Environmental communication refers to the study and practice of how individuals, institutions, societies, and cultures craft, distribute, receive, understand, and use messages about the environment and human interactions with the environment. This includes a wide range of possible interactions, from interpersonal communication to virtual communities, participatory decision making, and environmental media coverage. And it also includes verbal communication.(rovic)
From the perspective of practice, Alexander Flor defines environmental communication as the application of communication approaches, principles, strategies and techniques to environmental management and protection.
As an academic field, environmental communication emerged from interdisciplinary work involving communication, environmental studies, environmental science, risk analysis and management, sociology, and political ecology.
Flor (2004) considers it as a significant element in the environmental sciences, which he believes to be a transdicipline. He begins his textbook on environmental communication with a declarative statement, "Environmentalism as we know it today began with environmental communication. The environmental movement was ignited by a spark from a writer’s pen, or more specifically and accurately, Rachel Carson’s typewriter." According to Flor, environmental communication has six essentials: knowledge of ecological laws; sensitivity to the cultural dimension; ability to network effectively; efficiency in using media for social agenda setting; appreciation and practice of environmental ethics; and conflict resolution, mediation and arbitration (Ibid). In an earlier book, Flor and Gomez (1993) explore the development of an environmental communication curriculum from the perspectives of practitioners from the government, the private sector and the academe.
Climate change communications has historically focused on news coverage and disseminating information. Academic fields such as psychology, environmental sociology, and risk communication have argued that public nonresponse to climate change is due to a lack of information. In her book Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life, Norgaard's (2011) study of Bygdaby (a fictional name used for a real city in Norway) found that non-response was much more complex than just a lack of information. In fact, too much information can do the exact opposite because people tend to neglect global warming once they realize there is no easy solution. When people understand the complexity of the issue, they can feel overwhelmed and helpless which can lead to apathy or skepticism. Environmental skepticism is an increasing challenge for environmental rhetoric.
Environmental communication is also a type of symbolic action that serves two functions. Those functions are pragmatic and constitutive. Environmental communication is pragmatic because it helps individuals and organizations to accomplish goals and literally do things through communication. Examples of this include educating, alerting, persuading and collaborating. Environmental communication is constitutive because it helps to shape people's understandings of environmental issues, themselves, and Nature; it shapes the meanings we hold of these things. Examples of this include values, attitudes, and ideologies vis-à-vis Nature and environmental issues and problems.
Communication Theory has one universal law, written by S. F. Scudder in the early 1900s, and later published in 1980. The Universal Communication Law states that, "All living entities, beings and creatures communicate." In an unpublished interview, Scudder clarified the concept - "All of the living communicate through movements, sounds, reactions, physical changes, gestures, languages, breath, color transformations, etc. Communication is a means of survival, existence and being and does not need another to acknowledge its presence. Examples - the cry of a child (communication that it is hungry, hurt, cold, etc.); the browning of a leaf (communication that it is dehydrated, thirsty per se, dying); the cry of an animal (communicating that it is injured, hungry, angry, etc.). Everything living communicates."
Scudder's thesis is aptly reinforced by General Systems Theory, which submits that one of the three critical functions of living systems is the exchange of information with its environment and with other living systems (the other two being the exchange of materials and the exchange of energy). In his book, Flor (2004, page 4) extends this argument by forwarding that, "All living systems, from the simplest to the most complex, are equipped to perform these critical functions. They are called critical because they are necessary for the survival of the living system. Communication is nothing more than the exchange of information. Hence, at its broadest sense, environmental communication is necessary for the survival of every living system, be it an organism, an ecosystem, or (even) a social system."
According to J. Robert Cox, the field of environmental communication is composed of seven major areas of study and practice:
- Environmental rhetoric and discourse
- Media and environmental journalism
- Public participation in environmental decision making
- Social marketing and advocacy campaigns
- Environmental collaboration and conflict resolution
- Risk communication
- Representations of Nature in popular culture and green marketing
Related, peer-reviewed journals in this field include:Applied Environmental Education and Communication
Corbett, Julia B. (2006). Communicating Nature: How We Create and Understand Environmental Messages. Washington, D.C.: Island Press
Cox, J. Robert. (2010). Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
Flor, Alexander G. (2004). Environmental Communication: Principles, Approaches and Strategies of Communication Applied to Environmental Management. Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippines-Open University