For decades, the environment-related discourse has attracted the attention of scholars, trying to develop the most effective communication tactics and channels. Researchers attempt to explore the content and the features of the delivered messages and methods to make them effective. Klein (2019) states that hundreds and thousands of people are eager to draw the attention of millions. It is quite expected that a large number of young people are involved in the discussion of ecological problems, but the age of activists is changing as younger individuals are entering the debate. At the same time, this heated conversation only partially translates into actual improvements or specific measures undertaken to address the issues that attract wide audiences attention. The persistence of various hazards and potential disasters can be regarded as some of the reasons for the exploration of the peculiarities of current communication patterns on the matter.
Melodrama as the Central Element of Environmental Debates
The nature of the discussion of environmental issues has remained unchanged for years. Melodrama is a remarkable feature of this discourse that helps communicators to attract more attention to certain problems (Schwarze, 2006). Schwarze (2006) defines melodrama in the environment-related debate as to the polarization of different groups and juxtaposition of ideas (p. 240). Melodrama as a rhetorical tactic is instrumental in drawing attention and involving larger groups of people. The polarization of different stakeholders and cohorts makes heated debates more visible, unveiling the most challenging aspects. Although many scholars see this trait as negative and leading to undesirable outcomes, Schwarze (2006) finds melodrama useful and even unavoidable. The polarization of groups is associated with voicing the views and needs of diverse populations, which is critical for the development of solutions that could be effective. It is also stated that the division between groups can help in identifying the exact causes of the phenomenon and possible strategies to mitigate numerous negative effects.
Another characteristic feature of melodrama in ecological discourse is its association with simplifications. This rhetorical tactic leads to the simplification of issues, which is harmful to the debate and environmental issues under discussion. Nevertheless, Schwarze (2006) finds this aspect positive as well and claims that simplicity can ironically unveil the complexity of the problem as the perspectives of different groups are articulated. Although melodrama can have some adverse effects, it still needs to be present in the discourse because this method brings more people to the discussion. It is possible to note that melodrama in the ecological debate helps people to appeal to moral values and encourages them to act while some negative effects are also apparent.
Appealing to a specific group or several groups rather than the public, in general, is a common tool in the discussion of environmental problems. At that, polarization extends the boundaries of stakeholders and is often found in the way messages are articulated. Hart and Feldman (2014) mention that to have positive and negative approaches, but the polarization of some aspects of problems is obvious and rather harmful. It is found that impacts are framed primarily in terms of environmental consequences, whereas actions are framed in terms of political conflict (Hart & Feldman, 2014, p. 325). In simple terms, when speaking about the exact impact of an environmental issue, activists concentrate on particular outcomes that are relevant to different groups or communities. When examining the media coverage of ecological concerns, Hart and Feldman (2014) emphasize that the impact and undertaken measures are only sporadically discussed simultaneously (that is, appear in a single news message).
This type of factual polarization makes messages less proactive and more negative. It is noteworthy that only a third of the analyzed articulations were positive, which contributes to the development of a specific negative setting for the debate (Hart & Feldman, 2014). The most detrimental effects are created by the division between consequences and strategies used to address the problem. These messages are disconnected, which makes people see the outcomes of ecological problems but make developed solutions invisible to the public. The discussion of the accident at a factory is rarely enriched by the facts of the regulations and ecological projects that had existed in that area before the crisis and the actions undertaken after it. Public opinion based on such adverse and polarized messages is characterized by the focus on some damaging ideas evoking negative emotions. Emotions play a central role in creating melodrama and expressing views concerning the planet.
