Last fall I was in Helsinki to give two presentations at the 2nd ICOS Scientific Conference. ICOS is the Integrated Carbon Observation System, a European-wide research infrastructure that is developing a harmonized system for collecting and disseminating carbon cycle and greenhouse gas data. In their words, ICOS is an “organisation of eleven member countries and over 100 greenhouse gases measuring stations aimed at quantifying and understanding the greenhouse gas balance of the Europe and neighbouring regions.”
Needless to say, the conference delegates were almost all bio-physical scientists who, I assumed, knew little or nothing about communication theory generally or climate communication research specifically. Keep that in mind as you read on because that informed my approach to the two talks.
In other words, if you are somewhat familiar with the research on climate communication, this should be pretty familiar ground. But if you are new to the topic, I hope this will be a good primer for you.
The first presentation, a keynote, was about the challenges of communicating about climate change in the Post-COP21 context. The second was about some of the main things we know about good practices in climate communication. Both of these talks were meant to synthesize of some of the current thinking among scholars and practitioners on these topics.
What follows is the approximate text of the first talk, edited somewhat for this context. I’ll do a post on the second talk shortly.Continue reading →
I have just finished up grading and other final tasks for the January 10-week session of IECA’s online course Environmental Communication: Research Into Practice. I almost called it the Winter session, but I am not sure we had Winter here in the northeast US and I know it wasn’t winter in other parts of the world where some of the participants live.
From my perspective, this was a great session, the best yet. The course was over-full and we had an amazing group of participants, including practitioners, graduate students, the curious, and even a couple of profs. They hailed from India, the US, Singapore, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Ecuador, and other places. All of this led to some really rich discussions and the sharing of diverse perspectives and experiences. Continue reading →
What should environmental and sustainability communication focus on?
Should it emphasize the science of environmental issues or the risk of what could be lost? Should it focus on the responsibility people have to do something? Should it stress the future we want and the implications for nature? These are complex questions that we should be asking before we start talking about what frames, language, and images to use in our communications. Continue reading →
Here is an interview I did with Florian Kaefer for his Sustainable Futures blog. Sorry, but with a reblog I can’t control how the images are displayed and we are stuck with a massive logo for The IECA and yet another profile picture of me. Your best bet is to head over to the original post as quickly as possible. Then go to The IECA site and join up!
As you may have gathered, I sometimes watch TV. I also watch movies; surf the ‘net; read books, magazines and newspapers; listen to radio and recorded music; and play the odd video game with my kids. Like many people, I consume a lot of media in any given day. And I enjoy most of what I read, listen to, and watch. In other words, I think it’s worthwhile.
But I’m also very concerned about the fact that in this society we use so much media and that so much of it does little more than promote consumerism, anthropocentrism and a self-centered outlook on life.
As I have written elsewhere, Bill McKibben reached an obvious, but profound conclusion from the experiment he conducted on himself by watching 2000 hours of cable television. As he describes it in his book, The Age of Missing Information, the overwhelming message emanating from the tube in the US is: “You are the most important thing on Earth … All things orbit your desires.” It’s no wonder our culture has such disregard for the natural world.
At best, the contemporary media landscape is a powerful distraction from the living world of fellow animals, trees, rivers and mountains. At worst, it is a force that dangerously distorts our understanding of nature and encourages subtle and overt violence to the planet. Wondering where the lions are, as the title of the Bruce Cockburn song asks? Pretty soon they may only be on TV and in zoos.
I believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can have a media system that fosters critical engagement with environmental issues and problems, healthy relationships with the rest of nature, and a culture of sufficiency and sustainability. And it doesn’t have to be boring.
When things start to look like they are going down the toilet and there is no obvious way out, what do you do?
In the BBC TV series Twenty-Twelve, the fictional Head of Deliverance for the London 2012 olympics, Ian Fletcher, always finds something positive in the situation and a new angle from which to approach the issue. And then he wraps up the conversation with the line “So it’s all good then.” At that point, everyone gets back to work.
And so it is in the world of environmental affairs. No matter how bad things seem, there is no point giving up or assuming that nothing can be done. If someone is going to do that, they may as well stay home. Pessimism is as useful as the oil “dispersant” Corexit was to the Gulf of Mexico: better left in the bottle.
Similarly, simply passively hoping that environmental issues will work themselves out serves no useful purpose. Optimism in this context allows people to feel better enough to rationalize ignoring reality. That too is like Corexit: pour on some optimism and hope the mess goes away.
We can’t sit back and expect someone else to “fix” things any more than we can indulge ourselves in despair.
Face it, the future is unpredictable. There is no way to anticipate all of the changes that are coming. As poet Paul Valery is reported to have said, “The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.”
But we can help to create the future, or at least try to. And in order to do that, we need to be realistic (i.e. knowledgeable, not rigidly ideological) about our situation. We also need a positive attitude (not the same as optimism) towards the work, and good critical thinking skills. We have to look at things afresh, figure out another way and then lean in and try something. There are still so many positive choices available to us.
To quote environmental thinker David Orr in his book Hope is an Imperative:
Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. In contrast to optimism or despair, hope requires that one actually do something to improve the world. Authentic hope comes with an imperative to act.
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