home and result in the extradition of indigenous cultures. None of us are neutral, either. Youth activism is at an all-time high, but we all still bite into the assimilation of mass media. I claim some culpability from participating in the scenario, and I think most of the youth I work with should also. The follower-based logic of social media means that retweeting something everyone is talking about is better for one’s timeline, but in biting into these logics, we are all active participants in the erasure of the Global South and indigenous culture and violence. This is not only the nature of the logic of social media but is a result of structures that we, as a society driven by mass media, are inevitably intertwined in.
The ways in which mass media is fueled by capitalism and is ignorant of modern-day forms of imperialism is one that reproduces the same logic that justified the Global South as abject and poor countries as non-urgent issues and contributes to the huge ecological destruction that allows for the increase of global warming and thus justifies modern-day imperialism by hurting the heart of indigenous culture. We, as media consumers, have become tools in the system of capitalism that goes hand in hand with the systemic erasure of native rights and culture and cedes activism to only benefit those that are seen as “valued” under the classism that structures the status quo.
*To clarify, the Global South does not include Australia, even if it is physically under the equator. The term, as the World Bank intends for it to be used, refers to low- and middle-income countries located in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
About the Author
Nikita Tanguturi is a young climate activist. Tanguturi is a high school Junior and lives in South Florida.