Overview of Environmental Engagement
Environmental engagement is a means of connecting environmental scholarship and people. ENVS 295 is a course which explores the intricacies of this process via analyses and discussion of articles, discourse with active stakeholders in the discipline, and writing through the content we encounter on the course website. ENVS 295 outlines the importance of engagement in the context of environmental discourse and examines how scientists, stakeholders, and organizations accomplish this in the present-day.
To preface the course, we began the year with a Reconnaissance Trip, in which our class traveled throughout Oregon —engaging with multiple organizations about the work that they do. After a very interesting and informative visit to the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum, we stopped at Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) to speak with their leadership about the organization. Rob Lothrop gave a presentation that covered their goal to restore fish runs, protect fishing rights and coordinate inter-tribal enforcement. They function at the intersection of fish population, Indigenious Tribes and governmental regulations. Following the stop at CRITFC, our class spoke with The United States Forest Service about the work they do. As explained by the Hood River Collaborative, they do a lot of work regarding natural resource management that demands multi-party engagement. More specifically, they facilitate a “multi-use” forest —balancing forest quality, meeting timber demands and facilitating recreational activities. Following the Hood River Collaborative visit, we stopped at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm and spoke with the president of The Oregon Farm Bureau. Here, Barb Iverson —president of the Oregon Farm Bureau— outlined the affairs and concerns of farmers (specifically at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm). They work with a range of actors including immigration policy, marketing, cap and trade, pesticide use and even automation. At the following stop, The Willamette Egg Farms, our class spoke with Emily Battilega about how her organization produces eggs and the ways in which engagement could be beneficial to their company. She —and her company— balance egg production, consumer demands and governmental regulations that affect their egg farming practices (i.e. producing cage-free eggs). The final organization we visited was Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN). PCUN works with Latinx migrant farmworker communities to provide a platform for their concerns. They do a range of services ranging from guidance toward legal representation to policy advocacy — helping Latinx farmworkers resist workplace harassment, dangerous working conditions, wage theft, and ICE raids.
As I was given the opportunity to visit all of these active organizations, it has become apparent that multi-party engagement is integral to the progress of socio-environmental concerns. In regards to natural resource management, organizations like CRITFC and the Hood River Collaborative have demonstrated the importance of stakeholders’ engagement and co-production of action on important land and water resources. Other organizations, like the Willamette Egg Farms, the Oregon Farm Bureau and PCUN, have expressed a similar sentiment while illustrating clashing ideas about various concerns. For example, PCUN and the Oregon Farm Bureau had conflicting perspectives on pesticide use. While PCUN protests the use of pesticides such as Chlorpyrifos off of the basis that it is harmful to farm workers, the Oregon Farm Bureau argues that they require pesticides like Chlorphyrifos incase invasive species attack their crops. Conflicts and interests —like those explored on our Reconnaissance Trip— are extremely multifaceted and require engagement, communication, collaboration and commitment from a spectrum of different parties and stakeholders.
Breaking Down Environmental Engagement
After the Reconnaissance Trip, we dove deeper in the branching concerns of Environmental Engagement through course readings, class discussions and group projects. Our discussions (up to the half-way point of the semester) have consisted of effective action, post-truths, divided who, and the how of environmental engagement.
In trying to address effective action in our course, we largely discussed the article Introduction to Effective Altruism. The premise of this article is to address the challenge of choosing the most effective and yielding action in making the world a better place. The author’s write, “[Effective Altruism] is a research field which uses high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible. It is also a community of people taking these answers seriously, by focusing their efforts on the most promising solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.” The authors go on to explain that high-impact causes are great in scale (it affects many people’s lives, by a great amount), highly neglected (few other people are working on addressing the problem), and highly solvable (additional resources will do a great deal to address it). Personally, I found this article very interesting in that it nearly quantified which input variables of money, time, and effort (catalyzed by an individual) is best for problem-solving. Although I have concerns with the quantitative nature of this model, I think it could be helpful in guiding and evaluating environmental action.
