Nick Mullins was the 5th generation of his family to work in the underground coal mines of central Appalachia. That was before life circumstances turned him toward a new path in economic and environmental justice activism. But after nearly 10 years of working in various forms of advocacy, Nick found that all is not well in the world of justice activism. When Nick began combining his prior life experience as a blue-collar worker with his academic pursuits in strategic environmental communication, he developed a few outspoken insights that are making some environmental organizations uncomfortable.

Beginning in 2016, Nick founded Breaking Clean, a communications firm focused on justice advocacy public relations strategies that are more inclusive of rural, conservative, and working-class families. Beyond his professional and academic work, Nick’s insights and commentary have garnered a larger audience through a variety of publications including Yes! Magazine, Audubon Magazine, The New York Times, The Hill, The Washington Post, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR’s The World and many others.

Today Nick continues the unglamorous work of breaking down the rural-urban divide and establishing common ground across divisive sociopolitical viewpoints. His lectures take a narrative approach to explaining the issues that prevent many environmental justice organizations from achieving widespread positive change. With a little help in communications strategy and a bit of blue-collar perspective, it may just be possible to achieve a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Topics:

THE BOOMERANG EFFECT OF ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM

After years of hard work and millions of dollars invested in environmental advocacy campaigns, marches and protests, something strange happened. The political landscape of the nation shifted once again to support economics over environmental protection. As our country continues to broaden its political and cultural divide, many people are left wondering, “What went wrong?” Appalachia rose as a microcosm of the nation’s underlying socioeconomic problems during the 2016 presidential election, and while there exists a great potential to find truth within the Appalachian experience, there’s a problem. In this talk, Nick explains the economic and political forces that turned one of the nation’s largest labor rights strongholds into a region of pro-industry attitudes based upon conservative values. He helps audiences understand the issues working-class communities face while illustrating the need to rethink the communication framework of environmental activism that may have led to a complete political shift in Central Appalachia’s coalfields.

CORPORATE MANIPULATION OF CULTURAL & POLITICAL VALUES

Corporate interests have always sought to maintain a positive public image. But what happens when their intentions turn to manipulating the cultural identity of entire communities? Through investments into public relations that have included faux grassroots campaigns and even the infiltration of public education systems, Appalachia’s coal industry has gone beyond basic marketing techniques to change the way communities view political and economic issues—often with alarming result. In this lecture, Nick examines the public relations tactics used by large industry to accomplish cultural hegemony over local communities serving not only to support their industry and increase employee loyalty, but to also defend against public interest groups seeking the ethical treatment of local communities.

SEEKING A JUST ENERGY TRANSITION

Human caused climate change is real, as are the challenges we now face. Although it is absolutely necessary that carbon emissions be reduced, many people continue to challenge the science. How do we convince people of the need for change, and how can we protect those most economically vulnerable as we transition away from fossil fuel? In this lecture, Nick discusses the reality of climate change from a working-class perspective, engaging both believers and non-believers in the need for sustainable energy practices while looking towards a just economic transition for those most dependent on fossil fuel extraction.

From bringing alive the role of organized labor in empowering the environmental movement to providing witness to the scars left behind by an economy built on extraction, Nick’s deep knowledge of the history and science of climate change and the coal industry as well as his profound respect for the cultural legacies of rural America provided a learning experience like none other. We are forever grateful for what Nick shared with us.
— UMass Boston