Breaking down barriers to better climate change discussions

April 5, 2017

Roberta Laurie wants to empower her students through critical thinking

IMAGE-SUST-Roberta_LaurieClimate change: fact or fad? According to NASA, 97 per cent of climate scientists say certain human activities are the cause of climate change trends. But despite the widespread belief that this is a problem we need to tackle, having conversations about exactly how to tackle it can be difficult.

Roberta Laurie wants to make those conversations easier.

The Bachelor of Communications Studies (BCS) faculty member is using knowledge from her Master’s in Environmental Education and Communication to bring a new course to the program next year: Foundations of Sustainability Communication.

In the course, BCS students will critically analyze sustainability messaging, focusing on the ethical considerations involved with environmental communication. Students will learn how to write powerful sustainability communications and how to ensure those messages make an impact on a large audience.

"It’s important to look at how we can talk about climate change in an effective way with our audience,” says Roberta. “There are all sorts of barriers to discussing climate change. For many people, it's something they don't want to talk about. It's scary—it's this big unknown."

But it doesn’t have to be scary. By keeping the message engaging and by understanding who is receiving the message, climate change communications can be incredibly effective.

"We must find common ground with our audience. Because climate change can be such a volatile topic, we have to approach it with respect and awareness of worldviews and values," says Roberta. "If you just talk about the apocalyptic scenarios, it shuts people down. People need to feel like they're empowered in some way."

For her students, Roberta hopes that empowerment comes in the form of critical thinking. She says it’s more important than ever that people look critically at the messages they come across in the news, on social media and in day-to-day life. She hopes students can learn how to evaluate certain messages, and then figure out how to respond to them in a powerful way.

“I think there's still a certain amount of climate change denial that's going on—maybe not even consciously—but because it feels so big and difficult to understand," she says, highlighting one of the primary challenges people come across when discussing environmental conservation. "The barrier is the silence surrounding the issue."

"We have to talk about it,” she adds. “It has to be something where we remove that stigma of silence."

By equipping students to write and talk about such a hot topic, Roberta hopes to see that stigma fade.

"Climate change has never been at the forefront of our cultural awareness in the way that it is now,” she says. “So courses that focus on sustainability aren’t very common, but it’s a growing field. MacEwan is on the cusp of that growth, so I'm excited about the direction we're going."

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