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What does environmental communication look like?

Warning: This is going to get a bit meta.

Ever since launching the IECA website 7 years ago, one question has pursued me. What does environmental communication look like?

Visitors to the site will be very familiar with the image of the green phone box in the countryside that decorates the home page. You might even be a bit tired of it :-)

Well, change is coming. We will soon be working on an overdue update to the IECA website. We will be re-theming (changing the look) of the site. And we will be making it mobile-friendly by using a responsive design. At the same time, we want to add some new images.

So, how can we show environmental communication in action? I don't mean how to show environmental issues like climate change, air pollution, forest plunder, etc. No, this is meta. How can we show communication about those and other environmental issues?

Reimagining Environmental Sustainability for the Academic Conference

By IECA Board members Hanna Morris and Nancy Van Leuven

Set amidst the bluest skies and towering pines of Eugene, Oregon, IAMCR 2018 was focused on sustainability and media research, an ideal opportunity for IECA Board members Gabi Hadil, Hanna Morris, and Nancy Van Leuven to join a multitude of IAMCR board panelists to debate a hot topic:  How can conferences be more sustainable?

New Thread: Let's Build the Social Media Presence of Environmental Communicators/IECA!!

IECA members and list-servers: Hi again. New thread here. As you know, I am interested in building value for IECA as a professional organization, and also in growing the scope and impact of environmental communication as a global academic field as well as an ethical enterprise of practice.

Here is a new and important idea, something we should already be doing on our own as environmental scholars/educators/advocates practitioners and IECA members, but something we can do together to leverage our numbers and our diversity as a community.

Let's increase our social media activity to circulate the latest results of environmental communication research, relevant news from around the world, scientific breakthroughs in climate change and other areas, and a host of other topics. Let's expand the EC social media universe!!

Let's Build An Educator/Undergraduate Student Member Program For IECA!

IECA colleagues: As you may know, since Fall 2015 I have required students taking my undergraduate Environmental Communication course to join IECA with a student membership plus on-line journal subscription (2017 cost: $76). I have built a number of assignments around this membership that I call "IECA excursions." See for a list of assignments. I have pitched the membership to students as on par or less expensive than a textbook in many of their classes, plus providing exposure to a professional organization in a possible career field for some of them.

The IECA at ICA!

On Monday, the final day of the International Communication Association’s annual conference, the IECA hosted a panel entitled "Engaging Diverse Voices in Environmental Communication Pedagogy." The panel was at 8:00am but we had a great turnout! There were five thought-provoking "quick talks" and an excellent conversation with the surprisingly awake and engaged early-rising attendees (see the attached photo).

Chair Richard Doherty on Life Simplified Radio

Hi All,

I had the opportunity to be on the radio and talk a little about the IECA and our new local symposium initiative. I also spoke about the new weekly environmental radio show Ecotones that I am hosting on WMPG 90.9.

Here is the URL for the interview -  archive-player

The archive only last 6 weeks and the show was on March 15th, so take a listen now!

Join IECA or Renew Membership for 2018! Help Us Grow The Organization!

Friends--I am posting my annual call asking you to renew your IECA membership for 2018, or to join in 2018 if you have never been a member or have let your membership lapse in 2017. We need your voice, your participation, and your financial support to move this organization forward into the future.

Owning the Climate Future of Migration

[This post is part of a series offered by IECA members attending COP23 Fiji in Bonn.]

Reflecting on another marathon COP as I fly back to an Alberta recovering from wildfires, I am thinking of the silk frangipani flower in my suitcase. I had asked a Pacific delegate whether it was indeed a frangipani in her hair, a bloom that Indonesia’s Balinese women wear and place in Hindu offerings every morning. She confirmed it was, then explained that Pacific islanders weave them into garlands like a crown around their heads. Then she insisted I keep the flower.

At this “Pacific COP”, led by the Fiji Presidency but hosted far from the increasingly storm-battered islands of the Pacific Ocean, flowers were everywhere, worn by Pacific women delegates and the glowing young men and women who filmed their testaments for the Pacific Climate Warriors to share at these talks. These messages are full of love and practical defiance, a call to keep “1.5 to stay alive” but also an acknowledgment that there may well be a future where home will be a space of memory, destroyed by storms or drowned by rising seas.

There are often hints of tears.

The gendered politics of COP23 toilets

[This post is part of a series offered by IECA members attending COP23 Fiji in Bonn.]

I see suits. After 11 days and 25 side events, visions of a sea of men in dark suits and short back and sides are swimming before my eyes. Even as I sit at the Indonesia pavilion facing the palm trees and thatch huts of the Fiji pavilion, with men in batik shirts and women with frangipani-adorned hair strolling past me, the overwhelming impression is of men in suits.

