Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Phase Changes: Learning and talking about water in times of change

Richard Hum's picture
Hum, Richard
Category of presentation: 
Scholarly papers

Environmental communicators in Alaska face a complex communication landscape shaped by rapid
changes in both the cultural and physical environments of the region. Culturally, the state is dealing
with a legacy of repeated cycles of Western colonization with population influxes dictated by the
industrial boom-­and-­bust cycle of a natural resource extraction economy. This history has developed
into the current situation of heightened miss trust between the state’s rural (predominantly Indigenous)
populations and urban (predominantly, non-­Indigenous) populations. This miss trust between urban and
rural residents is often a subtle undertone of everyday communication across the state, but around
environmental resource issues and social justice concerns in the school systems, it often erupts into
open political conflict. At the same time, the local physical environment of many communities is rapidly
changing in response to global climatic drivers. Warming across the region is increasing twice as fast
as in lower latitudes. The magnitude and rate of this shift is resulting in extremely variable local
conditions which will, nevertheless, require regional level communication and coordination to address.
The historical tension between Western and Indigenous worldviews, manifest in the physical and
cultural division between urban and rural communities, combined with the immediacy of rapid physical
environmental changes combine to make environmental communication a challenging prospect in the
This research represents the early phase of a larger body of work looking at differences in how
environmental knowledge is transferred between stakeholder groups in urban and rural Alaska. It
focuses on water knowledge specifically because of the unique, and shared, relationship people in
Alaska have with their waterways and emphasizes the role of the education system as a long term
bridging mechanism for both environmental and social justice in the state. This phase begins by looking
at how water information is structured online through targeted stakeholder web searches, network
analysis, and qualitative assessment of influential websites. Early results find that the education
portions of the network are heavily interconnected with one another, but not with other groups.
Additionally, the most influential sites within the education cluster are all tied to the curriculum products
of active primary scientific research in the Arctic.