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and the Natural World

second edition

Judith Hendry
University of New Mexico


We are living in extraordinary times. We are witness to the Sixth Extinction and the dawn of the Anthropocene. CO2 levels have reached an 800,000-year high as the vital signs of the planet rapidly decline. The defining message of the field of environmental communication—that how we communicate about the natural world profoundly influences, and to a large extent determines, how we perceive and interact with it—has never been more important than it is right now. The enormity and complexity of the challenges we face make environmental communication one of the most relevant, timely, and necessary courses taught on campuses today.

This book is intended primarily as an introduction to the study of environmental communication for undergraduate students. It synthesizes multiple perspectives, theories, and research topics in language that I believe will be accessible to undergraduate communication majors, as well as to students in other majors who are not acquainted with the disciplinary assumptions of communication studies. It draws on the research of environmental communication scholars and on the work of writers across a wide range of disciplines and discourses.

It is my hope that this book will have relevance for students in courses that focus on the human side of the human/nature relationship, including courses that deal with sustainability studies, environmental politics, social movements, environmental ethics, and, of course, environmental communication.

Because of the inextricable link between social systems and natural systems, I believe this book also has relevance for the study of this relationship from the “nature” side of the human/nature interaction. For students of ecology, environmental science, earth systems science, and conservation biology, the integrative framework of science and society offers an expanded and critical lens through which to view and interpret our current environmental conditions.

Practitioners in activities such as environmental advocacy, resource management, public stakeholder processes, environmental dispute resolution, and collaborative decision-making may also find this book useful. It examines the nexus of communication theory and practice through multiple examples and case studies that bring to light many of the issues involved in the day-to-day practice of managing our symbolic and natural resources.

The new edition has been thoroughly revised and updated to reflect the current state of environmental affairs, including recent and evolving events, growing concerns with environmental justice and the disproportionate impacts of environmental issues on some human populations, the rising importance of digital media and activism, and up-to-date research in the field of environmental communication. More than ever, the book now encourages readers to become active participants in creating more just and sustainable human/nature relationships.

The multidisciplinary nature of the inquiry into environmental communication, the diversity of epistemological lenses, and the expansive range of applications are a testament to the richness and relevance of environmental communication studies. In one way or another, whether we approach environmental issues from the science side or from the human side, as academics or as practitioners, we are all engaged in the essential business of communicating about the environment.


  • The basic assumptions of the study of environmental communication and its theoretical grounding are presented, along with the many ways in which symbols construct our view of the natural world and humans’ place in it.

  • An environmental literacy baseline is established for students who are beginning their studies in environmental communication. The book takes as axiomatic the assumption that we have serious environmental problems that we need to understand and address. Written with the lay reader in mind, the book discusses many of the challenges we face today that have resulted from humans’ impact on the natural world.

  • The environmental philosophies that inform environmental thinking are summarized, including both mainstream and radical environmental perspectives. An awareness of the nuanced, yet significant, differences among the various perspectives gives students a framework for interpreting the often contentious cacophony of voices.

  • The environmental rhetoric that permeates our everyday lives is explored through multiple sites of meaning-making; the rhetorical forms that shape the discourse of environmental advocacy, politics and science; and the mass-mediated discourses of popular culture, green marketing, and news reporting.

  • Citizen involvement and grassroots advocacy in environmental decision making are discussed within the context of their historical, political, and legal frameworks. The book examines the essential role of citizen advocacy and the tools available for those who take on the challenges and rewards of environmental activism in a democratic society.

  • The direct link between environmental and social justice issues is emphasized. The book asks the reader to consider the many ways in which our broken human/nature relationship is both the cause and the consequence of our broken human/human relationships.


The new edition has been thoroughly updated to reflect the current state of environmental and political affairs, as well as current theory and research in multiple areas of environmental concern. Many of these changes have been made in response to insightful recommendations and thoughtful critique from people who have used the first edition and from people who have reviewed the manuscript for the second edition. While the book retains the basic approach and organization of the first edition, I have also revised and updated extensively to reflect the changes in our world and our discipline. Among the more significant changes are the following:

  • Environmental justice receives a more prominent focus. It is previewed in the first chapter, discussed in detail in Chapter 13, and highlighted throughout the book.

  • The burgeoning role of the internet, including the many online environmental discourses, receives more attention. The new edition examines social media, digital news, and online activism, as well as emerging issues such as the “post-truth” society, the erosion of trust in news media, and the liabilities and triumphs of online activism.

  • The climate change denial and skepticism that continue to flood the airwaves, newspapers, bookshelves, and blogosphere are explored. The new edition examines the rhetorical tactics used to discredit the science and the scientists, even as the day-to-day impacts of climate change become increasingly evident.

