Fall 2022: Introduction to Science, Imagery, and Understanding the Environment

Clae Blanck

Chapter 5 of Dr. Shannon O’Lear’s Environmental Geopolitics (2018), “Science, Imagery, and Understanding the Environment” focuses on how claims about the environment are often supported by a selective use of data. Stories about environmental issues often use emotionally persuasive imagery that can influence our understanding of the ‘environment’. A main argument to take away from this chapter is that what we know about the environment can be heavily influenced by the kind of information provided including the selective use of scientific information. When readers see terms or claims relating to science, they might assume the claim is right.  Arguments or narratives that use scientific data, as opposed to openly stated opinions, may appear to be correct or unquestionable. Dr. O’Lear states in her book, “Yet we must maintain a critical stance toward scientific claims so that we allow ourselves room to see what is missing from these claims (Page 137).” There’s no science nor any amount of data that can fully describe the whole situation of the environment or a specific issue. The data that are used in these scientific claims create a particular perspective rather than showing a full picture. Applying the environmental geopolitics framework (or inquiry) to stories about environmental issues can help to show the selective use of science to highlight some information and obscure other information or perspectives.


This section showcases how the selective use of science in claims about the environment can shape the way we view the world. There are different scientific approaches and forms of information, and it matters what kind of science is utilized to support a political claim about the environment. Not only does it matter what kind or scope of scientific information is chosen to build a particular claim or narrative, but it also matters if there is relevant, scientific information that is left out of an argument.


Dr. O’Lear’s environmental geopolitical framework will help us uncover what may have been left out of a claim. The three questions that can help uncover these missing pieces are how the role and meaning of the environment are specified, what is the human’s role or agency within this claim, and what is the spatial focus of this claim. The following podcast episodes all demonstrate how the use of selective information causes the audience not to see the full picture. The episodes will carefully examine the claim’s selective use of science and imagery.


Martha Tryban’s podcast, “Ecotourism Bites”, dives into whether or not ecotourism is actually protecting sharks as it claims to do. The claim she looks at states that ecotourism can help protect sharks from being hunted and allow the shark population to recover. Tryban explores how, in order for the sharks to stay in one area while people cage dive to see these animals, the managers of these shark diving sites use chum to keep sharks in one spot. However, there is a problem with using chum: the chum is not only consumed by sharks, but it also sinks and settles in different parts of the habitat. Adding chum into the ocean could change the habitat, this food source isn’t naturally occurring in the habitat. The chum can lead to changes in the environment meaning different species are now coming to a certain area to get this food source. The claim Tryban is looking at states that sharks are at risk and can be secured through ecotourism. Tryban considers how ecotourism promoters use scientific information selectively to focus on the benefits of ecotourism. That focus does not fully explain what’s involved in the process of grouping sharks. This selective use of science only supports one particular objective of ecotourism and doesn’t discuss how the use of chum could potentially change the marine ecosystem. Tryban examines this selective use of science in this claim by using the environmental geopolitics framework.

In Clae Blanck’s podcast, “Is Dow’s Recycling Program the Answer to our Plastic Problem?” they break down a claim made by the Dow company – the largest plastic producer in the world – in an article by National Geographic. Dow’s new program, Recycling for a Change, is based in São Paulo, Brazil, and its mission is to reduce plastic waste in Brazil through recycling while also providing jobs to Brazilians. This program is a great example of selective imagery because Dow uses positive images through National Geographic’s platform, displaying how recycling is a great solution. These solution images of recycling from Dow’s program aim to convince the audience that recycling is the solution to our plastic waste problem. The primary solution to the plastic waste problem that is being promoted is recycling.

However, there are more effective solutions such as reducing plastic consumption or banning it all together, but these practices do not serve the interests of plastic producers like Dow. The selective use of imagery is benefiting Dow by promoting recycling alone. The recycling solution puts the responsibility on the consumers. In Blanck’s podcast they dissect Dow’s claim to explain how Dow’s selective use of information doesn’t fully explain the concept or reality of plastic recycling.


In Hailey Williams’ podcast, “A Closet Overhaul: Shein, Fast Fashion, Supply Chain Distraction, and Thoughtful Consumption” she focuses on Shein’s claim that the company is reducing carbon emissions to be more environmentally friendly. Williams discusses other environmental impacts that aren’t mentioned in this claim. For instance, she looks into health problems that can come from Shein’s products, the amount of plastic waste Shein is producing, the overproduction of clothing, poor work conditions, and many other aspects of Shein as a fast fashion company. These other factors that are being overlooked causes the audience to only see the carbon reductions Shien is doing. The real question this podcast focuses on is: Is Shein reducing their carbon emissions enough to be an environmentally conscious company? Williams uses the environmental geopolitics framework to analyze how Shein’s selective use of science in the company’s claim can be misleading.


In Carie Jarrard’s podcast “What Does the Sustainable Label Look Like Underwater?”, she discusses a claim made by the Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC for short, where the MSC states that anything with MSC’s label is sustainable. This means that when a consumer is buying products and they see MSC’s label, the consumer will assume the product must be sustainable, but is it really as sustainable as MSC claims? Jarrard discusses what is left out of this claim and what MSC’s sustainable label really means. Some consumers want to be more environmentally conscious. When consumers see a sustainable label, the consumers then believe that what they are purchasing is helping the environment. Sustainable labeling is a form of selective imagery because the consumers are only focused on the product being sustainable but do not look at other aspects of the product such as how smaller fisheries can’t afford to become certified. This green consumerism – the prioritization of choosing environmentally friendly products — causes the consumer to feel like they are making a difference when they purchase an item that’s “sustainable”. The selective use of imagery in this claim could lead the audience to believe it’s possible to consume our way out of a problem.


In Brooke Foster’s podcast, “Thinking Outside of the Shipping Box: An Analysis of Amazon’s Climate Pledge,” she discusses Amazon’s claim about their Climate Pledge of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, which is 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement – UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Amazon states that the best way to help stop climate change is to eliminate carbon emissions from their company, but how exactly do they plan to achieve this goal? Foster learns that there are some important parts of Amazon’s carbon emissions that are being ignored. Amazon is only counting the emissions of their brand products not those of other brands on their site, which is what a majority of people are purchasing. Amazon’s persuasive claim is crafted with the agenda of appearing more environmentally conscious by staying focused on reducing carbon emissions. The climate pledges aiming to reduce carbon emissions can have vaguely defined outcomes by not stating exactly how they’ll reach their goal. Amazon’s climate pledge to reduce their carbon emissions is such a broad goal that the outcomes can be unclear. It’s easy to see one solution a company promotes and believe the entire problem is solved, but consumers need to look closer at what isn’t being said.


All of these podcasts have demonstrated an overarching theme of selective use of information misleading the audience. Using Dr. O’Lear’s environmental geopolitical framework can help the audience uncover what isn’t stated in the claim and cause the audience to look at the claim in a different perspective than the claim anticipated.


<p class=”hanging-indent”>O’Lear, Shannon. 2018. <a href=”https://rowman.com/isbn/9781442265813/environmental-geopolitics” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”><em>Environmental Geopolitics</em>.</a> Lanham, Maryland: Rowman &amp; Littlefield.</p>