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Black coal, thin ice: the discursive legitimisation of Australian coal in the age of climate change

Article published at Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, July 2021

Introducing our new article, “Black Coal, Thin Ice: The Discursive Legitimisation of Australian Coal in the Age of Climate Change,” published at Humanities & Social Sciences Communications.

With Roman Stutzer, Adrian Rinscheid, Thiago D. Oliveira, Pedro Mendes Loureiro, and Mert Duygan. The authors are listed reverse alphabetically for a change!

Here is my TL;DR version:

1. Since Australia approved a new coal mine in Queensland in 2019 (yes, we are talking about Adani's Carmichael coal mine), we've heard a lot about factors that led to such a dramatic decision in the face of the mounting climate awareness worldwide. Of course, it’s easy to suspect that the historically stable symbiosis among the coal industry, state, and the mainstream media (the Murdochsphere) plays a big role.

2. But then, we asked ourselves if we can actually show such a well-told narrative with quant data and where the voice of pro-climate oppositions has been. This time, we took a natural language processing (NLP) approach, partly because we don’t have survey data that track public sentiment over time. Also, text analysis is a more natural way to analyze a volume of text from multiple media channels.

3. We could show indeed that the corporate traditional media (= the Murdochsphere) is part of Australia’s mode of regulation by offering a channel for the industry’s pro-coal discursive legitimization.

4. We could also show that the position of the corporate traditional media (the Murdochsphere) is growingly removed from that of the state-funded media (i.e., the ABC, which we expect to show a reasonable understanding of climate change, though it is politically and ideologically less powerful) as well as public sentiment expressed on Twitter.

4'. We are aware that tweets are only a section of public opinion, and we noted that in the paper.

5. Basically, we show that the corporate mainstream media is serving as a perfect venue for pro-coal outside #lobbying. However, this position has been getting farther away from public sentiment and the position reflected in the state-funded media (Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)).

6. One of the questions we must ask in future analyses is whether this tenacious network of the mainstream media, coal industry, and the government can be cracked if this network’s position gets SO far away from the rest of the country and the world?

P.S. I guess our paper can also be seen as an attempt to let quant data substantiate such a political-economic "story" of Australia's coal business/lobbying that we've been telling a bit more casually. Equally importantly, I enjoyed this super interdisciplinary research process!

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