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Communication is Key

 My hope for the outcome of the Copenhagen conference is, like many people hope, a strategic plan for implementing a reduction in carbon emissions. However, as part of the plan, I believe a plan of communication needs to be the first step in moving toward a reduction in greenhouse gases.

A lack of effective communication, especially in America, is the key problem in the global warming debate. The main flaw, is the communication coming from the scientific experts. This is in part due to a distrust in science by the general public. In the article, “Death of Environmentalism” the authors state that , “Over the last 15 years environmental foundations and organizations have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into combating global warming. We have very little to show for it.” Fighting global warming needs to be more of a multidisciplinary effort to be effective. The scientists have collected the data, now it is time for communication experts to relay the information to the public—effectively. For the most part, the data has been presented in a very direct, scientific manner which has not been widely accepted by society. This is supported by an article recently published by the Washington Post which describes a decrease in Americans that believe in global warming. In Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere, the author talks about the large movement to undermine scientist, “Sometimes, the conflict over the legitimacy of scientific consensus may be fought over the terrain of language itself, by engaging in what one political consultant called the ‘environmental communications battle.’”

Communication about global warming has failed to effectively communicate the risks of global warming and also has failed to make individual citizens feel as if they are stakeholders in this issue. In Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere, technical risk communication is defined as, “the translation of technical data about environmental or health risks for the public consumption; with the goal of educating a target audience” and outrage is “factors the public considers in assessing the acceptability of their exposure to a hazard.” Risk is comprised of technical risk and outrage. In most cases concerning environmental risk, the outrage is present but there is not sufficient data to support the outrage. In the case of global warming, many argue that the data, or technical risk, is present, but there is a lack of outrage. There is not enough of a perceived risk in a large portion of American’s minds.

Communication is going to play a huge role in the success of failure of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. We will never be able to make citizens feel like stakeholder’s in this effort to move toward sustainability if we have failed to communicate in an effective way. This is why it is so important to include an effective communication strategy as part of our overall plan to curb emissions and move toward sustainability.

-Samantha LaChance

Cox, R. (n.d.). Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere (2nd ed). Los Angeles: Sage Publications Inc.

Shellenberger, M., & Nordhaus, T. (2004). The Death of Environmentalism. Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus.


6 Responses

  1. Well said Samantha. Communication tends to be the problem in any kind of relationship, be it scientific, environmental or personal.

    • Achieving Picture Perfect
      Take a look out your window. What do you see? You probably see trees, birds flying overhead, and if you’re in Michigan at this time of year you probably see snow covering the ground. Now think ahead, let’s say 20 years. What will you see when you look out your window then? Will the air still be as fresh and clear as it is now? Will there still be luscious trees holding their stance and will there be snow in the winter?
      According to many people, our world is already beginning to experience global warming. Global warming has the potential to destroy this beauty of nature. Now you may not think there is anything wrong now but wait a few years and the picture out your window will be completely different. The COP15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, is trying to prevent this window picture from changing. The conference is attempting to make the necessary changes as a global whole. I am experiencing many mixed emotions of hope and fear as a result of this conference.
      My hope is that this conference will spark action. I think that by having these nations come together to talk about the issue at hand, it will get people thinking and new ways of solving the issue will arise. I hope that somehow the leaders will be able to get the richer nations’ financial support to help make these changes possible.
      My fear is that the Copenhagen plan will backfire. There is a potential that this conference will just be a waste of time for our leaders, and they will not accomplish anything while they are there. They may realize that they cannot solve the problem or apprehend that have too many conflicting views to the point that all they do while they are there is argue. That would result in leaders possessing bitterness towards each other. I highly doubt this, but there is always a chance that this could be the outcome. Another one of my fears is that protestors of the conference will do something outrageous that may kill many of our leaders and other innocent people there.
      My expectation for this gathering is that it will make the public more conscious of the issue and some type of action will be implemented. I know that in order to get to that resolution of the proper action the leaders will experience some debate and conflicts will arise during the conference. I anticipate a life-threatening incident to arise like a protest attack, but I also expect it to be contained and no harm to result from it.
      Obviously, the conference at Copenhagen is bound to stir up some heat. However, by having many voices of many different nations heard it can better our world. The leaders present have the opportunity to make this difference and they are doing that by communication. Therefore, the only way to solve this problem is to communicate it.
      -Shelby Harris

