UM Professor Wins National Award for Book on Coal Industry Rhetoric

September 02, 2016

MISSOULA – A new book investigating the rhetoric of the coal industry, co-written by University of Montana communication studies Professor Steve Schwarze, has garnered a national award for research in environmental communication.

“Under Pressure: Coal Industry Rhetoric and Neoliberalism” received the Christine L. Oravec Research Award from the Environmental Communication Division of the National Communication Association. The award is given annually to the top book published in the division during the preceding two years.

“Coal is clearly an industry under pressure on multiple fronts,” Schwarze said. “In the U.S., production has fallen to historic lows, and several of the largest coal companies have declared bankruptcy. Public concern about climate change, rapidly shifting domestic and global markets, and the specter of federal regulation all pose threats to the industry.”

In the book, Schwarze and his colleagues examine how the coal industry and its allies have responded to this pressure by identifying five rhetorical strategies the industry uses in its public advocacy: industrial apocalyptic, corporate ventriloquism, technological shell game, hypocrite’s trap and energy utopia.

Their research analyzes how each strategy encourages audiences to identify their interests with those of the coal industry, oppose government regulation and dismiss environmental concerns. In doing so, these strategies appeal to and reinforce neoliberalism, a political ideology that privileges market rationality, individual freedom and personal responsibility.

“Many scholars have focused on industry efforts to cast doubt on climate science,” Schwarze said. “Our book takes a different approach. Looking forward, it may give readers insight into how the coal industry will address the Clean Power Plan. It also has broader relevance for understanding the strategies that other powerful industries may use to manage significant threats to their existence.”

“Under Pressure: Coal Industry Rhetoric and Neoliberalism” was published earlier this year by Palgrave Macmillan in its series on media and environmental communication. Schwarze and co-authors Jen Schneider of Boise State University, Peter K. Bsumek of James Madison University and Jennifer Peeples of Utah State University will accept the award in November at the National Communication Association’s annual convention in Philadelphia.

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Contact: Ian Withrow, media and information coordinator, College of Humanities and Sciences, 406-243-2683, ian.withrow@mso.umt.edu.