🌱Fieldnotes in Environmental Communication

An update on some environmental communication ideas I'm exploring this week: ecocultural identity + the 'Humilocene' + Blue Habits + Ecolinguistics + more!

Hi everyone, welcome back to Wild Ones, a bi-weekly digest by me, Gavin Lamb, about news, ideas, research, and tips in environmental communication. If you’re new, welcome! You can read more about why I started Wild Ones here. Sign up here to get these digests in your inbox:

📚 What I’m reading

The Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity, edited by Tema Milstein and José Castro-Sotomayor.

  • Well, I’m currently only reading the intro chapter called: Interbreathing ecocultural identity in the Humilocene, based on an interview the editors did with the environmental philosopher David Abram.

  • The book is 523 pages long. So, I’ve been bouncing around a bit, and will be reading through this book for a while. But so far it’s been fascinating to discover this new research on ecocultural identity.

  • What does ‘ecocultural identity’ mean? The book itself is an in-depth exploration of this question. But the editors, Tema Milstein and José Castro-Sotomayor offer some helpful starting points. They write:

    “an ecocultural identity lens serves to widen the scope on all identities to understand ways sociocultural dimensions of selfhoods are always inseparable from ecological dimensions.” (emphsis mine).

  • David Abram is the author of The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World, and Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. Milstein and Castro-Sotomayor describe his work as “cataly[zing] the emergence of several fields of study, including the burgeoning fields of ecopsychology, eco-phenomenology, and ecolinguistics.”

  • I just want to share one quote in the interview from David Abram where he offers an alternative name for the Anthropocene, the Humilocene:

“Shouldn’t we be humbled by the slowly dawning recognition of how much loss, how much destruction so many of our species have brought about? It seems to me that Humilocene would be a far more appropriate term than Anthropocene – precisely because it suggests, and even enjoins, a step toward restraint and a new humility for our kind. Perhaps, in oral tradition, this transitional period – the dawn of the Humilocene – may come to be known as ‘ The Humbling.’”

  • Abram’s idea that we are entering ‘The Humbling/Humilocene” suggests an interesting shift in thinking about how we think of human identity in a time of climate crisis. What new stories about personal and collective identity become possible when we take “a step toward restraint and a new humility for our kind.”

  • At the same time, I also think for environmental writers and communicators, it’s helpful to compare and contrast the different ‘-cenes’ being proposed as alternatives to ‘the Anthropocene.’ What gets emphasized, and what gets left out, in these different names? Or put another way, who gets held responsible, and who gets let off the hook?

  • For example, the environmental writer Amitav Ghosh suggests calling our current era of climate crisis ‘the Great Derangement,’ instead of ‘the Humbling.’ Ghosh writes,

    “Quite possibly, then, this era, which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness, will come to be known as the time of the Great Derangement”

  • In my own writing and environmental communication, I find it useful to compare and contrast these new names for our current era of climate crisis. Rather than asking which name is most correct – ‘the Anthropocene?’ ‘the Humilocene?’ ‘the Great Derangement?’ ‘the Capitalocene?’ and so on – a couple of questions I think are helpful to ask include: What kinds of personal and collective human identitieswho we are (individually and as a species) and how we should live together – do these terms make more or less possible? And what kinds of social movements can we build around a particular ‘ecocultural identity project’?

  • For more on this idea of ‘ecocultural identity,’ check out this interesting interview with Dr. Tema Milstein discussing the concept and the new book.

🎧 What I’m listening to

The State of the World's Sea Turtles with Roderic Mast.

  • Well, I watched and listened to this online talk from Roderic Mast, about the state of the world’s sea turtle conservation efforts, by President & CEO of the Oceanic Society. The Oceanic Society is a non-profit founded in 1969, and is an organization that “works to improve ocean health by deepening the connections between people and nature to address the root cause of its decline: human behavior.”

  • In this way, the work they do is similar to other conservation organizations focused on changing human behavior, like Rare, that aim “to bridge the gap between awareness and measurable behavior change.” The Oceanic Society focused on three efforts in this goal:

    1. promote sustainable travel for ocean conservation.

    2. work with behavioral scientists to develop and “implement techniques to motivate and measure consumer behavior changes relating to climate change, plastic pollution, and sustainable seafood.”

    3. Developing tools to promote pro-ocean behavior change, such as their Blue Habits inititiative.

  • In case you’re curious, during the Q&A portion of the talk, Roderic answered a question I asked about collaborations between social scientists and biologists in sea turtle conservation. And he gave the Blue Habits initiative as one example of this kind of interdisciplinary collaboration. You can listen to his answer to my question at the 59:18 mark in the video:

    Q: Roderic mentioned that “conservation is a social science with biological underpinnings.” I am wondering if you could speak more to this, if there are good examples of how social scientists are helping sea turtle conservation scientists, or vice versa?
    A: Answered live at 59:18. Learn more about our Blue Habits Program and join the community at www.BlueHabits.org

👀 What I’m watching

A new interview with ecolinguist Arran Stibbe: “Arran Stibbe, author of "Ecolinguistics: Language, Ecology and the Stories We Live By", explores how the language we use can impact the ecological crises impacting the world today.”

🔍 Eco-Communication Tool I’m exploring

Blue Habits. An initiative from the Oceanic Society that focuses on using behavioral science and design to bridge the ‘knowledge-action gap’ (or motivation-behavior gap) in developing communication strategies and tools for promoting ocean conservation. Blue Habits has created several action guides to promote individual actions people can take on ocean conservation issues, like fighting plastic pollution. Here’s a brief explanation of what they do from their website:

We are a community here to demonstrate and inspire pro-ocean behaviors, or Blue Habits. Psychology tells us that conservation behavior spreads across people - not information. It’s not enough to tell people they should conserve; people have to see what others do. That’s why we exemplify the individual actions of millions of people around the world taking pro-ocean actions everyday, and offer tips and solutions to inspire more action.

💬 Quote I’m thinking about

Kate Raworth, a Senior Research Associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, and author of the book Doughnut Economics, tweeted this earlier this year, about the using term ‘environment’ in her work:

Thanks so much as always for your interest in my work, and if you found this useful, or have suggestions to make this digest better, I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment to let me know what you think about this digest:)

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