It’s not just me. Mary Robinson remarked on it too. The past Irish president and past UN Commissioner for Human Rights, now busy with the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, declared during a Climate Action Studio interview that it was nice to see women outnumber the men for a change. Robinson was one of four speakers, two men and two women, but the gender re-balance occurred courtesy of the 15-year-old girl conducting the interview. A few days earlier, the equally eloquent Anote Tong, former president of Kiribati and tireless climate warrior, told a worshipful room that Kiribati would disappear, but its people had plenty of time if we work on pre-emptive responses and training to prepare them for eventual climate-induced migration. The Kiribati diaspora would shine in new worlds, he said, and then he singled out a female compatriot and declared there was nothing to stop a beautiful Kiribati woman from becoming the prime minister of Australia.

Talanoa and communication space at COP23

[This post is part of a series offered by IECA members attending COP23 Fiji in Bonn.]

One of the most remarkable innovations at COP23 Fiji has been its Talanoa Space in the Bonn zone. It features a huge wall of green foliage and red, white and pink flowers, a vibrant shock of tropical colour amid the cool white tones that permeate the spaces of COP. Speakers are seated in rotund wicker chairs, facing a tiered amphitheatre dotted with floor mats where audience members can comfortably sit cross-legged. The Talanoa Space includes smaller intimate spaces with more relaxed seating, where the occasional musician might start strumming a guitar amid the passing crowd of badge-wearing delegates.

New Issue of Environmental Communication Features Redesigned Cover and World-Class Roster of Contributors

The first 2017 edition of Environmental Communication is now available, marking the inaugural issue of my term as Editor-in-Chief.

Featuring a new cover design and article layout, the issue is headlined by studies authored by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and collaborators at the Annenberg Public Policy Center; by Robert M. Perkowitz and colleagues at ecoAmerica; by James T. Spartz, Dominique Brossard and others at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; by Bruno Takahashi and colleagues at Michigan State University; and by Edna Einsiedel and collaborators at the University of Calgary. Go to the issue full line up of studies and articles. 

Over the past few months, we have added several top scholars and experts to our Associate Editor team including Shirley Ho (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), Jonathon Schuldt (Cornell University), Declan Fahy (Dublin City University, Ireland), and Silje Kristiansen (University of Zurich / Northeastern University).

The world moves forward

[This post is part of a series offered by IECA members attending COP22 in Marrakech.]

This is my 8th consecutive Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change.  As I have observed the UNFCCC negotiations for the past few years, I have experienced the turmoil of Copenhagen, the salvation at Cancun, the Goundhog Day pace in Doha, and the celebration in Paris.  I arrived in Marrakech from Philadelphia, after the US national election and the National Communication Association conference.  I wondered how the prospect of a Trump US Presidency would affect work at COP 22.

John Kerry and US/global environmental politics

[This post is part of a series offered by IECA members attending COP22 in Marrakech.]

Today, Giles Dodson and I (along with 500 or so others) listened to US Secretary of State John Kerry talk about climate change at the UNFCCC.  Interestingly, we didn't know he was going to be speaking until this morning, but as soon as I saw that he would be talking, I knew I wanted to attend.  I never got to see him speak when he was running for president, so it was exciting to see him talk in person.

While many have well founded fears that a Trump presidency will pull out of the Paris agreements on climate change, John Kerry was inspiringly optimistic.  At one point, he said that he did not believe that actions already put in place would be able to be reversed.  He talked about the importance of the private sector and the many actions already being implemented to address climate change mitigation and adaptation.  He noted that while government leadership is important, actions taken around the world by businesses, communities, and many other actors are essential to dealing with climate change, particularly at the local level.

COP 22

[This post is part of a series offered by IECA members attending COP22 in Marrakech.]

In addition to what Giles wrote about yesterday´s side event, it is worth mentioning the complex bureaucracy that continues to grow after each COP. It is hard work to navigate in the mist of acronyms. Dr. Saleemul Huq called for a more empathetic and human forms of meetings -beyond the acronyms- which can strengthen cooperation and exchange of knowledge and ideas. This side event was a vibrant example of the latter. I hope the discussion will go on.

Another inspiring meeting was RINGO´s (another acronym) briefing to observers this morning.  In a collaborative and democratic way the content of a written statement was discussed and revised. I highly appreciated "critical thinking" which apparently is written for the first time in the kind of statements they do, and what they have done (irregularly) since the COP 2002. it also has a bearing on the discussion of the role of universities in capacity building activities that Giles brought up.


Building capacity to build capacity: universities and the Paris Agreement

[This post is part of a series offered by IECA members attending COP22 in Marrakech.]

Another focus of discussion at COP22 has been capacity building.  Capacity building is explicitly mentioned within several UNFCCC instruments, including several Articles of the Paris Agreement.  Article 11 has produced the formation of the Paris Committee on Capacity Building.

A stimulating side event yesterday focused on the role of universities within global capacity building.

