What is the biggest issue facing the environment today? Communication
In the years following the ‘Industrial Revolution’, the impact of anthropogenic influences began to manifest. The increasing demand for coal, the large amounts of land clearance for rail and industrial lands all began to take their toll on the environment. In 1896, scientist Svante Arrhenius published the first calculations of human-induced climate change, this was the beginning of the climate movement. Scientists were learning how to measure and illustrate the impacts of man-made pollution.
It has been 122 years since that first publication. Since then we have developed the most sophisticated technology ever known, our scientific knowledge has grown inexorably and we have trained legions of scientists, all of whom use the scientific method to research and analyse the same data. All of whom have come to the same conclusion about climate change – it is real and it is very dangerous.
So why is this still an issue in modern society?
The environmental sector has had the same persistent issue since its creation – Communication. There has been a failure in communication to those who operate outside of the scientific domain. This has led to misrepresentation and confusion about the data being put forward.
There are many examples of this, including the confusion between the definitions of climate change and global warming, the ideas of “clean” coal and fracking being environmentally sound practices. And the idea that of sustainability is “bad for business”, this is particularly damaging considering that sustainable practices are some of the most cost-effective and efficient methods available to a business in the modern age.
The most damaging of all, however, is the idea of environmentalism is a partisan political issue.
Those who hold strong political allegiance to their favoured party will immediately dismiss issues that their competition favour. So we get the situations like that of America, where the two-party system has created a divide on the issue based on the candidates involved.
If a person likes a certain party because of their economic or foreign policy, they will fall in line with their environmental policy, or in most cases lack of environmental policy. It is contempt prior to investigation and it has had a devastating effect on how we communicate the issue of environmentalism.
This gulf of logic and information has grown due to modern media and how we cover the topic in the public forum. News broadcast and panels often have two specialists on, one from each side of the discussion. This shared podium gives people the subconscious image of an equal voice for both. Now the life-long scientist with multiple degrees and years of experience has the same level of credibility as the spokesperson for a special interest group with absolutely no experience or willingness to change their opinion.
These special interests are businesses with a vested interest in the success of harmful practices. Usually energy companies involved with petrochemical extraction and fossil fuel use; always putting profit as their main driving force. These groups have been exploiting the issue rather expertly in recent years.
They have been very effective at their communication strategies. They tap into the fears of the average person and build arguments that suit that person’s predispositions. The arguments against sustainability and climate change are as numerous and as unique as each individual who holds them.
The answer to climate debate should be easy, there is a single consistent message backed up with years’ worth of data gathered from multiple independent sources. So why is it so hard to communicate it?
This miscommunication has cost the world a lot in terms of man-made damage to the ecosystem and biodiversity. Now that we know the problem, how do we fix this problem, how do we change the situation for the better? Is there a way to show people that are not scientifically minded a scientific argument?
Recent social advancements indicate this is possible, it also helps that the renewable and sustainable technology has become increasingly efficient to use and cheap to manufacture. It has caused a sea-change in how the financial institutions and political organisations look at sustainability.
Climate change has always been a global issue, but now it has the attention of a global community. The same critiques no longer hold up, and people are weary of corporations who would exploit natural resources and lead the conversation.
There is still a lot of work to do with how the issue is discussed, it is not simply a case of declaring yourself smarter anymore, and we are now dealing with the ‘post-truth’ mentality where people choose their own facts. We need to reason better at their level and be comfortable discussing the facts. We need to improve our understanding as a field, so we can simply discuss and debate the issue for those who have no working knowledge of science. We need to be teachers.
The first step in making a change is to acknowledge there is a problem. We are not communicating the issues facing our planet in an effective way. Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Maybe this is true and we have yet to gain true mastery of the subject. But we are well on our way, and this story is a positive one. In recent months we have seen increased awareness and interest in the issues. We have seen an increase in political activism and social involvement with the younger generations, finally we are gaining momentum in this momentous of issues. And with people talking about the issue more than they ever have before, perhaps we will find some new ways to talk about it and break the trend of bad communication.
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