Week 1 - Introduction and Chapter 1
â€śIntroductionâ€? and â€śThe Formation of Environmental Beliefsâ€? from Communicating Nature: How We Create and Understand Environmental Messages by Julia B. Corbett (2006).
Hereâ€™s some background information about my book â€“ it lays out the general sequence for what I will be posting about in the weeks to come as well as some of the concepts I found most interesting from the first chapter.
This book was written for an undergraduate communication class at the University of Utah to relate environmental communication to studentsâ€™ everyday lives. Out actions and practices (including those that are subconscious) send messages about the natural world and our relationship with it, but a great deal of what is communicated about the environment is unrecognized and unstated because we might not recognize that itâ€™s â€ścommunicationâ€? at all. Corbett provides the example that roads without sidewalks, bottled water, food served without dishes, big houses, and garbage cans all communicate a meaning which we probably take for granted. Often we have a human-centered or anthropocentric view of nature â€“ like the idea that â€śparksâ€? are designed for our leisure. It is important to remember that ecosystems and their inhabitants would unfold and continue without humans and social constructions are just one component of it. Other components include historical and cultural contexts in which we live and the unique sets of individual experience we carry with us. Someone growing up in the city would have a different experience with the environment than someone who grew up on a farm for instance.
Similar to the hegemonic ideology that Gitlin suggests determines our relationship to media, Corbett suggests that all environmental messages have ideological roots that are deep and influenced by individual experience, geography, history and culture. From the news we get about the prices of oil in the Middle East to how we travel to work and what we eat bear a relationship to the natural world. Corbett notes that Americans spend over $8 billion a year on bottled water and many different aspects of communication come into play here. Advertising communicates that bottled water is safer and better than tap water, carries social status, is pure, healthy, and comes from pristine mountain springs. Meanwhile, news stories report that bottled water receives far less testing and is often less pure, not to mention the energy and waste in its distribution and consumption. Today the market for reusable bottles communicates that we can be environmentally friendly while being healthy and displaying our social status at the same time.
The following chapters I discuss will explore the expression of environmental communication that is:
Expressed in everyday practices
Historically and culturally rooted
Ideologically derived and driven
Embedded in ideology
Tied to pop culture
Framed and reported by the media
Influenced by social institutions like government and business
How are our environmental belief systems formed? Corbett points to three main factors including childhood experiences, a sense of place, and historical and cultural contexts. Childhood experiences shape our thoughts even if we alter and transform these thoughts later on. Direct experiences (actual physical contact with natural settings) and indirect experiences (structured activities like going to zoos) both influence our thoughts. The idea of what â€śhomeâ€? means to us and attachments to places can provide meanings to environmental spaces. Nature often has a restorative effect and is a place to go for relaxation and time to think, however, if youâ€™ve ever been struck by a natural disaster you might have completely different views. Historical ideology teaches us different things. Native Americans had a harmonious relationship with nature, the first settlers saw nature as a storehouse of commodities available for the taking, Judeo-Christian believers view nature as hierarchical, with God over man, and man over nature.
Through my own experience Iâ€™ve come to develop a combination of many of these views. Iâ€™ve lived in big cities all of my life and have become accustomed to viewing that, what little land is around is a public environment for all to use and a place for recreational activities. On the other hand, Iâ€™ve spent a lot of time on the widely available space on my fatherâ€™s farm and think of it more as a hideaway from city life. The sense of place I have there is much different from the sense of place I have during the school year. I think itâ€™s important to respect the environment, but I often catch myself contradicting these beliefs when I am too lazy or find it inconvenient to do so, for example supporting the environment by using a reusable bottle, but drinking bottled water if it is offered to me at an event. I hope that by developing a better understanding of nature and how it is communicated I will be able to shape my own thoughts about the environment and discover my impact on the Earth.