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The Environmental Communication: the challenges of this decade

Communication is an increasingly essential means to bring out the ongoing environmental challenges and their solutions, but sometimes it doesn’t seem to be effective and it may causes confusion. In the information industry 2.0, anyone can publish anything, an infinity of data that is not always possible to verify.  Sometimes some environmental challenges seem more or less far away from people, depending on the wave of information of the moment and the way these are perceived. Yet today, compared to the past, we touch these issues in our daily lives and the public seems more attentive and informed. 

The topic was explored in the online webinar on "Sustainability, environment and wetlands: the challenges of Communication" which took place on the MEDSEA facebook page on the occasion of the program of events for the world wetlands day. Vania Statzu (environmental economist and MEDSEA vice president), Chantal Menard (MedWet communication expert), Sara Segantin (author, scientific storyteller and MEDSEA ambassador) and Matilde Schirru (researcher at IBE-CNR) took part. 

The online webinar with the experts in scientific communication has gone through three main questions: how has the environmental communication changed in recent decades, what are the current challenges and how to improve the effectiveness of delivering the messages. 

For Vania Statzu, the turning point of environmental communication, from scientific and niche audience to the mass, occurred in Italy with the Paris Agreement in 2016 when measures in climate change started to be introduced and discussed in national policies. "Environmental issues become topical when they are integrated with social and economic aspects, those that concern us most closely, passing from a niche topic among academics to vigorous social debate", explains the environmental economist from the MEDSEA Foundation. For Chantal Menard, expert in environmental communication, "today we are plenty of tools and possibilities to distribute the environmental topics in an exceptional way, we no longer need to reach the public or undertake long life learning with them with continuous training, in which they remain completely passive. The changes are palpable in our daily life, the press is informed and well prepared on these matters”. However, explains Menard, “we need education for sustainable development that actively involves people, from large companies to individual citizens”. 

Thus, the message of the climate crisis gradually turned into a strong and clear imperative, an invitation to actively participate in the process of change and improve our habits. Now more than ever it is necessary to optimize the relationship between communication and the environment to acquire concrete feedback. 

“We hear about climate change every day - explains Sara Segantin - from newspapers, to social networks, to various events. Even if the news follows one another in a chaos of information, where all is on the same level, the message is clear and persistent. Yet, people still don't feel part of the decision-making process. But raising awareness also means instilling a sense of responsibility. Therefore, the challenges that communication will have to face in this decade are many and aim to verify the position of people, therefore how much environmental communication has an impact on single individuals (for example on their behaviors)". 


Often journalists, who represent the link between researchers and the audience, have neither the training nor the time to address the environmental issue at 360 degrees. At the same time, scientists are unable to translate into simple words such complicated arguments which, in themselves, appear to be "bigger than us". 

In this regard, several solutions came up from the MEDSEA conference: 

1 - Training courses for academics to better communicate scientific data to a diverse audience. It would also be very useful with a view to integrating the theme of the environment not only in teaching activities but in all school disciplines. 

2 - Stop talking about climate change in a "terrorist" key and talk about solutions, which often "they exist, but they are unknown nor implemented". Talking “with people for people” by sharing direct experiences in the field and the positive results already achieved. “All of this helps to make the problem more tangible” – says Menard.  

3- Another important aspect are the premises. Asking oneself the right questions helps to reconstruct a history of the problem to understand the premises that caused it. “But it is useless if we remain convinced that these premises do not exist or cannot be changed, - explains Segantin - because we risk to go back to the starting point. 

4 - Finally, an education to uncertainty is equally important, "that is, to accustom people to what researchers have foreseen and, above all, to correctly orient their behavior towards the future", adds Schirru. 

5 – Last but not least, communication and the environment must go hand in hand. We must not get lost in the complexity of the message, but find ourselves, recover our relationship with nature and regain confidence in science. Strong communication is the key to social change. 

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