ADAPTING ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS AND BEHAVIORS : TOWARD A POSTHUMAN RHETORIC OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

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ADAPTING ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS AND BEHAVIORS: TOWARD A POSTHUMAN RHETORIC OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT is a well-researched Art and Humanities Thesis/Dissertation topic, it is to be used as a guide or framework for your Academic Research

Abstract

There is broad scientific consensus that the earth is warming faster than it has before, increasing the magnitude and frequency of natural disasters, yet in the United States, individuals have been slow to act on this science.

Technical communicators are in a unique position to be able to effectively persuade individuals to adapt their behaviors and influence policy to be more environmentally progressive toward mitigating the human impact on global climate change.

Much of the focus on climate science communication has been aimed at persuading the public to accept the science of climate change, but acceptance does not necessarily precede adoption of new behaviors (conserving energy, supporting solar and wind power, etc.), nor does denial of the science indicate a complete resistance to those same behaviors.

This dissertation applies a posthuman virtue ethics lens to a methodology of audience analysis toward engaging communities in understanding the need to adopt new behaviors and persuading them to do so.

This methodology is applied to three case studies of rural communities (Utah, Morocco, Ohio) and examines how their rhetorical ecologies are similar and different, and how those ecologies work to cultivate or inhibit a virtue of environmental care.

This dissertation presents a method for technical communicators to find new ways of engaging unique communities in environmental science and adaptive behaviors by respecting and learning from local knowledges.

Introduction

In February 2013, a Nor’easter known as Winter Storm Nemo hit the New England Coastal area with a gusto that had not been experienced in the area for at least 30
years.

I happened to be living in Brookline, Massachusetts, at the time, in a neighborhood just outside of Boston proper. I watched out of my window as the snow piled up and drifted in huge dunes, enveloping cars, wrapping buildings, and hiding the streets completely.

When we lost power, I used my smartphone’s internet capability to connect to social media to check in with friends who were also trapped.

Many had used the platform to circulate images of the snow piled up to completely cover a door, so that a backdoor had become a refrigerator; some posted memes making jokes about the name “Nemo” and the Disney-Pixar clown fish character, or the captain from 20,000 Leagues

Under the Sea; some used the site to check up on the safety of their other friends and posted statuses such as “We’re safe in Brookline, no power, though, so I can’t even work from home.

Anyone wanna build a snowman?” One friend’s check-in stuck out to me more than any other, and it has probably subtly driven much of my work ever since.

It was direct, simple, and infuriating: “It’s cold enough to freeze boiling water, and the snow’s piled up to the top of my door!  Global warming, my ass!” His denial was based on the assumption that “global warming” was a hoax theory that the planet was getting warmer and therefore we should be constantly experiencing warm temperatures, when of course, it is far more complicated
than that.

His experience in Boston (having moved there from Texas) was that things were getting colder not warmer, and wetter, not dryer. In an attempt to explain to him why he was wrong, I presented him with an article containing the headline, “Climate change and the blizzard: Nor’easters more fierce with global warming, scientists say” (Peeples, 2013).

Within seconds of my posting, he replied, “I don’t buy it. It’s cold as
fuck.” I think it is safe to assume that he had not bothered to read the article.

Perhaps he had decided since it came from the Huffington Post, an admittedly poor choice for engaging climate deniers given its liberal slant, it was never going to align with his views anyway, or perhaps he did not want to fully engage someone he knew to be a lefty liberal.

I thought about this interaction as I watched my neighbors across the street, a couple of doctors, step into cross-country skis and glide to work at the nearby hospital.

While some people were sitting in complete denial even in the face of (what to me appeared to be) overwhelming evidence, others were quietly adapting and getting on with their lives.

My friend’s comment is not uncommon. In recent years, we have witnessed political leaders make similar comments on the floor of the Senate (Jim Inhofe, a Republican Senator from Oklahoma famously threw a snowball he had gathered outside in D.C. in February to demonstrate that climate change is a hoax; Bump, 2015).

A sitting president has repeatedly referred to climate change as “fake news” and cited cold weather as evidence amid several new reports confirming disastrous projections of climate change (Pierre-Louis, 2017)A misunderstandings environmental disconnect from the impacts is made worse by the politicization of the issue, and attempts by the scientific community or those already perceived as environmentalists are easily rejected.

There is broad scientific consensus that the earth is warming faster than it has before, speeding the melting of ice caps, warming the oceans, and shifting weather patterns dramatically, leading to an increase in the magnitude and frequency of natural hazards such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, and dangerous heat waves;

moreover, there is scientific consensus that this warming of the planet is caused largely by human activity (Cox et al., 2000; Dansgaard et al., 1993; IPCC, 2014, 2018; Melillo, Richmond, & Yohe, 2014; Parmesan & Yohe, 2003; USGCRP, 2017).

In the Fall of 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report at the behest of the United Nations concluding that humanity has about 12 years to make substantial and wide-sweeping changes to our energy usage and other consumption habits if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change (IPCC, 2018).

While there was a flurry of media attention around the report, we in the United States witnessed no change in the attitudes of most US policy makers or plans to construct legislation.

In fact, we saw further rollbacks on environmental regulations and much of the same denial of human-caused climate change, even as hurricanes drove inland causing millions of dollars in damage and fatalities.

Because the causes of the problem vary (from air pollution to agricultural practices to deforestation to overpopulation to ocean acidification), solutions also vary (from organic food production to conservation to population control to ocean protections).

However, there is some consensus in the scientific community that the most important thing we can do is decrease our consumption of fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas), either by reducing overall energy consumption or switching to more sustainable sources (wind, solar, geothermal heat, etc.) (Cardona et al., 2012; USGCRP, 2017).

Ideally, humans would take on adaptive behaviors to both switch to sustainable resources and reduce overall energy consumption.

These behaviors would include collectively supporting wind and solar power instead of coal and natural gas and instituting stricter limitations on carbon emissions.

There are other adaptive behaviors we know we can make on an even smaller scale to reduce fossil fuel use, such as biking or taking public transportation instead of driving, installing better insulation in our homes to make heating them more efficient, and turning off light switches when we leave a room and unplugging unused appliances.

There are farming practices that can be adopted in rural areas to reduce the environmental impact of our food consumption. But humans—particularly in the United States—are hesitant to make these behavioral adaptations at best and are blatantly destructive at worst.

Despite the wide availability of information on what needs to be done, little is being done. Though the communication has improved, other factors are preventing action.

My research presented here intends to understand what those factors are and how a clearer understanding of those factors can improve communication with unique audiences.

When the science has been done and has been translated for but not widely accepted by the public, climate change communication becomes a problem for technical communicators.

By engaging local stakeholders when possible and/or gathering data and
conducting observations of communities to understand the complexity of their decision making processes, I aim to address issues of environmental justice.

Environmental justice, in this case, means taking into consideration and finding the solution that best suits all actors in a situation, both human and nonhuman, but especially marginalized communities (Banerjee, 2018).

Environmental justice often overlaps with social justice, as many environmental issues create socio-economic disparities (think Flint, Michigan’s water supply) and can be mitigated more easily by those of higher socio-economic status (think about who is able to rebuild after a fire or a flood destroys their home).

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Thesis/Dissertation topic

Category

Art and Humanities

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5

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