About the Environmental Narratives Project

This project aims to assess the narratives surrounding environmental issues,  grounding them in both historical and present-day context. Oftentimes environmental narratives are “lost” in one direction or the other—or co-opted by less-than-factual accounts—and their study can help us better communicate regarding environmental issues. Consider just a few of the very important narratives we hear about on a regular basis: jobs versus the environment; political party views of the environment; religion and the environment; the benefits/harms of GMOs, government overreach versus valuable public services; the benefits/harms of fracking public versus private rights; and, of course, virtually everything you hear about climate change.

Study of these narratives is important so that we can better communicate important environmental issues and lessons to both students of environmental law and policy the general public. This site will be a repository of case studies and associated teaching/research materials for academics and other professionals, so that they can gain insight into how environmental narratives are won, are lost and/or do not match the facts/reality. The more we invest in understanding, talking, teaching and researching these case studies/narratives, the better equipped we will be to properly message, to “win” the narrative, and to “understand the other side” so that we can more effectively bring about environmental change.

Doubting Science – Let’s Differentiate Between Climate Change and Covid-19 Science

Blake Hudson
Samuel T. Dell Professor of Law
University of Florida College of Law

There are many links between climate change and the global coronavirus pandemic. The most obvious is the effect of economic slowdowns on greenhouse gas emissions. The economy grinding to a halt earlier this year starkly demonstrated the continued coupling of economic growth and higher CO2 emissions. While CO2 emissions dropped precipitously during the lockdown, and 2020 emissions are expected to be 4-7% lower relative to 2019, the pandemic has failed to make even a dent in the global year-to-year growth of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Read More

Has the Pandemic Changed the Narrative on Rural Communities?

The world is looking at rurality through a different lens as high density urban areas suffer from the ongoing pandemic

Ann Eisenberg
Associate Professor of Law
University of South Carolina School of Law

Prior to the covid-19 crisis, urban/rural disparities—in political leanings, demographic makeup, access to infrastructure and services, and economic opportunity—received ample attention in discussions about the “urban/rural divide.”  Suddenly, in February and March 2020, the world seemed flipped on its head.  Space abruptly played a different role in our lives.  Manhattan with its attendant amenities—public transportation, employment opportunities, nice public areas, restaurants, shops, high-speed wifi—emerged at the frontlines of a nightmare scenario where population density itself was the enemy. 

Read More

Reminder: Exxon Predicted Today’s Man-made CO2 Levels and Temperature Increases in 1982…Then Lied

Nearly 40 years ago Exxon’s internal study predicted today’s climate impacts with chilling precision…then they wove a false narrative to protect profits

Blake Hudson
A.L. O’Quinn Professor and Professor of Law
University of Houston Law Center

Exxon knew their product was harming the climate system, and purposefully misled the public about the risks. This information is not new by any means, but it is a stark reminder of the importance of environmental narratives, and just how much human well-being can be shaped by them—for good or for ill.

Read More

California’s Transition to Renewable Energy: the Rest of the Story

California’s energy transition is in full swing and the Golden State seems willing to set an example for the rest of the world. Yet, some of the downsides of the transition receive far less attention. The most notable omissions include the environmental and social impacts generated by mining industries. These downsides are not only unfair to miners and harmful to the planet, but they are often used by business-as-usual advocates to undermine the efforts of ‘transitioners’. A better way to proceed?: engage in a more holistic discussion of costs, benefits and precautionary concerns.

Christophe Roncato Tounsi
Senior Lecturer 
University Grenoble Alpes

59effda5e7fec.image

Since 2015 and the Paris Accord there has been unprecedented momentum for climate action. Yet despite international efforts (only Nicaragua and Syria haven’t signed the agreement), it is at the local and regional levels that the momentum is the strongest. Some 700 mayors across the world have agreed to transition to 100% renewable energies by 2050 at the latest. In the US alone, several states (Hawaii, California, New York, New Jersey) have also pledged to reduce their emissions drastically. This mobilization has been made even more visible and urgent after Donald Trump’s election in 2016 (and his decision to pull out of the Paris Accord) or more recently by that of Bolsonaro in Brazil. All eyes are now turned to cities, districts and states. California is playing an important role in that regard.

Read More

Deconstructing Dangerous “Hurricane Karma” Rhetoric about the South

Saying that the South “deserves” what it gets because of its policy preferences and climate denial ignores the complexity of the region

Ann Eisenberg
Associate Professor of Law
University of South Carolina School of Law

This fall and last have seen a series of historic hurricanes pummel southern states and Caribbean islands.  The 2017 hurricane season in particular was “record-shattering.”  In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey killed more than 60 people, flooded Houston, and swamped coastal towns when it hit Texas.  Hurricanes Irma and Maria followed that same month, with Maria devastating Puerto Rico and killing thousands.  Hurricane Nate then also hit the southern United States and Mexico, killing dozens.

Read More

On Climate Change, the South Has a Democratic Party Problem

While southern Republican Party registrants are par for the course on climate science and policy, southern Democratic Party registrants lag significantly behind party views nationally

Blake Hudson
A.L. O’Quinn Professor and Professor of Law
University of Houston Law Center

The U.S. South is a complex and often misunderstood region of the country. Though election maps show regions of the nation as either red or blue—most often at the state level—a deeper look reveals a mix of political values (Figure 1).

Read More

The Gibson Lacey Act “Raid”: Failing to Bridge the Gap

What Youtube and the Gibson Factory Raid Have to Teach Us About Public Communication on Environmental Issues

Roy Carpenter
Assistant Professor/Maître de Conférences
University of Grenoble/Université de Grenoble-Alpes, France

To say that politics has become ‘divisive’ or ‘sectarian’ in recent years is now a truism almost not worth stating any longer. News sources are replete with references to ‘tribalism’ and ‘polarization’; ‘populists’ are pitted against ‘elitists’ and accusations of ‘fake news’ fly in all directions. The result appears to be a society split into two irreconcilable camps which have neither the ability nor the desire to engage the other meaningfully. While these camps share a common interest, particularly when it comes to environmental issues, one reason for the schism are the narratives formulated, often on the same topic, by both sides of an issue. Sometimes one side’s narrative is more effective than the other, and scoring a narrative “win” (whether in line with the facts or not) helps shift public perception in a way that harms environmental goals.

Read More

Case Study Materials

The Gibson Lacey Act Raid

Southern Climate Denial and Political Parties

Recent News

Environmental narratives are constantly changing and shaped over time. Here is an aggregation of recent news stories shaping environmental narratives that we think may be of interest to our readers.

Suggested Reading

Here are some readings we suggest on the subject (short at the moment, but will get longer!):