Several polls have shown that we citizens, in relation to the generic “environmentalist” agenda, stop short of enacting real changes in our habits and in our daily lives, changes that would help undo some of the ecological devastation we claim to be concerned about. For example, the alarm of global warming or climate change has been sounded repeatedly, but most people, collectively and individually, still generally turn a deaf ear— partially because they assume that the potential risks of rising sea levels and melting glaciers to be chronic, diffuse in time and space, natural, and not dreadful in their impact. Continued exposure to more alarming facts does not lead to enhanced alertness but rather to fading interest or “eco-fatigue,” which means we pay ‘lip service’ to many environmental concepts, or we just become increasingly apathetic. In short, we are essentially armchair environmentalists.
The burgeoning civic discourse on environmental issues must confront this apathy. Our perspectives are, at large, influenced by public hearings and mass-mediated government accounts: we learn about environmental problems by reading reports of scientific studies in national and local newspapers, by watching nature documentaries, listening to public radio, and by attending public events. However, environmental concern is a broad concept that refers to a wide range of phenomena – from awareness of environmental problems to support for environmental protection – that reflect attitudes, related cognitions, and behavioral intentions toward the environment. In this sense, public opinion and media coverage play a significant role in eliciting questions, causing changes, resolving problems, making improvements, and reacting to decisions about the environment taken by local and national authorities.
So here is our question: what kind of environmental risk communicators do we really need?