  2. The more that I read about what is happening at the Copenhagen Climate Conference the less enthusiastic I am about it. Very little good news has come out of Denmark by most standards. The negotiation process is held up, alternate documents are being submitted, the process as a whole has been bogged down, and little agreement on how to allocate finances can be met. The negative headlines make me wonder: where did the all pledges for change go? Where did the dedication to success in Copenhagen go?

    The rift between developing and developed nations is threatening the chance to make a difference that this conference made possible. And though I live in a developed nation I have found myself growing more compassionate toward what the developing nations are arguing for: a legally binding treaty that imposes sanctions on those nations not willing to act in the best interest of the earth.

    I wanted to believe that at this conference the U.S. would not make the same mistake it did in when Congress voted against signing the Kyoto Protocol. After being elected on a campaign of “hope” and “change” the world, myself included, expected that because President Obama was attending the conference the U.S. would be a nation leading the way in cooperation. Then I read that the American delegation is arguing in negotiations over changing words in the proposed text that would bind the nation to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Each day that passes without agreement the conference becomes more and more of a defeat for the environment.

    Robert Cox articulates the idea of an “environmental skeptic” in his book “Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere.” Environmental skeptics are the people who question the seriousness of environmental problems, the credibility of science, and whether we ought to hold conferences like COP15. I do not consider myself an environmental skeptic; I believe in the science that indicates our planet is heating at an exponential rate and I understand the pressing nature of the situation our planet is in because of global warming. However, reading the news from the conference I have become an environmental action skeptic. I have begun to doubt whether our world leaders have the dedication necessary to hammer out a compromise that is suitable to address global warming. It is unwise that our leaders sit in deadlock while just outside the doors of the conference protestors are begging for action.

    There are some bright spots on the horizon, or peaking through the smog perhaps. The Japanese have pledged $15 million to help finance climate adjustments over the next three years, going beyond the financial pledge of the European Union, on the condition that the conference produces a successful political arrangement. Senator John Kerry promised that within the next year the U.S. Congress would pass major legislation reducing greenhouse gas emissions adding that a successful compromise in Copenhagen would be just the catalyst to move such legislation forward. I would like cooperation toward policy implementation as the cornerstone of this conference, rather than see it end in a battle over which nations have to bear the brunt of climate aid and adjustments. COP15 has the potential to take action in the face of environmental skepticism and I would like to see it do so.

    Cox, R. (n.d.). Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere (2nd ed). Los Angeles: Sage Publications Inc.

  3. The COP 15 Conference in Copenhagen is being reported by media and watched by people all over the world. What I hope is going on at the Global Climate Conference in Copenhagen is that leaders in government, science, business, and civil society from around the world are working together in good faith to find a solution to reducing carbon emissions and moving toward a more sustainable energy future. I hope that my hopes are not false.

    In their article, The Death of Environmentalism, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus state that the greatest failing of environmental activism has been that the environmental community has not been able, until now perhaps, with an globally inspiring and shared vision of our environmental challenges, much less develop and sustain efforts toward effective legislative proposals to meet those challenges. They argue that this general lack of effectiveness was both reflected in and compounded by the U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Protocol. Even if the specific policy outcomes at the conclusion of the Global Climate Conference this December are ambiguous, I would hope that there is a firm commitment cooperate in reducing carbon emissions. While this is my hope, I also fear that this commitment will not be made and that the real solutions to the problems of carbon emissions and global warming will pushed off to some magical time when all decisions of consequence are “easy” and progress can be made without sacrifice. I realize that these global environmental issues will not be solved in one meeting, but the fact that it may not come closer to a solution is what worries me the most.

