The Way We Walk

While I listened to farmer and writer Joel Salatin talk about food production ethics and conflict at a presentation at Bridgewater College, I couldn’t avoid the echoing of one of his sentences in my head: “’I am just doing my job’ is what keeps people from thinking and doing the right thing,” Salatin said about the bureaucrats who favor destructive, unhealthful food production systems. Salatin said that, instead of actually doing their jobs and analyzing what is best for the population, bureaucrats usually lazily hide behind dubious standards created by the industries that benefit from the standards.

In a seemly unrelated episode a week later, I watched Dave Cooper’s presentation on mountain top removal for coal mining. The arguments of the mining companies as job providers in extremely poor regions usually mirror the “just doing my job” argument. Instead of really providing a deeper search for the best choice for both present and future populations, this kind of argument explores a polarized view. You are either in favor or against jobs. Any ethical consideration on the kind of job or the alternative solutions put you in the “against” group.
A few days later, as I watched a documentary on Discover Channel about Ardi, the newest oldest “missing” link in the chain of human evolution, one of the scientists said that the discovery of Ardi fundamentally changed previous theories that hominids started walking on two legs to see above the high grass of the African Savannah. A million years older than Lucy (the previous oldest hominid found), Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus) lived in a woodland area and was a tree climber as much as a biped walker.
Somehow, the three events got mixed in my mind and made me think of Ardi, going about her business on the trees, seeing some very interesting food sources on the floor of the forest she would keep going hanging from branch to branch. Later, Ardi would tell another Ardipithecus—this one starving from the lack of food on the trees—about all the food she saw on her way there. The second Ardipithecus would ask Ardi: “Why didn’t you pick the food from the ground?” and Ardi would answer: “I don’t know. I was just doing my job…”
We are often caught in the systematic thinking of the “just doing my job” type. It can be the “I have nothing to do with it,” “It’s not my job to do that,” “Why me?” or even the “What can I do all by myself?” kind of excuse we give ourselves not to pay due attention to a problem. It’s always seems easier to simply dismiss a problem than actually working through it. The predicament is that problems don’t just vanish; they just won’t go away because we choose to ignore them. We are like those people who play with babies hiding behind our hands trying to make the baby believe that we are gone. But, we are still there; so is the baby.
One of the hardest problems environmental communication faces today is to inform people that environmental problems won’t go away just because we choose to ignore them. On the contrary, they accumulate and spread into the social fabric. Environmental communication is rarely about the natural environment, but about what people do and can do to their environment. Even nature writing that exalts the beauty of a pristine lake in a pristine forest isolated from the world is aimed to the eyes and ears of people who might want to see such place one day and either profit from its beauty or from its untouched resources. The perception that environmental communication’s task is to bring people into the debate, to take part in the decision making and find ways to inform that decision-making process is the ethical mission of the practice and discipline of environmental communication. Each part populated with different kind of communicators with different goals and ideals, but all linked with the underlying understanding that environmental issues cannot be simply dismissed anymore.
Hopefully, in Indications, I will be doing more than just my job and will be able to provide readers with facts and anecdotes that will contribute to this ethical mission.

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About Bernardo Motta

Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia. Environmental journalist and lawyer from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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