For a couple of years now, I have been arguing for the formation of a new international organization for environmental communication scholars and practitioners. In my view, this organization would encompass, integrate, and strengthen a number of related but independent activities in the field, including the biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE), the Environmental Communication Network (www.esf.edu/ecn) web-site and list-serv, and the recently-formed academic journal Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture (www.informaworld.com/renc).
My case for the formation of a new association is based in part on the success of a couple of other academic and professional societies that have formed and grown up around us over the past two decades, including:
- Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (www.asle.org). Formed at a meeting of the Western Literature Association in 1992, ASLE supports a biennial conference and other symposia, along with an academic journal and newsletter and other professional activities. This organization has a membership of nearly 1000, including affiliates in the United States and 24 other countries, and supports an annual operating budget of over $50,000. ASLE leadership has recently issued a draft of a new strategic vision for the organization (see http://www.asle.org/assets/docs/Draft_ASLE_SP.pdf).
- International Association for Society and Natural Resources (www.iasnr.org). This organization was started in 2002 after scholars from a variety of disciplines who had come together for biennial conferences known as International Symposia for Society and Resource Management (ISSRM) decided to formalize their relationship in order to provide permanent support for the Symposia and the journal Society and Natural Resources.
In 1999, Professor Rabel Burdge (then Executive Director of the Rural Sociological Society and active participant in ISSRM meetings) published an editorial in Society and Natural Resources in support of forming a new professional association for social scientists who focus on natural resource issues. The editorial has been posted at http://www.esf.edu/ecn/downloads/Burdge1999.pdf). In the piece, Burdge argued that a professional association would:
- provide structure and permanency to the biennial conferences
- provide a source of professional identity for agency people and academics who engage in social science research related to natural resource management
- provide scholarly and professional leadership opportunities related to the organization and journal
- enhance individual accessibility to the journal through membership subscription
- provide institutional legitimacy for departments wishing to start or enhance interdisciplinary programs in natural resource management; and
- magnify the visibility and importance of social science research for funding agencies
After acknowledging a number of challenges, including financial costs as well as the required investments of time and expertise, Burdge concluded: With the formation of a new association, “social science research on natural resource issues will have a better home and hopefully will be in a position to actually influence natural resource management decisions.” Three years after Burdge’s editorial, IASNR was formally launched, and the work of that organization and its members has flourished as a result.
Where are we in environmental communication today? Ask yourself: How visible is environmental communication in your own department and college or university? Within our own larger professional organizations such as the National Communication Association or International Communication Association? How much impact are we making in environmental policy making at the community, state, national, or international levels? Could our efforts in research, teaching, and advocacy be strengthened by the formation of a new professional association? Look at the success of ASLE, and consider the words of Rabel Burdge, and you may find some answers.