Environmental communication

Environmental communication is the study and practice of communication about the environment and human interactions with the environment.[1] This includes a wide range of possible interactions, from interpersonal communication and virtual communities to participatory decision-making and environmental media coverage. 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.[2][3]

In academia

As an academic field, environmental communication emerged from interdisciplinary work involving communication, environmental studies, environmental science, risk analysis and management, sociology, and political ecology.

In his 2004 textbook, Alexander Flor considers environmental communication to be a significant element in the environmental sciences, which he believes to be transdisciplinary. 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.[2] In an earlier book published in 1993, Flor and colleague Ely Gomez explore the development of an environmental communication curriculum from the perspectives of practitioners from the government, the private sector, and the academe.[4]

Climate change communications has historically focused on news coverage and disseminating information.[5] Academic fields such as psychology, environmental sociology, and risk communication have argued that public non-response to climate change is due to a lack of information.[6] In her book Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life, Kari Norgaard's 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.[7] Environmental skepticism is an increasing challenge for environmental rhetoric.[8]

Symbolic action

Environmental communication is also a type of symbolic action that serves two functions: pragmatic and constitutive. Environmental human communication is pragmatic because it helps individuals and organizations to accomplish goals and do things through communication. Examples include educating, alerting, persuading, and collaborating. Environmental human communication is constitutive because it helps shape human understanding of environmental issues, themselves, and nature. Examples include values, attitudes, and ideologies regarding nature and environmental issues.

Environmental nature communication occurs when plants actually communicate within ecosystems: "A plant injured on one leaf by a nibbling insect can alert its other leaves to begin anticipatory defense responses."[9] Furthermore, "plant biologists have discovered that when a leaf gets eaten, it warns other leaves by using some of the same signals as animals". The biologists are "starting to unravel a long-standing mystery about how different parts of a plant communicate with one another."[10]

All beings are connected by the 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). Flor extends this argument, saying: "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."[11]

Areas of study and practice

According to J. Robert Cox, the field of environmental communication is composed of seven major areas of study and practice:

  1. Environmental rhetoric and discourse
  2. Media and environmental journalism
  3. Public participation in environmental decision making
  4. Social marketing and advocacy campaigns
  5. Environmental collaboration and conflict resolution
  6. Risk communication
  7. Representations of nature in popular culture and green marketing[12]



Peer-reviewed journals related to environmental communication include:


  • Boykoff, Maxwell T (2019). Creative (Climate) Communications: Productive Pathways for Science, Policy and Society. London: Oxford University Press
  • 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
  • Mathur, Piyush (2017). Technological Forms and Ecological Communication: A Theoretical Heuristic. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books

See also


  1. "Environmental Communication: What it is and Why it Matters". The IECA. 2015-11-30. Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  2. Flor, Alexander Gonzalez (2004). Environmental Communication: Principles, Approaches and Strategies of Communication Applied to Environmental Management. Philippines: University of the Philippines Open University.
  3. Flor, Alexander. (2004). Environmental Communication. Diliman, Quezon City: University of the Philippines-Open University.
  4. Flor, Alexander, and Gomez, Ely D., eds. (1993). Environmental Communication: Considerations in Curriculum and Delivery Systems Development. Los Banos, Laguna: University of the Philippines Los Banos - Institute of Development Communication.
  5. Nisbet, M. C. (2009). "Communicating climate change: Why frames matter for public engagement". Environment. 51 (2): 14–23.
  6. Norgaard, K. M. (2011). Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262015448.
  7. Norgaard, Kari Marie (2011), Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life, The MIT Press, doi:10.7551/mitpress/8661.003.0003, ISBN 9780262295772
  8. Jacques, P. (2013). Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life. Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0754671022.
  9. Toyota, Masatsugu, et al. Glutamate Triggers Long-Distance, Calcium-Based Plant Defense Signaling. Science, vol. 361, no. 6407, 2018, pp. 1112–1115., doi:10.1126/science.aat774
  10. Pennisi, Elizabeth (2018-09-13). "Plants communicate distress using their own kind of nervous system". Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 2019-08-13.
  11. Flor, Alexander Gonzalez (2004). Environmental Communication: Principles, Approaches and Strategies of Communication Applied to Environmental Management. Philippines: University of the Philippines Open University.
  12. Cox, J. Robert. (2010). Environmental Communication And The Public Sphere. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, pp.??
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