Environmental communications and the public sphere . Chapter study guide . Chapter 1. Study and Practice of Environmental Communication. The field of Environmental Communication
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In the US, the field grew out of the work of a diverse group of communication scholars, many of whom used the tools of rhetorical criticism to study conflicts over wilderness, forests, farmlands, and endangered species as well as the rhetoric of environmental groups.
In 2011, scholars and practitioners established the International Environmental Communication Association to coordinate research and activities worldwide.
Environmental rhetoric and the social symbolic “construction” of nature.
Studies of the rhetoric of environmental organizations and campaigns emerged as an early focus of the new field.
Public participation in environmental decision making.
The National Research Council has found, that “when done well, public participation improves the quality and legitimacy of a decision and …can lead to better results in terms of environmental quality” (Dietz & Stern, 2008)
Because communication provides us with a means of sense making about the world, it orients us toward events, people, wildlife, and choices that we encounter.
At a very basic level, our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors toward nature are mediated by human modes of representation-by our language, television, film, photos, art, and contemplation.
Public Sphere as Discursive Space
Realm of influence that is crated when individuals engage others in communication-through conversation, argument, debate, or questioning-about subjects of shared concern or topics that affect a wider community.
Two early movements in the United States that challenged dominant views about the exploitation of nature- a 19th-century preservationist movement and an early 20th-century ethic of conservation of nature.
The rise in the 20th-century of a challenge to urban pollution and a movement to protect human health.
The discourse of environmental justice, which contests a view of nature as a place apart from the places where people live and work.
The related movements for sustainability and climate justice, addressing global climate change.
Romantic and primitivistaesthetics in art and literature- In the 18th and early 19th centuries, English nature poets and aestheticians such as William Gilpin “inspired a rhetorical style for articulating and appreciation of uncivilized nature”
A search for U.S. national identity- Believing that America could not match Europe's history and soaring cathedrals, advocates of a uniquely American identity championed the distinctive characteristics of its landscape.
Transcendentalist ideals- The 19th century philosophy of transcendentalism also proved an important impetus for revaluing wild nature. Transcendentalists held that “natural objects assumed importance because, if rightly seen, they reflected universal spiritual truth.”
Utilitarianism: The idea of the greatest good for the greatest number, some in the early 20th century began to promote a new conservation ethic.
Pinchot, believed that conservation meant, “the wise and efficient use of natural resources.”
The tension between the discourses of wilderness preservation and conservation continues to be a feature in some current debate.
Today, both regional and national environmental groups in the United States continue to press for measures of protection for the nation’s remaining wild areas, while different economic interests-logging and mining companies, real estate developers, and others- also seek access to many of these same areas.
By the 1960s, a second antagonism had arisen in the United States that contested an accepted view of nature as a space in which an industrialized society could simply dispose of its air or water pollutants.
With her prescient writings, Rachel Carson is widely considered the founder of the modern environmental movement.
By the end of the 1970s, concerns about health also arose at the local level. Communities became increasingly worried by the chemical contamination of their air, drinking water, soil, and school grounds.
Environmental Justice: Challenging Nature as a Place Apart
By the 1980s new activists from low-income groups and communities of color had begun to challenge the view of nature as a place apart from where people lived and worked, disclosing a third antagonism in prevailing views of the environment.
Emerging from these struggles was a robust vision of environmental justice.
At its core, environmental justice also was a vision of the democratic inclusion of people and communities in the decisions that affect their health and well-being.
The social-symbolic construction of nature arises from this ability to characterize certain facts or conditions one way rather than another and, therefore, to name it as a problem or not a problem.
A Rhetorical Perspective
The study of rhetoric traces its origins to classical Greek philosopher-teachers such as Isocrates(436-338 bce) and Aristotle ( 384-322 bce)
Aristotle defined rhetoric as the ability of discovering “in any given case the available means of persuasion”
Traditionally rhetoric has been viewed as an instrumental or pragmatic activity- persuading others-its use clearly has a second function: The purposeful use of language also helps to shape (or constitute) our perception of the world itself.
Public comment typically takes the form of in-person, spoken testimony at public hearings exchanges of views at open meetings, written communication to agencies and participation on citizen advisory panels.
The right to comment is listed under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970.
NEPA requires federal agencies to prepare a detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) for any proposed legislation or major actions “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”
Citizens’ claims to the right of standing are subject not only to the provisions of specific statutes but also to judicial interpretations of the cases and controversies clause in Article III of the U.S. Constitution.
To determine if a party is a “true adversary,” to U.S. Supreme Court uses three tests
Persons bringing a case must be able to prove an injury in fact
This injury must be “fairly traceable” to an action of the defendant
The Court must be able to redress the injury through a favorable ruling
The dissatisfaction with some form of public participation, such as public hearings, has pushed people to find alternatives for managing environmental conflicts: citizens’ advisory committees, natural resources partnerships, and community-based collaborations.
Inevitably, contemporary news “is largely event focused and event driven,” and it is this norm that is important in determining “which environmental issues get news coverage and which don’t” (Hansen, 2010, P. 95)
Rise and Fall of Environmental News
With the rise of an ecology movement in the late 1960s, environmental news grew in coverage and reached an early peak after Earth Day during the early 1970s.
Its saw a low in the 1980s and another high point in 1989.
Cohen (1963) first suggested the idea of agenda setting to distinguish between individual opinion and the public’s perception of the salience or importance of an issue.
Refers to the ways in which media organize the bits and facts of phenomena through stories to aid audiences’ understanding and the potential for the organization to affect our relationships to the phenomena being represented.
“a theory of story-telling, which assumes that repeated exposure to a set of messages is likely to produce agreement in an audience with opinions expressed in …those messages”(pp. 186-187)
Citizens, researchers, and environmental groups are using mobile apps, digital cameras, smartphones, iPads, and online registries to document their observations of the natural world or report environmental problems to others.
Public Criticism and Accountability
With Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, the reach of public scrutiny and criticism has accelerated dramatically.
One of the principal use of social media during the Gulf oil spill was the airing of public criticism of BP officials who seemed incompetent or uncaring.
While social media made possible an outpouring of criticism of BP and oil drilling, it is, nevertheless, important to note that this communication likely had a very limited effect on the company or on energy policy.