  4. My hopes/expectations for the Global Climate Conference is the development of an innovative means of effectively addressing environmental concerns that are established by the conference. So many environmental concerns have been expressed and proposals made in an effort to reduce harmful effects on the earth, but without a strategic plan that is recognized universally expectations for success are almost nonexistent.
    What are these innovative means of effectively addressing environmental concern? The answers are communication and public participation. The time has come to push environmentalism beyond what Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, authors of The Death of Environmentalism, refer to as a “special interest.” There needs to be a direct push for global interest. A common understanding and motivation around the world in an effort to, not only address environmental issues but to develop strategic solutions that can then be implemented by all. This is not to insinuate that all problems are the same around the world and can be addressed in the same ways. I am referring to a common strategy that may be implemented but also adjusted accordingly. A communication system that will create motivation in the public sphere and put environmental issues on the public agenda, creating an increase in public participation in every corner of the world. Public participation is often underestimated there are the obvious effects by those participating as well as the not so obvious effects such as influence on policy makers and the pressure that is placed on those individuals not participating.
    There are numerous ways in which to communicate with the public, the key is to find the most effective way in which to motivate them as opposed to simply informing them. Robert Cox, author of Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere, defines environmental communication as a way of “educating, alerting, persuading, mobilizing, and helping to solve environmental problems” as well as “constitute representations of nature and environmental problems themselves as subjects for our understanding.”
    In some cases communication systems fail a very reason for failure is what Cox discusses as a technocratic rhetoric approach. Which is the use of technical expertise in defining environmental issues to the public. This form of communication is the underlying cause of the vast amounts of environmental skepticism. This is a problem around the world, people are more inclined to act oblivious or unconcerned with issues or events if they are not able to understand them. With public participation and support, environmental concerns are more apt to be addressed directly and with efficiency. Therefore, an innovative communication plan to effectively motivate public participation in an effort to address environmental concerns should be among the top priorities of the Global Climate Conference. Though it is not the solution to all environmental problems it is an excellent starting point to implement change.
    ~ Alyssa Walters

    Cox, R. (n.d.). Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere (2nd ed). Los Angeles: Sage Publications Inc.

    Shellenberger, M., & Nordhaus, T. (2004). The Death of Environmentalism. Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus.

  5. As the conference in Copenhagen is coming to an end many hope that because of this the word will spread to the importance of the environment with its greenhouse gases, carbon fuels and alternative energies. The communication aspect was a success to say the least. Going into this conference just a couple weeks ago, nobody really knew what, or how it would all play out. It is safe to say, that spreading the importance of the environment to the planet was a promising step forward.
    The spread of many issues will still be a fight to get across, but for the most part the job was done in Copenhagen. It is up to leaders and organizations around the world to come up with better, alternative plans to create the means to live in a better society and better world. Global warming is an issue that will always have a tough time passing into the public as a worldwide problem. Americans are the one country whose numbers in believers in Global warming have decreased. More and more Americans are tending believe in that way. America, a country who plays a major role in the distributing of natural gases and carbon emissions into the air, needs to take awareness of the things that they are doing to the world and make the necessary changes to clean up the planet.
    Communication is still the key to finding a solution to this environmental problem. Millions of dollars have been invested in studies of the planet and issues of the environment all over the world. People seem to have a difficult time trusting the scientists and understanding what exactly is being tested and proven. The public is the all out solution to a “green planet,” without the knowledge of the public understanding what exactly is going on with our planet, and the destruction that we are causing to it, nothing will ever get done. Communicating with countries all over the globe is a step in the right direction and the Copenhagen Conference was a sign of that. The message was sent out; it is now up to the planet to make their decisions, because in all sense, it can save our precious planet earth.

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