In this deep-dive of engagement, we looked predominantly at Thomas B. Edsall’s article “Trump Is Waiting and He Is Ready” and Laura Chinchilla’s article “Post-Truth Politics Afflicts the Global South, Too.” Both of these articles addressed political polarization and how “post-truths” and misinformation keeps reproducing it. Edsall writes that Democrats and Republicans “view the same reality through a different lens.” He explains that conflicting perspectives on a shared reality cultivates political polarization. Not only are disagreements regarding policies difficult to resolve, but the shared reality in which those disagreements exist are viewed from completely different lenses. Edsall argues that the weaponization of lies and fake news are a catalyst for these different lenses. He cites Trump’s re-election strategy by arguing that Trump utilizes constant truth-breaking, transgressive advocacy, norm-violations, and media-bashing to fabricate a preferred reality/lens. Chinchilla’s article highlighted how technology and social media is evidence of post-truths extending to the global —influence elections and public perceptions everywhere. Prior to these readings and discussions, I had rarely applied the ideas of post-truths onto environmental engagement. However, as I discovered, there is a range of misinformation —ranging from forest management to fish populations— that are important to consider in environmental discourse.
The “Divided Who” section of ENVS 295 our class focused on the who of environmental engagement. As we read and discussed, an important makeup of “who” within environmental engagement are stakeholders. Luyet et al. discussed in their article, “A framework to implement Stakeholder participation in environmental projects,” the importance of stakeholder identification (who’s involved), characterization (their identity relative to the project and each other) and involvement in environmental projects (Luyet et al., 2012). We pushed the notion of involvement further by reading and discussing the Heterodox Academy’s Problem Statement regarding the lack of intellectual representation in academia. To me, these articles acknowledge the importance of bridging divided groups within projects as complex and interdisciplinary as environmental projects.
Following our work on “Divided Who” our class went on to explore how to go about engagement. An important point of focus was Aaron Fellows and Jim Proctor’s piece on “Models of Environmental Communication.” This article outlines three models of engagement — the classical (deficit) model, the framing model, and the contemporary (dialogic) model. The classical model functions off of the notion “educate the people” —using one-way dialogue. Separately, the framing model frames scientific explanations for its intended audience — considering the responsiveness of which people receive information. Lastly, the contemporary (dialogic) model —unlike the two previous models— adopts two-way (or more) means of communication. More recently, it has been increasingly recognized that contemporary trends are moving from the deficit model to the dialogic model. In exploring the characteristics of the dialogic model in narrative exchanges of contemporary social concerns, I believe that the dialogic model of communication is important in upholding the multi-party communication demanded by many environmental organizations.
A Partnership with Sustainable Northwest
To take the knowledge gained throughout the course curriculum and apply it in the field, students in our class broke up into groups to build partnerships with active organizations. Lindsey Dickmeyer, Noah Neubert and I partnered up with the organization Sustainable Northwest to explore what environmental engagement looks like in a real-world, contemporary context. In learning about the organization, we are able to see how the organization firmly integrates concepts like the dialogic model of communication, effective altruism, post-truths, and stakeholder identification within their core projects. They function in what they call the “radical middle” of the community, economy, and ecology —engaging with multiple stakeholder communities (i.e. rural, indigenious, governmental) on a number of natural resource concerns (water, forests, energy, rangelands). I am looking forward to further building a relationship with Sustainable Northwest as they are a wonderful, real-world exemplification of our course’s content —applying the interdisciplinary thought amongst a range of parties through engagement.
“We believe a healthy economy, environment, and community are indivisible, and all can be strengthened by wise partnerships, policies, and investments.”
– Sustainable Northwest
Luyet, Vincent & Schlaepfer, Rodolphe & Parlange, Marc & Buttler, Alexandre. (2012). A framework to implement Stakeholder participation in environmental projects. Journal of environmental management. 111. 213-9. 10.1016/j.jenvman.2012.06.026.