The following portfolio recounts the main elements of ENVS 295 (“Environmental Engagement”) and offers insight into the importance of using conversation as a means to effective action.
We began the semester by preparing for the reconnaissance trip, an overnight trip across Northwest Oregon centered around meeting induviduals involved in various organizations. The class first visited the Columbia River Interpretive Center Museum where we were shown machinery influential in the mechanization of fishing and timber production. We then drove further east to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) where we were introduced to the inner workings of Tribal Law and salmon fishing by the indigenous tribes of the Columbia River. Afterward, we met with members of the Hood River Forest Collaborative and Hood River Ranger District to discuss engagement around forest management and the importance of involving the local community in decision making. For the final meeting of the day, we were visited by historian Liza J. Schade and Oregonian Judy Gates Goldmann for an overview of Willamette Valley history. The following morning we met with Barb Iverson, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau and overseer of Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. Here we were given a window into the intricate world of federal regulations on farming, specifically around the production of CBD. See this post for more information on the visit with Iverson. Next, we met with Emily Battilega, Farm Operations Manager of Willamette Egg Farms to look at the Oregon egg industry and the different classifications of egg production. We finally met with Laura Galindo at Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) in Woodburn, Oregon. PCUN works as a farmworkers union for Latinx families in Oregon and advocates for Latinx representation in both the state and national governments.
I, along with many of my classmates, found the opposition between PCUN and the Oregon Farm Bureau to be highly captivating. While Iverson spoke of the difficulties of production under strong federal regulations, Galindo shared information about the harmful working and living conditions many farmworkers encounter. Although both speakers rallied under a general opposition to the federal government, the privilege of the farm owner (Iverson) was apparent in comparison to the difficulties Latinx farmworkers are facing.
Following the reconnaissance trip component of the semester, we jumped into engagement with our partner organizations. Over the last few weeks, my partner Helen Guyton and I have been working with Crossing Party Lines (CPL) to learn about what effective communication looks like between those who have varying political views. CPL is based out of New York City and Portland, Oregon and holds both in-person and online meetings bi-monthly. For each meetup, there is a pre-decided topic, all falling into socio-political categories rather than environmental ones. Although CPL has yet to have a meetup centered around an environmental topic, their commitment to open dialogue between those with varying views is admirable and is something that needs to be brought into the politically divisive field of environmentalism.
“We provide a window into the truth behind our politics, our people, our relationships, and our country. Once we start truly understanding one another, the potential for what we can accomplish collectively is limitless.” -Kareem Abdelsadek, Co-founder
The organization outlines a simple approach to civil dialogue: “Talk So Others Will Listen,” “Listen So Others Will Talk” (“Our Story”). With trained moderators at every meeting to further enforce civil discussion, this method of engagement across difference is notable in that it promotes understanding between those with conflicting views. This approach is directly applicable to both conversations and readings for ENVS 295 that advocate for dialogue and mutual learning (co-production of knowledge) instead of “engagement” that comes in the form of one-sided fact-stating. An understanding of the different Models of Environmental Communication is an important concept here and will be elaborated on below.
Last week Helen and I participated in an online meetup (was put online due to COVID-19) moderated by co-founder Lisa Swallow. The title of the meeting was “Informed Voting: Why are your facts different from mine?” and was centered around topics of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance. During the two-hour-long meetup, all participants spoke and were nudged to offer opinions within the context of their own personal experiences. As I had expected, the conversations stayed entirely civil and respectful. A few days later Helen and I conducted a virtual interview with Swallow and were able to ask many of the questions we had built up over the past few weeks about the demographics of CPL members and the possibility of echo-chambers within meetups. Swallow assured that although there is often a left-leaning majority at meetups, different sides of the political spectrum are always present. An additional question we had for Swallow was whether CPL has hosted any events around environmental issues. She expressed to us that because environmental topics are so politicized, CPL has not yet hosted an event about an environmental issue out of a concern that only liberal people would attend. She did, however, share an interest in hosting an event around a topic of Helen and my choosing which is something we will explore in our further engagement with CPL.
Further Discussion of Concepts
Amidst the startup of our partnership collaborations, the class centered four weeks around a deep-dive understanding of environmental engagement. Each week partners published a collaborative summary post connecting the readings of the week to our partnership organization.
We spent week five looking at Effective Altruism, a philosophical/social movement focused on finding the most effective way to enact change. The text outlines three categorizations for effective action: the issue must be “Great in scale,” “Highly neglected,” and “Highly solvable” (“Introduction to Effective Altruism”). An elemental aspect of the movement is their dedication to monetary-based philanthropy as a means to support the organizations that fall into the previously stated criteria. Although it is important to assess effectiveness, many of my peers and I found Effective Altruism to be too simplistic and not inclusive of those who have varied opinions on what “needs” to be solved. Further critiques and relation to CPL can be found here.
The What, Who, and How
The following week was dedicated to the “what” of environmental engagement. This began our three-week study of the “what,” being the environmental issue, the “who,” being the audience/participants and the “how,” which is the means of connecting the two.
For the “what,” the class read an opinion piece by Thomas Edsall titled “Trump Is Waiting and He Is Ready.” The article opened with an idea familiar to most: political polarization. Edsall then takes this one step further in identifying the current “Polarization of Reality” that is operating within the U.S. political system. This concept highlights the ways in which Americans are experiencing the same reality differently due to the manipulation of events and information on online platforms. The connection between post-truth politics and CPL was apparent here in that CPL actively works to dismantle post-truth beliefs through conversation. The full post can be found here.
We next read, in relation to the “who,” a problem statement written by Heterodox Academy and took several quizzes (Hidden Tribes of America and Global Warming’s Six Americas) in an effort to categorize students of 295 into the different “whos.” We additionally read a piece by Luyet et al. on stakeholder participation. Coming from the fairly homogenous classroom of Lewis and Clark’s ENVS classroom, the issue of viewpoint and stakeholder diversity laid out in the texts was quite relatable. In relation to CPL, the texts made us analyze CPL and their commitment to getting a diversity of opinions. A complete online post can be found here.
The final readings were concentrated around the “how” of environmental engagement. Crucial to this week was the focus on the different Models of Environmental Communication. While the first two models, the “classical” and the “framing” models allow for little communication and stress more heavily subjective knowledge, the “contemporary” (or dialogic) model involves tactics of both listening and speaking to come to shared conclusions or understandings. CPL uses this model of engagement directly and is successful in doing so. Further analysis can be found here.
After attending the first ENVS 295 (Environmental Engagement) class and hearing of the overarching benefits of “engaging across difference,” I was at first doubtful that our similar-minded class could do much to fulfill this goal. My perception changed quickly, specifically after the engagement opportunities within the reconnaissance trip as well as the opportunity to work with CPL. I have overall found myself much more aware of the tension within the political realm and the ways in which my biases prevent me from having more productive discussions around decisive issues.
“Introduction to Effective Altruism.” Effective Altruism. Centre for Effective Altruism, 22 June 2016. (link)
“Our Story.” Crossing Party Lines. Accessed 22 March 2020. (link)
Proctor, Jim. Background lecture: Engagement in a Post-Truth World. 25 February 2020. (link)