Are powerful polluters manipulating global communication landscape?


By Peter Makwanya
AS global carbon emissions accelerate, leading polluters want to maintain their emission status quo by manipulating climate change communication through greenwashing.

For the benefit of readers, greenwashing is viewed as an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally-friendly.

The global environmental and climate change communication narratives which seek to bring meaning to otherwise complex science-dominated climate change discourse, has been overtaken by greenwashing.

These are seen as the green spin of communicating climate change information.

The aim is to manipulate information, deceive global audiences and use misleading information to hide their polluting practices.

These tools of communication are sometimes deceptively used to persuade the unsuspecting audiences and consumers that major polluting nations and multinational corporations’ products, aims and practices are ecologically sound and relevant.

It is now in the public domain of international practices and frame of reference that, the main polluting actors, control the powerful global mass media corporations which have become the voices of climate reason and pacesetters of climate information dissemination. For that reason, they have communicative power to green spin, through powerful linguistic narratives like framing and metaphors, among others.

Climate change communication, which is used to present climate knowledge and information to a wide and broad network of global audiences, including reconnecting them to their environment, appears to have been overtaken by the accelerated wave of greenwash and the emergence of high volumes of green discourses.

Despite these forms of well-resourced knowledge and communication invasions, communicating climate science information in ways that users can understand and apply, remains transformative.

Human-centred climate change communication is a critical resource to support effective adaptation to climate change, especially in developing countries. Accessible language to communicate climate science information remains an transformative tool at the heart of sustainable development.

In contrast, the emergence of high volumes of greenwashing and discourses in uncontrolled ways, makes it difficult for  them to resonate with stakeholders.

The main polluting actors, who are also very successful and well-known corporations of global standing, rely on the use corporate, political, linguistic and business frames at the expense of envisaged environment and sustainability frames.

These powerful frames force global audiences to visualise and interpret climate change phenomena using the lenses of the main polluting actors.

Everyday lives and climate interventions of global citizens are being controlled by these powerful frames, hence there is no place for ubuntu/humanism.

Therefore, nurturing the African voices, worldview, ideologies and standpoints, resonating with the obtaining climate impacts on the ground against the background of manipulation of communication, becomes a challenge.

This also includes lack of confidence building, behavioural and attitudinal change to the communities of the global south.

Alongside framing, as tools of communication deceit, are powerful metaphors such as carbon footprint, carbon sin, greenhouse gases (GHGs), among others, used to instil fear, panic and anxiety among the global audiences.

The notion of communicating climate science information through metaphors is a noble framework towards visualising climate impacts to evoke mental images but should never to be used to instil fear and panic in stakeholders.

Metaphors that are not manipulated have the benefit of communicating climate change information in ways that relate and appeal to a wide cross-section of laypersons and stakeholders.

Climate change is now a platform for competing interests and contestation of ideas, where the weaker and uninitiated actors have no place or simply have to conform.

The communicative power of climate change in societies is unequally and unevenly distributed, hence the poor will always be left behind through language use and widening of the energy inequality gaps.

Instead of mediated climate change communication permeating the societies, it is now climate controversy which is being propelled and manipulated in order to dance to the tune of the main polluting actors in the emission matrix. Because powerful polluters are well-resourced, they are always far ahead of everyone else.

Communicative power is key in conscientising audiences about how mass media operate including the behind the scenes role of those who control and fund it.

Before disseminating information, the media houses should see to it that the interests of funding corporates and the main polluting actors are protected.

These corporates and main polluting actors are sometimes referred to as “guard dogs” instead of “watchdogs”, according to Corbett’s words.

For these reasons, for quite some time now, the powerful polluters have managed to control the climate science space, flow of information as greenwash or discourses as a form of publicising themselves and strengthening their legacy.

As such, it depends on how the developing countries and the global south manage to control the communication onslaught from the main global emitters.

  • Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes here in his personal capacity and can be contacted at: