Communicating Environmental Issues
The discussion over environmental issues will only grow in importance over the course of our lifetime, as we navigate the global crises of climate change, extinction of species, genetic modification of life, environmental injustice and inequities, overconsumption and mass pollution, water and energy shortages, and exploitation of animals and nature. Often limited to the realm of science and technology, these issues must also begin to be recognized as socio-political and moral issues. The sustenance of life on earth relies not just on chemistry and biology but on cultural values and belief systems that define who we are and what we care about. The process of communication is fundamental to constructing our values and relationships with the natural world and defining and framing issues, culprits, and solutions as well as inspiring change. This recognition has spawned the burgeoning academic subfield of “environmental communication” to study environmental issues via media and film, journalism, public relations, advertising, rhetoric, and public participation and activism. In this class we will examine:
➢ How communication constructs and maintains our worldviews on humanity, other animals, nature, and “the environment.”
➢ How these common worldviews cause material problems for all species and then discursively define and prioritize what gets recognized as a problem and what that means. And
➢ How communication can serve as the solution to create a more just and sustainable world.
We will explore the historical roots of humanism and instrumental attitudes toward nonhuman life as well as the emergence of philosophies on environmental and animal ethics. Students will review the various players and discourses struggling to define major environmental topics, such as: climate change and pollution, energy, water, food and agriculture, biodiversity and extinction, ocean life, wilderness habitat, environmental racism/injustice, human population growth, war, and consumerism/ commerce. Students will have the choice of producing a paper that is suitable for an academic conference submission or a final project that involves service, activism, or a multi-media creation in support of environmental protection.