Environmental Media Initiative


Conventional forms of communication are changing. New media, entertainment, and "knowledge industries" are transforming the way we interact, and even how we know the world. Scientists and educators at UCSB recognize that human perceptions, behaviors, and policies must be changed if proposed environmental solutions are to have significant and lastingglobal impacts. Media is a crucial element in that transformation.

The University of California, Santa Barbara is poised to become a national center for environmental media in teaching, research, and production. No other UC campus, and perhaps no other university in the country, has such exceptional strengths in both media studies and environmental research, education, and outreach.

Home to new production facilities and a public film theater, the Carsey-Wolf Center is partnering with the sciences at UCSB to showcase media's ability to transfrom how science and research are communicated, and to become a more powerful vehicle for educating, informing, and entertaining diverse audiences. Bren School faculty are joined by faculty from the departments of Film Studies, Communication, Environmental Studies, Geography, EEMB, and NCEAS in this new initiative, which will be coordinated by the Carsey-Wolf Center  (See the complete list of participating departments and other entities below.)

The Environmental Media Initiative (EMI) is a multidisciplinary endeavor at UCSB and also with the Santa Barbara community to improve our understanding and management of the many relationships between the environment and the media. EMI focuses on understanding both how the environment is conceptualized, portrayed, and communicated through media channels, as well as how media channels and components themselves are conceptualized, designed, controlled, implemented, evaluated, and have effects in terms of environmental issues.

The EMI will involve multiple channels and content, such as courses, lecture series, media design, message evaluation, archiving of environmental images and content, traditional and newer interactive digital media, etc. The EMI may develop outreach and curriculum materials emphasizing ways to portray the environment, and environmental communication that are accurate, contextualized, and culturally sensitive. Such materials may be especially useful as part of distance education programs. Understanding environmental media, by applying both social science and humanities research theories and methods, will help to guide the design of media and messages in multiple forms, from newspaper stories to videos to web resources.

Courses, events, and presentation schedules and descriptions will be posted. Be sure to visit this website in the near future for updated information.



There are four main components of the EMI:

I. Environment

II. Interdisciplinary and Community Collaboration

III. Environmental Media & Communication

IV. Environmental Policies and Social Issues

I. Environment

One dictionary defines "environment" as "The ensemble of natural (physical, chemical, biological) and cultural (sociological) processes capable of acting on living organisms and human activities." The word "environ," in early Middle English, meant "to turn around." "Environ" also referred to a compass, circuit, or circle, foregrounding the terms of a relational space. Thus the environment can be linked to media through the idea of how media can 'turn around' the environment -- make it visible -- creating the possibilities for a kind of visual environmental praxis.


II. Interdisciplinary and Community Collaboration

Understanding the complex interactions between the environment and media requires interdisciplinary and community collaboration. The EMI will engage faculty, researchers, and students from the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, as well as professions and the Santa Barbara community.

The University

UCSB is renowned for its emphasis on interdisciplinary research, teaching, and service. For the EMI, it will integrate a wide range of research approaches, such as surveys, content and discourse analyses, case studies, user/audience assessments, literature reviews, site visits, focus groups, experiments, and field studies.

UCSB has an extraordinary range of expertise, faculty, research projects, and courses in environmental issues in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, the Marine Science Institute, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. In addition, the Geography Department does world-class research on environmental issues, using superb media portrayals to communicate the complex interactions among large-scale physical and chemical processes. That same extraordinary range can also be found in the humanities and social science researchers at UCSB, several of whom hold positions in the highly interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Program. Here are just a few offerings:

  • Film studies faculty are exploring how indigenous communities are using video technologies to document deforestation and defend land rights.
  • Film studies faculty joined with faculty from the Environmental Studies Program to create the pioneering course on "Films of the Natural and Human Environment."
  • Communication researchers develop approaches to evaluate the credibility and effectiveness of Internet and other media campaign messages, ranging from politics to public health, including environmental issues such as pollution, littering, and water safety.
  • A sociologist teaches "Critical Thinking about Human-Environment Problems and Solutions," which, like the co-taught Film Studies/Environmental Studies class, teaches students to analyze environmental issues and to document them with the aim of helping to solve them.
  • An anthropologist uses world-wide email surveys to understand the scientific and cultural milieu of plant breeding.
  • Another anthropologist studies everyday technologies and the Californian way of life, such as flush toilets, genetically engineered tomatoes, and e-mail.
  • A political scientist explains NIMBY ("not in my backyard") and other forms of public opinion toward energy and environmental issues.
  • A historian studies disease in the environment.
  • Another historian takes an international, comparative look at environmentalism on other continents.
  • A political scientist studies the economics of climate change.

See www.earthgate.ucsb.edu for a listing of UCSB environmental research, labs, and departments. The broad and interdisciplinary range of environmental expertise across the campus will be further highlighted when the results of a Task Force on UCSB Environmental Interests study are released in fall 2004.