  • The concept of a “crisis discipline,” with its definition in conservation biology and its implications, is presented for students’ consideration.

  • Many recent extreme weather events and natural disasters are discussed, demonstrating the growing relevance of concepts and ideas that ground the study of environmental communication. Among these are the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, the BP oil spill, the water contamination in Flint, Michigan, Hurricanes Maria and Harvey, the Gold King Mine spill, and the California wildfires. In addition, a new “Connections” box asks readers to consider just how “natural” these “natural disasters” really are. The Timeline at the end of the book also includes events and disasters from recent years.

  • The voices of women and people of color feature prominently in the new edition. Readers are introduced to leaders such as Wangari Maathai, Berta Cáseras, Dolores Huertas, Vandana Shiva, and Greta Thunberg, and to the social movements that have been initiated and advanced by these courageous and influential figures.

  • The chapter on popular culture and the environment (Chapter 11) has a new conceptual structure to focus more clearly on the ways in which popular culture defines nature, human’s place in the nature/human hierarchy, and environmental advocacy.


In writing this book, I have attempted to address complex ideas in language that is accessible to undergraduates and to practitioners outside the academic setting, while still maintaining the academic integrity of the content.

  • Abundant examples from historical and contemporary environmental discourses, many new to this edition, are intended to clarify concepts and make the book engaging for readers.

  • “Connections” text boxes connect theory to practice, ideas, and events, offering alternative perspectives or additional information. A broad range of topics, such as newsworthy environmental events, scientific theory, new green trends, and controversial perspectives, are introduced to heighten interest, broaden knowledge, and advance awareness of environmental communication at work in the world. The number of these boxes has been increased in this edition.

  • Photographs and other illustrations help bring perspectives, and concepts to life. Some give faces to historic names and iconic figures. Others illustrate environmental communication in contemporary contexts and real-world settings. The image program has been expanded and extensively updated in this edition.

  • Discussion questions and exercises at the end of each chapter are geared to engage the student through application of issues and concepts, and to challenge students to reach farther and learn more. In my own classrooms, I have found these work well as discussion guides, group exercises, or graded assignments.

  • Suggested Readings at the end of each chapter invite the student to explore topics and ideas further. These lists, updated in this edition, direct students to original authors, groundbreaking work, and influential writers in environmental communication, as well as to significant works of environmental writers from a diverse range of disciplines and research traditions.

  • A Timeline of noteworthy milestones of the modern environmental movement, updated in this edition, is included at the end of the book. These milestones represent a small part of our inheritance from the work of those who have gone before us. Significant extreme weather events and natural disasters of recent years have been added in this edition to show the increasing threat posed by climate change.

  • A Selected Bibliography, also updated in this edition, offers an extensive list of classical, popular, and scholarly works from which I have drawn information and inspiration, and that I believe may be useful to students who wish to continue their study of environmental issues and communication.

Throughout the book, students are challenged to learn more, to contribute to the conversation, and to take an active role in bringing about changes necessary for a more sustainable future.

The reader will undoubtedly recognize the pro-environmental bias that permeates the book. This book begins with the assumption that we have serious environmental problems—an assumption that implies a need for action. Thus, what we do and what we teach is inherently and inevitably normative and prescriptive. I believe that our ultimate concern as scholars and teachers in this field should be the pursuit of knowledge to advance changes in the conditions of society that have led to our sobering environmental realities.


The book consists of thirteen chapters, organized into five parts, plus a selected bibliography and a timeline of significant events.

Part I, “Environmental Communication in a Changing World,” introduces students to the study of environmental communication and its grounding assumptions.

Chapter 1, “Communication and the Environment,” shows how symbols influence perceptions of reality and, by extension, how communication influences the ways we perceive and interact with the natural world. Two concepts that have shaped the study of environmental communication have been added to this chapter: the crisis discipline and environmental justice.

Chapter 2, “Environmental Communication in the Anthropocene,” provides a baseline of environmental literacy from which students can begin their study of environmental communication. It discusses many current environmental problems, including the sixth great extinction, and has been extensively updated to include recent developments in climate science and the impacts of a warming planet.

Part II, “Environmental Worldviews,” summarizes the major environmental perspectives that ground environmental thinking, policies, and practices.

Chapter 3, “Mainstream Environmental Perspectives,” looks at stewardship, conservation, preservation, and sustainable development, as well as significant historical and cultural influences that have led to mainstream anthropocentric assumptions about the human/nature relationship. New examples show how these perspectives have shaped current policies and practices.

