POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 3 March 2011, Thursday
Usapin on Climate Change
Climate change and related issues have been in the news rather frequently lately, and after attending a Department of Interior and Local Government executive dialogue for mayors last week where climate change was tackled, I wondered why not enough was being said about the significance of communication in that context.
I recall an academic paper that a group of us PhD candidates wrote last April for a doctoral class in the Communication Research program of the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Mass Communication.
The impact of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. Image here.
Entitled “Communicating Climate Change: Impact, Adaptation, and Mitigation”, the paper was authored by college professors Rodrigo Rivera, Bea Lapa, and Julienne Baldo and media practitioners Cynthia Diangson and myself.
In the course of our research, we realized that many government programs fail or are not effective enough because not enough importance and, consequently, resources, are given to the communication aspect of the program. A professor of ours who has consulted for both government and private organizations glumly told us that in his experience, government tends to dismiss the value of communication plans or gives it the least notice and budget whereas private gives more support.
This is not to say that people in government in general negate the need for an effective communication plan; rather, it is most likely the lack of money and resources that forces many government agencies to pick and choose what areas to spend on in the implementation of programs. However, consultants like myself have come across decision-makers in government who simply don’t care, disregarding our carefully-made communication plans and all the hard work that went into them.
In broad strokes our paper tackled the issue of climate change and the need for adaptation and mitigation strategies to meet the threat and soften the impact of climate change upon five sectors of society – women and the household, indigenous people, farmers and fishers, media, and corporate.
More than ever, our society needs to be pro-active and spread awareness about what is already being done on the matter, what else needs to be done, and who needs to act.
From the introduction I wrote for the paper:
“Climate change…[is a] rallying call to take concrete and immediate action on one of the most severe challenges to ever face the planet and the world community.
“Scientists assert that climate change is an ongoing process that cannot be stopped. Shifts in weather, the melting of the ice caps, and the actions of other natural forces combine to affect the lives of the organisms upon the planet’s surface. Such changes usually take centuries, even millennia, to develop; yet one organism – Man – has, through his use of natural resources in unnatural ways, accelerated the rate of climate change, leading to ill effects that will redound upon not only himself, but also the rest of life on Earth.
“The esteemed, and elderly, British scientist and environmental thinker James Lovelock insists that “humans are too stupid” to prevent climate change from radically impacting lives in the coming years (Hickman, 2010). Over the course of his life, the ninety-year-old Lovelock has observed how the actions of humans have contributed to bringing about this disaster.
“I don’t think we’ve yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle as complex a situation as climate change,” says Lovelock, proponent of the Gaia Theory which postulates that the Earth is a giant, self-regulating organism. “The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful.”
“Journalist Leo Hickman, who interviewed Lovelock, ascertained that the scientist believes that “the world’s best hope is to invest in adaptation measures, such as building sea defenses around the cities that are most vulnerable to sea-level rises. (Lovelock) thinks only a catastrophic event would now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously enough,” such as the melting of a glacier massive enough to immediately push up sea levels (Hickman, 2010).
“Humans may be stupid enough to bring about natural disasters through their own actions. Yet humans are also intelligent enough to be aware of the problems they have caused – and to take action to reverse the damage they are responsible for, and to devise and teach other methods to adapt to the related challenges.
“To ensure that the survival of life on this planet extends beyond the timeline set in worst-case scenarios predicted by the most pessimistic of pundits, the common goal of humanity from this moment on should be to strive to become better, more sensitive stewards of the Earth and its resources.
“Because above all, humans endure, and hope.”
Climate change concerns. Image here.
For our paper, we also developed a medium-communication plan to cascade information to stakeholders. Our framework drew concepts from sociologist Prospero Covar’s Pilipinolohiya – Filipino personality and personhood – taking into account negative and positive Filipino attitudes as well as personhood concepts such as the panlabas and panloob. Filipinos are generally panloob, with the kaluluwa seen as something contained and carried within the body.
Its implications? Prof. Julienne Baldo wrote, for our paper: “It is a common observation that for a Filipino, cleaning his house is enough even if the street outside his home is dirty, since the street is outside his domain. Trash is thrown away practically anywhere, instead of being stashed in pockets or otherwise managed for later disposal.
“The challenge, therefore, in devising an effective Climate Change Communication Plan is to shake this basic Filipino attitude. Basic to the message should be exhortation through effective strategies that the Self extends beyond the body and beyond the walls of the home or lawn.
“Crucial in this endeavor is the use of language and the framing of words. This is because the priority of the communication plan is to device techniques to involve people in the process by giving them a sense of ownership of both the problem and the solution. The thesis should be about the belief that something can be done because it must be done precisely because it involves one’s Self, not just others’. It involves the ako in the Filipino loob.
“Communication planning for climate change demands new ideas and for intellectual skills that deal with the constraining effects of unformed and irrational ideas. What is asked for is the sophistication of simple ideas and simplification of sophisticated ones. Knowledge does not come from a select few, but from all stakeholders. Thinking and planning means thinking and planning together. At the heart of the usapin are a creative imagination and soulful dialogues that create the how-to in going from here to wherever hearts are set to reach.”
Stop Climate Change poster image here.