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When we think about solutions to the climate issue, we often think about technical solutions, such as geo-engineering. According to media scholar Leonie Schmidt, climate change is a problem which the Humanities should also be addressing. Thanks to the conferral of an ERC Consolidator Grant – a personal grant of two million euros – she will be commencing research into cultural approaches and creative experiments to combat climate change. In this research, she will be focusing specifically on the ‘Global South’: countries that are on the front line of climate change.
Mediawetenschapper Leonie Schmidt

‘If we look at Western coverage of climate change, we primarily see lots of factual news reports in which figures, tables and graphs play a major role,’ Schmidt says. ‘It's just that our imagination is not attuned to something as big as climate change. The scientific data that we see in the news is indispensable, of course, but the visualisations are very abstract and it is certainly not the only way in which we can speak to people about this topic.

Schmidt saw how this could be done differently while she was in Indonesia for previous research into Indonesian media. ‘I was struck by how many stories I heard about climate change and how much they differed from the reports that we see here in the Netherlands. For example, humour and entertainment are very common, as well as religious messages. Our planet is portrayed as a type of Mother Earth who was created by God, but who now has to protect humanity.

Positive approach

The positive approach, which Schmidt encountered in the Indonesian media, appeals to a large audience. One example of this is how climate change is strongly connected with lifestyle and how it is very fashionable to be a ‘Green Muslim’.

The way we report on climate change in the West is certainly not the only way we can address people about this subject Leonie Schmidt

Moreover, it appears that this positive approach to climate change is not restricted to Indonesia, but is also common in other countries in the Global South, such as Bangladesh, Iran and Nigeria. ‘I find it fascinating to see how shrewdly these countries are dealing with the climate crisis,’ Schmidt says. ‘The effects of climate change are greatest there, but they have the least financial resources. As a result of that, people are forced to be creative and to come up with different ways to raise awareness about the problem.’

Three levels

In the project co-Islam In Indonesia, Schmidt and her team are analysing how the media in the Global South report on climate change, how the citizens react to that and the potential of such a cultural approach. A three-step model is being used to figure this out. ‘First, we analyse which ideas the media creators have about the climate when they produce media. We subsequently examine the way in which the people are addressed as conscious and caring citizens via the media. For the third level, we really go to the people and we interview the public to see if they are actually mobilised by the media.’

With her research, Schmidt hopes to discover how different forms of media and culture can play a role in raising awareness about climate issues. She will also focus on how the Humanities can contribute to the debate about climate change. ‘The research findings may also influence how we handle climate change coverage here. Perhaps it will lead to cultural solutions that are totally different to how we are doing things here, but which are actually effective.

Dr. L.K. (Leonie) Schmidt

Faculty of Humanities

Departement Mediastudies