Changing Political Climates: Chinese Environmental Journalism and Sustainable Development

  • Samuel Geall

Student thesis: Phd


The phenomenon of human-caused climate change releases a "cosmopolitan imperative" (Beck 2010, 258) that demands cooperation across boundaries: national, scalar, temporal, epistemological and ontological (cf. Hulme 2010, Urry 2011). However, many of the approaches taken today only reinforce such distinctions: for example, by insisting on a universal scientific understanding of climate change as a basis for policy (Jasanoff 2010a). In the People's Republic of China, the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency 2007), the new leadership has made "Beautiful China" and "Ecological Civilization" two of their most prominent official slogans and enshrined sustainable development as core state policy (Geall 2012, Geall and Hilton 2014). This drive for "low-carbon development," like climate change more broadly, reveals a set of social, ecological and political concerns with interlocking, complex and uncertain dynamics. How we frame incomplete knowledge about such dynamic systems affects the political approaches that are taken to sustainability (Rittel and Webber 1973, Leach, Scoones and Stirling 2010). This dissertation uses ethnographic methods to investigate how Chinese environmental journalists make framing decisions around the science and politics of climate change. This reveals how reporters can find spaces for political engagement in a restrictive and changeable media and governance environment, one that not only reflects a changing history of attitudes towards the environment in China, but also an international arena dominated by technocratic and managerial approaches to sustainability. It finds that Chinese journalists have found sophisticated ways to map the complex interactions of human and natural systems presented by climate change - and have addressed uncertainties in a fashion that points towards more open and plural pathways to sustainability.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSarah Green (Supervisor) & Soumhya Venkatesan (Supervisor)


  • Media
  • Climate change
  • China
  • Environment

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