The Santa Barbara Community

Even a partial listing of environmental groups active in Santa Barbara shows that this regional community is highly involved in environmental issues:

The time is ripe for a cross-disciplinary center to foster both the obvious and the latent synergies and common interests among these university and community interests.



Environment in the Media


Media can be the channels for environmental communication (how media portray the environment, such as through science journalism, film treatments, web sites), and the content of environmental communication (how to design media and messages for affecting environmental policy, educating interested stakeholders about the environment, and improving access to environmental information and experiences).

Landscape painters, early photographers and filmmakers attempted to portray their surroundings in both formalized and unique ways. It was the wonder of reproducing environmental landscapes in early stereoscopes, panoramas, and serial motion photography that communicated a sense of spiritual reverence for the splendor and beauty of nature, as well as the will to behold and preserve it. As environmental institutions and organizations emerged during the last century, they have used various traditional and new media channels to communicate their concerns to the public. These messages have ranged from the U.S. Forest Service's pithy Smokey the Bear public service announcements to IMAX films that bring the Alaskan wilderness or the Serengeti Desert in Africa into spectacular focus.

On television there are now several cable networks dedicated to the coverage of environmental issues including the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and National Geographic. Environmentalist groups from the Green Party to the Sierra Club actively use the web to distribute information about the environment and to maintain online communities and organize activist projects. And scientists such as meteorologists, geographers, and archaeologists use virtual imagery and computer modeling to study and manage changing environmental conditions.


Media in the Environment

The environment can be the context for media (for example, how environmental conditions or policies affect use and effects of media), a component of media (for example, the extent to which media uses and materials affect the environment), and a manifestation of media (for example, pervasive music and advertisements, or virtual reality environments).

Just as the environment has become part of mediated communication, so too can media be understood as part of the environment, and as constituting communication environments. Media technologies such as film cameras, television sets, computers and cell phones populate landscapes and help to structure everyday life and societies of different communities across the planet. The technologies and channels of mediated communication not only help us to make sense of the natural world, they, at the same time, permeate and organize the environments of the workplace, the home, and the public sphere in untold ways. As part of the built environment, media play a role in determining how we make sense of our immediate surroundings and what lies beyond them. Indeed, media transform the ways in which we orient ourselves within, move through, and understand the contours and limits of our environments.

Media have impacts on the environment in more direct ways as well. The manufacturing and disposal of media hardware, for instance, have substantial environmental effects. Media hardware can only be produced when particular natural resources are extracted from the earth. When media technologies become old or no longer function they are designated "electronic waste" and must be discarded carefully since they contain heavy metals. E-waste streams have increased dramatically in recent years because of the expanding digital economy and this issue has become a grave concern among regulators, electronics manufacturers and environmental advocacy groups alike. Cell phones have introduced private, loud, one-way conversations into public spaces, creating another form of sound pollution. Environmental media thus includes consideration not only of media content and presence, but of practices related to the production, use, and disposal of media hardware as well.



The EMI will focus on communicating, influencing, and evaluating environmental media in order to inform environmental policy and social issues. The EMI will take a “media literacy” approach—that is, helping researchers, educators, policy makers, and the general population become more aware of how media play a role in representing and affecting the environment, and how the environment structures and manifests communication. Further, a social science evaluation component will be designed into every EMI activity, providing ongoing feedback, research, and understanding to all projects.


Programmatic Dimensions

Possible EMI projects include:

  • Analysis of media representations of the environment
  • Archiving of environmental media (that is, filmic, televisual, website representations of, and research about, the environment)
  • Audience surveys related to environmental media
  • Consulting and research for producers of environmental media
  • Coordination of field research
  • Creation of interdisciplinary work models
  • Development and teaching of interdisciplinary courses
  • Historical studies of environmental media
  • Organization of film series and festivals
  • Production of environmental films, television programs, websites
  • Scientific data visualization.



•  Peter Bloom, Department of Film Studies; Center for Film, Television, and New Media

•  Keith Clarke, Department of Geography; Chair, UCSB Environmental Interests Task Force

•  Frank Davis, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management; Department of Geography

•  Steven Gaines, Marine Science Institute; Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology; Environmental Studies Program

•  Hunter Lenihan, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management

•  John Melack, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management; Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology

•  Lisa Parks, Department of Film Studies; Center for Film, Television and New Media; Center for Information Technology and Society

•  Constance Penley, Department of Film Studies; Center for Film, Television and New Media

•  James Reichman, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis; Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology

•  Ronald Rice, Department of Communication; Center for Film, Television and New Media; Center for Information Technology and Society

•  Joshua Schimel, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology; Environmental Studies Program

For additional information, please see the Center for Film Television and New Media website,www.cftnm.ucsb.edu, and its research webpage.