A Post-Environmental Discourse: Rhetoric, Science and Legitimacy in Environmental News Coverage of Lake Winnipeg, Canada
In post-environmental news discourse, environmentalism is reduced to a rhetorical motif that is relayed by all sides of the political debate, including the environmental opposition. The phase of post-environmentalism in environmental discourse is indicated by the absorption of environmental messages into mainstream discourse so that they are no longer 'owned' by subversive environmentalists, but by anyone claiming to represent the cause. The result is that a counter-discourse is no longer present in the discussion to challenge dominant assumptions about unlimited economic growth. Using critical discourse analysis, this thesis examines the news coverage of governmental regulations aimed at reducing toxic algae in Lake Winnipeg, Canada. The thesis describes how the science is used in the narratives, and compares patterns of doubting science in the coverage with similar patterns found in news discourse historically. The analysis shows that the pro-lake cause is recruited throughout the coverage to boost legitimacy for the Manitoba hog industry and the City of Winnipeg, who leveraged public campaigns opposing the regulations. Rather than contributing to a public understanding of the tension between environmental and economic paradigms, the simplistic cost-benefit analysis of the regulations in the coverage decontextualises the problem from its complex political-economic origins. Furthermore, rather than presenting environmental science in a way that aids public understanding, science is either credited or discredited to reinforce the industry and governmental positions. The need for transparent communication of environmental problems and their causes is thus hindered by the legitimacy claims-making that dominates the discourse. The repeated and shared voicing of environmental messages in the media further embeds the discourse into a post-environmental phase by excluding a counter-discourse from the discussion – environmentalism becomes talked about by everyone, and yet discussed by no one.