To date, the criticism goes, capacity building has consisted of donor countries hiring their own consultants to assist the developing world in engaging in global climate processes, in particular the preparation of nationally determined contributions to the global GHG reduction targets.

The call at the side event on the role of universities, as highly sustainable (indeed ancient) institutions, was to create an institutional structure that promotes and delivers sustainable capacity building through active university participation in Paris Agreement processes and practical global cooperation between universities, north and south.

In the words of the side event Chair Saleem ul Haq of Bangladesh, universities should be able to promote climate change capacity building that ‘leaves something behind’ - other than the sour taste of short term consultation.

My first COP

[This post is part of a series offered by IECA members attending COP22 in Marrakech.]

Marrakech is certainly an atmospheric location for COP22 and the old town Medina, the souks, pumping music and motorbikes provide a marked contrast to the highly structured and sedate environment of the COP. 

Much of the discussion in the UNFCCC events is generally dry and technical, as befits a UN mega-event.

The reporting at both the multilateral assessments and Ad Hoc Committee on implementation was as dry as the surrounding Marrakech desert.

Most of the comments and suggestions from parties were largely complimentary of the committees and parties on their hard work.  This seems fair enough given that much of it appears to consist of wading through a morass of procedural and technical matter.

The oases of the venue are certainly the side events and countries pavilion.  The IECA booth is a modest affair, but convivial, as it is a shared space with the Mediators Beyond Borders crew, and Gregg Walker is playing a well-practiced role as connector and host. 

The side event schedule is enormous and hugely varied, with dozens of panels, presentations and speakers from a wide range of organisations.

Indeed the tenor of the discussions so far, while of course technical in many respects, is clearly focusing issues of implementation – loss and damage, mitigation and adaption, new technologies and finance measures, for example. 

Gender, environmental justice, and climate change

[This post is part of a series offered by IECA members attending COP22 in Marrakech.]

Today is gender day at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COP 22.  With that in mind, I would like to share a few thoughts about gender, environmental justice, and connections to climate change.  I attended a panel sponsored by the Women and Gender Constituency, which focused on technical, non-technical, and transformative approaches to addressing gender and climate change.  Women's leadership in all parts of the world is essential for how we understand and deal with climate change, which is even more on my mind given last week's election in the United States.

This panel highlighted several interesting approaches.  On the technical side, the Foundation Mohammed VI is working to provide solar powered cooking stoves and training on how to use them to women in southern Morocco.  These stoves help prevent the deforestation of argan trees (often used as firewood for cooking) and reduce CO2 emissions.  Furthermore, the stoves reduce toxic wood fire fumes and smoke inhalation, so they are a win-win for everyone.

Rewriting the fatwa at COP22

[This post is part of a series offered by IECA members attending COP22 in Marrakech.]

At COP21 last year, a strained air of defiance and urgency permeated Paris, still reeling from the lethal Nov. 13 terrorist attacks launched by extremist forces under the guise of Islam. COP21 delegates and other visitors arriving in the City of Light a scant two weeks later were greeted by constant reminders of the attacks: impromptu shrines to the victims, police tape across bombed restaurants, the very visible and heavily armed security presence, and banners proclaiming "Je suis en terrasse" as French citizens reclaimed their public spaces.

Both before and after the Paris attacks, a conflicted and by turns demonizing narrative of Islam and its followers has emerged in various media and in the public consciousness. One popular framing is the description of Indonesia as “the world’s most populous Muslim nation”, where more than 80% of citizens officially observe Islam.

Support IECA--Now More Than Ever!!

IECA members and colleagues:  I write on the morning after the U. S. Presidential election.  The American voters have elected Donald Trump to the highest office in our country.  As we all think about the many ramifications of that electoral decision, I want to pose this proposition to you--

IECA is needed, now more than ever.

IECA is celebrating its fifth birthday in 2016.  We have accomplished much together, including the expansion of the journal ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION and an editor rotation--Alison Anderson from 2014-16, Matt Nisbet rotating in starting in January 2017--that has continued to build the quality and impact of that flagship publication in our field, as well as the successful hosting of COCE conferences in Sweden and Colorado.  We have broadened and deepened partnerships with scholars from around the world as well as with other research organizations and non-profit advocacy groups.  We have obtained status as an observer organization to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC), and, like last year in Paris, IECA members are once again attending the upcoming COP-22 meetings in Morocco on behalf of the organization.  I look forward to seeing blog posts over the next few weeks!

Please vote this week!

Hi all,

The IECA board election ends this Friday, November 11.  It's an important civic duty not just for our communities, but our organization's health as well.

I'll be at the UN Convention on Climate Change next week, so expect to be hearing more from me then.


Stacey Sowards

IECA board member until 2017

Professor & Chair, Department of Communication

The University of Texas at El Paso


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