Professor Antonio Lopez Receives Marieli Rowe Innovation in Media Literacy Award

Communications Professor and Department Chair Antonio Lopez recently received the Marieli Rowe Innovation in Media Literacy award for his project. This award is for a work in progress or in the planning stages that demonstrates innovative critical thinking and pushes the media literacy education field forward. Professor Lopez has a Ph.D. in Sustainability Education, and he is a leading international expert on media literacy education. His research focuses on bridging sustainability with media literacy. 

Congratulations on receiving the Marieli Rowe Innovation in Media Literacy award for your project! Where did you get the idea for the project and how did you implement it? How would you like it to develop? is a website designed for students, educators, and librarians who want to “green” the study of media and bring the material into media classes. The website includes teaching resources (lessons and media for analysis that can be used by educators), curated web links for ecomedia research, lesson plans, an overview of ecomedia studies, and student work.

Professor Antonio Lopez Receiving the Marieli Rowe Innovation in Media Literacy Award (Madison, WI, June 27, 2022)

Professor Antonio Lopez Receiving the Marieli Rowe Innovation in Media Literacy Award (Madison, WI, June 27, 2022)

The original idea for this project came out of my Ph.D. research. For my dissertation, I researched the barriers and opportunities for incorporating environmental issues into media literacy, because I was aware there was a major gap and a lack of resources. In my survey of major international media literacy organizations, environmental issues were completely absent. I interviewed some of the top people in the field and found a common theme that helped explain this problem. In general, people care about the environment and climate, but they lack the expertise and background to incorporate it into their teaching about media. They also are unaware of how the environment and media are deeply intertwined.

So, to achieve my goal of raising the profile of environmental issues in the field, I realized there needed to be a resource to help teachers do this. With a small grant from AMICAL (American International Consortium of Academic Libraries), I hired a web developer, Denis Doyon, someone I have known for over 20 years who has been very active in the media literacy movement. We worked together to create the beta version of the website. The award will fund the next stage of development, which is to create an online form for educators to submit learning activities and resources. The aim is to build up a bank of teaching resources that are crowd-sourced by experts from all over the world.

I also want to acknowledge our librarian Manlio Perugini, who works with me on the Communications Department library research guide. Many of the resources on started as a collection we developed together on the library research guide.

What is ecomedia literacy, and why is it important?
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report mentioned disinformation as a major barrier to climate action for the first time. It also says we have three more years to peak our emissions, and then we must do a massive drawdown to halve CO2 emissions by 2030 and net-zero globally in the early 2050s. Otherwise, we face catastrophic global heating. As we can see in Italy with the drought emergency in the Po Valley, collapsing glaciers in the Alps, and unbearable heat in Rome, climate change is already severely impacting us. But it can’t be left to the “environmentalists” to deal with it. We all have to do our bit.

Ecomedia literacy is a way to bring “eco” into media literacy, which is an established international field of media education that teaches people how to be engaged and active users of media. But as I was saying before, there is very little about the environment in the field.

Most people are unaware of how media and the environment are deeply connected. The thumbnail sketch is that media impact the environment through their ecological footprint and mindprint (how media drive our understanding and awareness of the environment). For example, most people’s awareness of climate science is largely through how it’s discussed in the media. News media and online platforms drive policy discussions and public opinion about environmental issues, but also when they don’t cover important topics (like clean water or ocean acidification), it’s like those issues don’t exist (except to those suffering from the consequences of inaction). Another component of the ecological mindprint is how popular culture generates or reinforces beliefs about humans and the environment, sometimes beneficial and other times very damaging. Advertising, of course, drives consumerism, which is the primary source of environmental degradation. But media are also integral for solving environmental problems. They help coordinate and educate about solutions.

The ecological footprint of media technologies is pretty straightforward. Rare earth minerals and other resources for our gadgets cause tremendous environmental damage through the extraction process. In some cases, as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where conflict minerals are the source of war and gender violence, or in the Andes where lithium for batteries is mined, political conflict results over competition for these resources. The sites of manufacturing for our technologies produce toxins, damage the health of workers, and impact regional water supplies. E-waste—or the afterlife of our gadgets—leads to incredibly inhumane labor and dumping practices across the globe. But the biggest impact on the environment comes from the data cloud, which produces as much CO2 as the airline industry. The rise of artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies like cryptocurrency requires an incredible amount of fossil fuel energy consumption. Before Bitcoin’s recent crash, it was projected to produce on its own enough CO2 to push the entire planet over the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius average global temperature.

So, as you can see, the connection between media and the environment is quite substantial. With a grant from the US State Department, The World Media Literacy Forum produced this video that summarizes ecomedia based on an interview with me.

How are you integrating ecomedia literacy in your classes/Communications curriculum at JCU?
I currently teach three courses that focus on the environment in the study of media: CMS 323 Media and the Environment, CMS 345 Ecocinema, and DJRN 380 Writing for Advocacy: Climate Crisis. I also supervise several senior capstone projects that are based on this subject matter. In addition, whenever I teach any media class, I always include environmental themes. I believe it’s as integral as gender, race, and inequality, all issues that we cover in media classes. The COM Department’s Digital Delights and Disturbances lecture series also includes scholars working on ecomedia issues. In addition, I work a lot with student research assistants and alumni on my research projects. COM alumnus Priya Sage designed the graphics for my most recent book, Ecomedia Literacy: Integrating Ecology into Media Education (Routledge, 2020).

What’s one challenge and one reward of teaching ecomedia literacy?
The challenge is getting people to recognize that we are in a climate crisis that requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. I have been working for many years to get my practitioner community to recognize this and it can be frustrating when something this obvious is ignored. The reward is the ah-ha experience that people have when you connect these different dots. Many students have gone on to become passionate advocates for the environment and climate action. I’m also starting to see more and more teachers get involved, so I think the work is paying off.

You are one of the top global experts in the field of ecomedia literacy. How did you become interested in this field?
Twenty years ago, I was doing a lot of youth media work with Native American communities across the US. It became apparent to me that the media literacy field that trained me professionally lacked the resources or understanding that connected the needs of Native Americans with media education. The communities I was working with were often dealing with environmental degradation and health issues. I was also pretty involved as an environmental activist when I was a teenager and in college. As I have witnessed climate inaction over the years, I just felt like someone had to do something about it, and it seemed natural that I could make an intervention in my own field of media literacy practitioners. So I pursued this through my Ph.D. research and continue to research and write about this. In short, no one else was doing it so I decided to step in and take action.

What are your future projects?
I’m currently the lead editor for the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Ecomedia Studies (coming out in 2023). It’s offering a state-of-the-art of this exciting and emerging field of scholarship. I am also continuing to develop the website and will be doing a lot of content development and outreach in the coming year to build it out. I am collaborating with AMICAL to expand ecojustice resources to all of our institutions. I plan on working with some graduate students and scholars at the American University of Lebanon to develop ecomedia literacy resources in Arabic. I’m also doing quite a bit of research on climate disinformation. I have a chapter coming out in October 2022 on this for the Palgrave Handbook of Media Misinformation and I recently collaborated with a former Communications student on an article on the environmental impacts of algorithms for the Journal of Media Literacy. I continue to write and publish on a regular basis about this topic.

See Professor Lopez’s publications.