It has been acknowledged that emotions, as opposed to concrete statistical data and facts, have a considerable impact on peoples choices associated with environmental issues. Roeser (2012) stated that the enumeration of facts and data regarding the human negative nature-related input is unlikely to force people to react. Statistics have proved to be a weak impetus that can hardly make the public change their lifestyle or even discuss the most urgent problems proactively. At the same time, emotions can be a potent instrument to evoke heated debate and actual transformations in peoples behavior. Nevertheless, Roeser (2012) adds that negative emotions can be less effective and result in failed communication. For instance, fear is a strong emotion that has a substantial paralyzing effect. People who are fearful of some problem can simply feel unable to change anything and reluctant to act. Hence, it is essential to focus on positive emotions when communicating ecological messages. Although some rational aspects have to be present in such accounts, they can be minimal.
The major focus should be on delivering a positive emotional load. It is necessary to entice people in developing strategies and plans to address the existing issues. Public discussions should be the platform for ideas exchange rather than sharing statistical data on the caused harm. Something that has already taken place will not force people to change their habits or participate in some projects. Moreover, Roeser (2012) claims that fear tends to paralyze people, making them distant and passive. The messages regarding the detrimental effects of some activities may cause hopelessness and the inability to think or act. Fearful humans choose flight rather than fight while bringing hope can make people more interested and engaged.
People whose attention is drawn to opportunities rather than a description of adverse effects may want to explore their creativity, come up with solutions, and initiate major changes. Hope makes people active, while fear often turns them into resisting agents. People are afraid of changes as they do not know exactly what can be expected. They choose to address the consequences instead of eliminating the root cause of the issue. Clearly, this approach is hardly effective and cannot help people build a better world.
Klein (2019) describes the current political and social agendas related to the environmental issues addressing the overall atmosphere as a house on fire. The author emphasizes that the radicalization of societies is unlikely to have a positive impact on the near future of the world. At the same time, the researcher praises the rise of young peoples movements who are eager to stand up to the existing wrongs and change the world for the better. Klein (2019) notes that Gretta Thunbergs passionate calls can make people more responsible or, at least, more attentive to the problems of the planet.
However, this view is rather too optimistic as the reaction and current responses of the governments illustrate the ineffectiveness of environment-related communication, that is, mainly concerned with adversities and negative effects. The messages sent by the young activists face resistance rather than understanding, they evoke negation or fear instead of inspiring millions, and they tend to divide people while collaboration is the key to success. The words of a teenager about the failed future and the near end of the world, as well as her accusations, are questioned and sometimes ridiculed even among young people. Some say that the young girl cannot simply accuse everyone and talk about complex issues in such a manner. The passionate verbal attacks result in passionate attempts to defend their positions and the undertaken measures. The dialogue can never be launched if the stakeholders do not listen and are unwilling and even unable to hear. The negative messages sent to the public and those in power translate into negative emotions associated with fear, passiveness, and despair. People are inclined to think of wretched future generations and their own lost lives.
It is also necessary to add that the negative approach is associated with the loss of trust and overall alienation. People go deeper into their cozy shells to lament or accuse others, they do not feel empowered or motivated enough to initiate changes. The focus on negative aspects and either consequences or actions described by Hart and Feldman (2014) make the conversation ineffective. The involved groups concentrate on their needs and the concepts that seem relevant to them. They are affected by distorted messages that shape their mindsets and attitudes. Collaboration in such an environment is impossible due to the participants reluctance to hear each other and compromise.
It is noteworthy that a constructive approach alone has not been associated with overwhelming reactions and changes, so the shift towards the discussion of solutions only does not bring the necessary results. Corner and Randall (2011) illustrate the limited positive effect of this approach by mentioning the Act-On CO2 campaign. The UK government tried to draw the publics attention to climate change and the increase in CO2 emissions. First, the campaign encompassed the delivery of the message through Bedtime stories told to a little girl. The public found the advertisement too frightening and asked to withdraw it.
The following attempt of the campaign developers was characterized by the use of the positive approach. The new advertisement included the messages regarding the possible input of each person who could actually contribute to the decrease in CO2 emissions by using personal cars less or engaging in certain activities (Corner & Randall, 2011). It was found that both advertisements had no or minimal effect on peoples behavior linked to ecological aspects. It is important to emphasize that the negative approach drew the publics attention and even led to enhanced activity. People spent some time addressing the authorities asking them to withdraw the advertisement. The following advertisement did not motivate people to engage in any meaningful activity.
