How to be a better environmental communicator

better environmental communicator
U.S. Air Force illustration/Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter

Each day throughout the month of April, Roll Forward Environment will be featuring a different list of simple things you can do to protect the planet. Today is about environmental communication.

Please shoot us your favorite lists, and we would love to see your comments or photos of you DOING your favorite actions.

SOURCE: George Lakoff, professor of linguistics [via BerkeleyBlog]

Notes on Environmental Communication

Some Brain Basics

We think with our brains. We think using conceptual systems that are physical. They use brain circuitry, structured to characterize frames and metaphors. All language is made meaningful by activating these frame-circuits.

Activation of a frame-circuit makes its synapses stronger. Just listening to or using language that activates a frame-circuit strengthens that frame-circuit.

Negating a frame activates that frame. Using conservative language to argue against conservatives just reinforces conservative framings. Environmental language must avoid activating anti-environmental frames and anti-environmental language.

For example, defending science activates the idea the science needs defending and so is questionable. Go on offense, not on defense.

All Politics is Moral: The system of concepts used in political discourse is grounded in conceptions of what is moral. Every political leader claims he or she is doing what is right, not what is wrong. But Conservative and Progressive moral systems differ profoundly (see The Political Mind and Moral Politics). Parts of the conservative moral system contradict environmental values — Man over Nature, Laissez-faire markets, personal not social responsibility, etc. Environmental values derive from a moral system centered on empathy and social responsibility.


Moral Versus Merely Factual Arguments: Facts matter. But for their importance to be communicated at all, they must be framed in moral terms. Facts by themselves are not meaningful to most people. Just arguing the science of global warming is not effective. If done defensively, it can be self-defeating.

We Are Part of Nature: The term “environment” provides a misleading image, as if the “environment” were outside of us, around us, not inside us and part of us. The reality is that we are not separate from our environment. This is obvious from air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat — but also what we experience of nature, since experience is physical, part of our bodies and brains.

Nature Nurtures Us: We cannot exist without all that we get from nature. Human beings are who we are because of Nature as it exists. Nature nurtures and shapes us.

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