There is Still Hope

The last couple of days have been very exciting and informative.  On Tuesday, we got into the Bella Center and I saw Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Al Gore speak.  On Wednesday, I went to a couple of side events in the Bella Center that talked about green jobs that will come from an agreement in Copenhagen.  I also saw a panel of mayors from around the world that talked about how they are reducing carbon emissions in their own cities.  Their overall message was that they will continue to work toward making their cities more sustainable even if the UN does not come up with an agreement—it was very reassuring.  Today, we went to some of the side events in the city such as the Klima Forum which is a side conference about climate change and we went into the center of Copenhagen to an event called Hopenhagen.  We explored a lot of the exhibits and I was very impressed.

I was extremely moved by Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s panel discussion that was sponsored by Oxfam.  I did not know that countries are being so negatively affected by climate change already.  He brought four people who live in different parts of the world that are being affected by climate change and invited them to tell their stories.  Archbishop Tutu was very firm in his message that listening to one another is the key to ending climate change.  He wanted to convey that, “We are interconnected…we are bound together.”  He wanted to remind us that those that are being affected by climate change are not the ones that are causing it and he is calling for the largest polluters to do their part and help these countries. 

A man from Peru talked about the changing seasons in his country due to climate change, “Weather seasons have changed completely.”  He told us that there is rain followed by drought and cold fronts with hail.  Their water sources are depleting which causes less food to be available because there are fewer crops.  A woman from Papua New Guinea also believes that the world’s leaders need to start listening.  Her opinion on industrialized countries is that they need to, “Learn to care and love other people.”  A woman from Bangladesh had an extremely tragic story.  Their family owned a farm, but due to climate change and changing sea levels the soil has too high of a salinity to farm anymore.  Her husband started collecting honey in the jungle to feed their family and was eaten by a tiger.  Several months later, their village flooded and her home was washed away and their village is still under water.  She said that the climate has changed dramatically and describes it as, “Very unpredictable.”  They have long, hot summers and short winters with little rain.  She told us, “I want my life back.”  The final panel member was a woman from Uganda who has flooding in her village as well.  The flooding brought on drought and sickness—especially in infants.  She told us the homes and schools are still empty.  They once had two seasons a year and now they do not have any.  They are having a hard time growing crops because they have no signs telling them when they should plant and harvest. She told us, “We want our seasons back.”  Many of the panelists also called for developed countries to do their part and start helping the developing countries that are being affected by the pollution from the developed nations.

Designating funds for the countries that have been affected by climate change has been a big part of the negotiations in Copenhagen.  Many of these countries brought delegates so that their voices can be heard in the big debate.  With many of the world’s leaders arriving today and tomorrow, I am still hopefully that an agreement will be made.

-Samantha LaChance

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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.