Re-articulating media re/presentations of climate change discourse(s) in South Africa: climate change politics in the Global South.
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Climate change has become a critical 21st global problem, and with it, more threats to planetary existence are increasing. Notwithstanding the seriousness of the climate problem, politicians and policymakers in South Africa and globally have identified climate change as a problem but prescribe solutions that extend either the interests of the fossil fuel industry under the guise of technological development (clean coal and carbon sequestration) or Promethean neoliberal solutions benchmarked on renewable energy and carbon trading. Both solutions prioritise neoliberal interests and fall short of averting a more severe biospheric and planetary catastrophe. The news media, generally long thought of as the societal ‘watchdog,’ have also acceded to the injunctions of profit and accumulation, and construct climate change and solutions to it within paradigms that promote capitalist self-mutation. Through theoretical sampling, this discourse analysis study selected four weekly newspapers from South Africa, namely, the Mail & Guardian, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday Times, and the City Press, and examined how they represented climate change discourses. The media selected for this study were instrumental and had sheer capacity to define and determine the frames and representations within which climate change is articulated and understood in South Africa and outside. At a grand theoretical level, the thesis incorporated the metabolic rift/ecological rift theories (Clark and York, 2005; Foster et al., 2010) as grand paradigms for theorising climate change. Articulation (Laclau, 1977; Hall et al., 1978, 1980, 1985; Grossberg, 1992, 1996; Slack, 1996, 2008, 2016) and discourse analysis (Fowler et al., 1978, Hall et al., 1978, Hall, 1985, 1986, Hall and O’Shea, 2013, Fairclough, 1989, 1992, 1995; van Dijk, 1983, 1985, 1988, 2008; Foucault, 1971) were used at both theoretical and methodological levels and were useful in deconstructing ideologies in the news, the role of language, the sponsors of such discourses and the power they hold in society. The thesis, through discourse analysis, together with articulation, the metabolic rift theories, and ecological rift theories, examined 290 stories selected from the four newspapers for emergent themes that came from the chosen news stories. The key themes related to a) news media constructions of climate change impacts, b) news media representations of climate change politics, internationalisation and multilateral processes, c) news media representations of South African energy futures, d) news media representations of South African responses, especially carbon tax policies, e) news media reproduction of the green economy Promethean discourse and f) news media representations of climate justice. Overall, two key observations were made regarding South Africa’s climate change policy and discourse arenas as they played out in the news media. Firstly, climate change discourses in South Africa were intimately linked to energy discourses because the country was an energy-intensive economy, where coal represents the lifeblood of the entire economy. Climate change mitigation required that countries divest from coal and reduce emissions by all possible means. Essentially, future energy plans (energy futures) determined how South Africa would manage to reduce its emissions. The second observation was that as the country sought to move away from coal, at least ideally, there had been optimism in technological and renewable energy interventions. The techno-renewable energy optimism had become so naturalised, at least at discourse and not implementation level, with hopes that this would lead to a more ‘successful’ green economy.