In order to make environment-related communication effective, it is important to concentrate on several aspects. First, it is critical to facilitate the dialogue and make the discussion less polarized. One of the first steps to implement to achieve this goal is to raise peoples awareness. Ballew et al. (2019) provide data regarding the publics awareness of diverse aspects of climate change and environmental problems. The researchers note that individuals views and knowledge concerning the matter depend on such factors as age, education, socioeconomic factors, as well as political preferences (Ballew et al., 2019). It is also stated that personal communications, including the digital discourse through social media networks, should be enhanced. Each person should be more engaged in the conversation, which will eventually result in specific actions. Ballew et al. (2019) add that there is a consensus in the scientific world regarding the humans input and the scale of the problem, but the existence of this consensus remains unknown to the larger public although it is found that scientists views have a considerable impact on people mindsets and attitudes towards ecological problems.
Another strategy that can bring people together to develop effective solutions to ecological problems is reaching the balance between facts and emotions. Clearly, the messages should be emotionally loaded and appeal to the public, but they should be informative as well. It is inappropriate to bombard people with images of deteriorating habitats and suffering species. People should be aware of the scale of the problem and the most recent discoveries in the field. Clearly, the outcomes of certain activities and the changes that are taking place should receive substantial attention.
The concept of melodrama can be effectively employed, but instead of comparing and juxtaposing abstract ideas, it can be beneficial to juxtapose particular behavioral patterns and perspectives. For instance, instead of arguing about the extent to which people cause or influence climate change, the messages can facilitate the discussion of measures that have proved to be effective in improving the situation. Klein (2019) states that the belief that each person alone can reduce the harmful input of humanity is ridiculous. However, this is an overestimation as the engagement of as many people as possible can be achieved through the discussion of personal contribution. Clearly, a person recycling wastes and using renewable energy sources can hardly stop climate change. Nevertheless, the discussion of the benefits of such behaviors and the involvement of more people in such patterns can have positive results. The situation in some European countries can be an illustration of the effectiveness of this approach as the focus on into efficient regulations that make European cities cleaner and more sustainable.
The impact and relevance of the Act on the CO2 campaign should be considered thoroughly. On the one hand, the delivery of petrifying messages often leads to an opposite reaction, and people try to protect themselves from the message itself rather than the causes of the environmental problem. On the other hand, the messages aimed at shaping peoples environment-related behaviors cannot be confined to the depiction of potential input of an individual. Peoples disbelief in their personal impact is strong and evidence-based as only the major change in societal norms will make a difference. Each message should contain exact facts regarding the most recent discoveries and the ways each individual can use this knowledge to facilitate change and engage as many people as possible. Clearly, these messages cannot be an enumeration of facts but should be emotional. By adding an emotional load, these communications will be made more effective as emotions are powerful impetuses making people act. A comprehensive approach should be utilized to create messages aimed at making people environmentally responsible.
Making hope possible can hardly be achieved without the use of a comprehensive approach that encompasses the focus on facts, emotions, and collaboration. Each message should contain the three elements mentioned above as only a combination of these components can make people engaged and proactive. Personal discussions are the background of any environment-related campaign as individuals bring meaning to every incentive. People should be aware of the most relevant and recent facts and have common grounds to build on and develop effective solutions. Clearly, trying to make a person recycle or use public transport can have only limited positive consequences. However, showing that collaboration brings actual results and leads to the creation of viable solutions that makes a difference is a beneficial approach. Ecological communication should aim at bringing people together rather than dividing them into different camps. So, making hope visible and attainable should become the major priority of those who want to address environmental challenges. Fear constraints people from actions while hopes make individuals come together and innovate.