University academic calls for improved environmental messaging


Following the disappointment of many towards the recent Rio+20 talks on sustainable developments, Alister Scott, Professor of Environmental and Spatial Planning at Birmingham City University, says part of the blame for the lack of perceived action lies with “doom and gloom” messaging that has resulted in policy-makers ignoring the concerns of academics and environmentalists.

“Plain and positive language is key here and nothing turns people off more than the doom and gloom brigade and academics intoxicated by the eloquence of their own verbosity. The key message needs to promote the environment as an opportunity, not a burden”, said Professor Scott, in his most recent blog post.

Professor Scott argues that environment experts focus too heavily on promoting messages that stress how the planet is being destroyed, framing sustainable development messages as being worryingly associated with ongoing failures of policy and governance. “There is an urgent need to reframe this as seen through the eyes of businesses and publics within which many environmental opportunities exist”, said Professor Scott.

Professor Scott, a leading teacher and researcher at Birmingham City University’s Faculty of Technology, Engineering and the Environment, also argues that the terminology used when discussing environmental matters is often too confusing. He said: “The vocabulary of the new environmental messages is complex and inaccessible to publics other than the scientific and policy community who are directly involved in the research and policy development.”

“This leaves a huge gap for those who make decisions on the ground at the household level and other communities of interest that use different models to function and plan. This disintegrated thinking leads to many different and unconnected decisions.”

For Professor Scott, the starting point is to change the way we see environmental challenges. “It’s important to think about developing a language and tools that show how differing views can complement one another rather than divide and polarise. At the heart of this is the need for us to work collectively in policy formation and work across boundaries.”

“Our recent work on developing RUFopoly has shown that there are new ways of discussing controversial issues in a more productive manner.”

RUFopoly is an interactive game that enables users to journey through the fictitious county of RUFshire, which is under constant change from pressures for development and new opportunities generated by the region’s growing population and changing environmental governance.

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