School of Communication Studies Professor Publishing Coal Industry Rhetoric Book


SUMMARY: Bsumek aims to shape public opinion about the importance of coal.

Dr. Pete BsumekDr. Pete Bsumek is an associate professor in the School of Communication Studies, director of the M.A. program in Communication and Advocacy, and coordinator of the cross disciplinary Environmental Studies minor. Dr. Bsumek earned a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Utah, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Communication from the University of Pittsburgh. His research and teaching focus on rhetoric and the processes of advocacy and decision-making in social change, with a specific emphasis on environmental communication.  

Bsumek is currently working on a collaborative project investigating public controversies surrounding coal. In 2011, Dr. Bsumek and his colleagues, Dr. Jennifer Peeples (Utah State University), Dr. Jen Schneider (Boise State University), and Dr. Steve Schwarze (University of Montana), began an analysis of the public controversies related to society's continued reliance on fossil fuels such as coal. Bsumek and his co-authors argue that legislative inaction on climate change is best explained not as a failure of environmental advocates, but by the success of the fossil fuel industry's advocacy strategy.

Further, Bsumek and colleagues explain that the rhetoric of climate denial is but one aspect of the industry's strategy. In fact, they note that the sheer volume of resources that the fossil fuel industry is expending and the variety of campaigns they have deployed to prevent meaningful action on climate change are two indications of relative success. Their forthcoming book, Under Pressure: Coal Industry Rhetoric and Neoliberalism, details the findings in the project.

The book examines five recent U.S. coal industry advocacy campaigns that have aimed to shape public opinion about the importance of coal as well as foment opposition to regulation. Each of the core chapters demonstrates how the coal industry has crafted a public voice that speaks through a potent set of symbols, narratives, images and arguments. Topics include: the rise of industry front groups in the early 2000s, debates over "clean coal" in the context of climate legislation, pushes for increased coal exports as a solution to global energy poverty, and more. The book closes by arguing that the industry's rhetorical strategies foreclose public discussion by diverting attention from many of the key issues surrounding the continued reliance on coal as an energy source in the 21st century.

Bsumek is the 2014 recipient of the J. Robert Cox Award in Environmental Communication and Civic Engagement, given by the Environmental Communication Division of the National Communication Association. The selection committee described his activities and accomplishments in the realm of civic engagement as "impressive and inspiring." He also received the 2014 Christine L. Oravec Research Award, given for the best environmental communication article or book chapter of the year. Bsumek and his co-authors' work was recognized for its "timeliness and sophistication," and noted for its strong potential to inspire future research.

Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2018

Back to Top

Related Articles