In response to Anabela Carvalho’s post about the state of environmental communication in Europe, and her call for further mapping of the field in other parts of the world, I will attempt to provide a perspective from Latin America. It is clear that in this region the field has not reached the levels of development that we see in the US or Europe. Research about environmental issues in Latin America, and most of all, from Latin American researchers, is comparatively limited. Moreover, established programs in universities are the exception rather than the rule. From a personal perspective, Peruvian universities – either communication or environmental schools – do not offer environmental communication programs. I will go even further and argue that there are no science communication programs, and this might apply to several Latin American countries. In terms of research, there is little incentive to engage in this kind of work, since teaching is always more valued. Just to give a glimpse:
- Only few courses or specializations are available, such as those formerly or currently offered by the National University of Cordova (Argentina), the National University of Rosario (Argentina), the University San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador), and the National Agrarian University (Peru).
- FELAFACS, the federation of Latin American schools of communication has few references to this area of study in their research or in their conferences.
This is unfortunate considering the obvious need for universities to focus on this area of study as the professional community is becoming increasingly vibrant. Some examples in the professional sphere include:
- The Network of Environmental Communication of Latin America and the Caribbean (REDCALC), which serves as a regional focal point for journalists, government professionals, and to lesser extent, researchers interested in environmental communication. REDCALC sponsors seminars and serves as a place for exchange of information and networking.
- Several countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica have associations of environmental journalists.
In a recent book chapter, Shanahan (2009) clearly identifies some of the limitations that environmental journalists in developing nations face when covering climate change. The first he identifies is “A lack of local research and news and of local experts who are prepared to talk to journalists” (p.146). I believe this is also true for all other areas of study within the environmental communication field.
Although all of this might sound somewhat disappointing and even discouraging, we need to see this as an opportunity and a challenge to the community. The salience of environmental issues in the public and political agendas is arguably in a rise in the region, and we need to take advantage of such context. As I argued in a message to the ECN listserv, I think that the establishment of a formal environmental communication organization could serve as a catalyst for expanding our research to geographic areas that have been too long neglected, and to involve those researchers interested in the field that might not have the resources to do so.