Oil-soaked birds in Prince William Sound. The “crying Indian” in a 1970s anti-littering ad. A lonely polar bear on an Arctic ice floe. Such environmental images have proliferated over the past half-century, and have played a pivotal role in alerting the public about ecological problems and galvanizing public action. Yet scholars are more likely to focus on the science related to environmental problems or the policy responses to them.
Finis Dunaway‘s new book, Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images (University of Chicago, 2015) takes such images seriously. He examines these iconic photos and films, as well as many others, and he argues that they were crucial in developing popular environmentalism. Dunaway, associate professor of history at Trent University, shows how such images were produced and traces the effect they had on American culture. More importantly, he argues that such images implicitly or explicitly encouraged consumer-based, individually-oriented responses to the ecological crisis rather than actions focusing on the structural roots of environmental problems.
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