Chapter 4, “Radical Environmental Perspectives,” examines challenges to mainstream views that have emerged through the philosophical perspectives of deep ecology, social ecology, and ecofeminism, and outlines the differences among these perspectives. Updates include examples of how these perspectives have been adapted to the current political and environmental landscape.

Part III, “Rhetoric and the Environment,” is designed to move students toward a critical awareness of the pervasiveness of environmental rhetoric in our everyday lives, as well as its profound impact on our perceptions, policies, and practices.

Chapter 5, “An Introduction to Environmental Rhetoric,” discusses rhetorical functions and forms, and introduces students to major historical and contemporary figures who have contributed to this rich and diverse area of inquiry. The chapter has been expanded to include more in-depth discussion of Burke’s theory of identification, the rhetorical force of narrative, the definition of “natural” in “natural disasters,” and the emerging genre of literary fiction referred to as “Cli-Fi.”

Chapter 6, “Rhetorics That Divide,” examines polarizing and competing rhetorics by way of a thematic analysis of the discursive and nondiscursive rhetoric of EarthFirst! The new edition includes an analysis of the rhetorical tactics used by climate skeptics and deniers.

Chapter 7, “Prophetic Rhetoric,” examines forms of prophetic rhetoric (apocalyptic, irreparable, utopian, and jeremiadic) that predominate in messages we create and receive about the natural world. The discussion of the jeremiad has been revised in this edition, and examples from current environmental prophets have been added.

Chapter 8, “The Rhetoric of Risk, Science, and Technology,” looks at the roles of technical rationality and cultural rationality in environmental discourse. It shows why technical rationality, even when grounded in the most compelling science, often fails to sway public opinion or influence policy and practice. New examples include the Flint, Michigan, water contamination and the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant disaster.

Part IV, “Media, Popular Culture, and the Environment,” exposes students to a number of sites of rhetoric production. These chapters focus on the pervasive influence of cultural messages and their implications for constructing humans’ place in the natural world.

Chapter 9, “Environmental News Reporting,” deals with one of the more conspicuous sites of meaning construction. It examines the difficulties faced by those who are tasked with reporting complex, sound bite–defying environmental issues, as well as the challenges brought about by digital technologies. Discussions of “fake news” and the erosion of trust in media and its consequences have been added.

Chapter 10, “Green Advertising and the Green Consumer,” looks at ads used in green marketing, the messages they send, and the inherent paradox of “green consumption.” The discussion of “greenwash” has been expanded in this edition. Many new examples of green marketing tactics have been added.

Chapter 11, “Popular Culture and the Environment,” explores some less obvious but profoundly influential sites of meaning construction, by way of selected popular culture sites that environmental communication scholars have examined. This chapter has been reorganized conceptually to help students see more clearly how popular culture creates environmental realities through defining nature and the “natural,” humans’ place in the human/nature hierarchy, and environmental advocacy.

Part V, “Public Participation and Environmental Advocacy,” shifts the focus from citizens as consumers of environmental messages to citizens as activists and participants in the dynamic and ever-evolving environmental conversation.

Chapter 12, “Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making,” has an enhanced emphasis on citizen activism. It begins by explaining the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, which created the mechanism for incorporating public participation in federal land use decisions, and outlines significant legislation that has enhanced citizen activists’ access to information. Case studies illustrate the benefits of and obstacles to citizen participation in environmental decision-making, as well as the challenges and opportunities of digital activism.

Chapter 13, “From the Ground Up: The Environmental Justice Movement,” offers an extended look at the environmental justice movement and sites of concern, both in our own backyards and abroad. It directs attention to ways in which those who are most impacted by environmental pollutants and degradation, as well as by climate change, are silenced by the rhetorical disadvantages that accompany racial, social, economic, and political inequalities. A new section discusses growing concerns about biopiracy. The chapter concludes with a ray of hope: the Paris Climate Agreement and the burgeoning climate justice movement.

In reading this book, students will examine a broad range of symbolic resources and environmental messages through multiple lenses. In a sense, these lenses are like the telescopic viewfinders in our national parks that, for a quarter, frame and magnify a select portion of the panorama. Each perspective discussed in this book brings into focus that which might have been obscured, and presents a communication framework through which to view our complicated, inextricably intertwined, and manifestly broken human/nature relationship.


The true pleasure of writing this book has come from the subject matter handed to me by the scholars and writers in this rich, relevant, and exciting field of inquiry. It is with tremendous gratitude that I acknowledge my debt to all those academics and practitioners on whom I have drawn so extensively throughout this work. I also gratefully acknowledge the invaluable contribution of my students who have significantly influenced this work from its earliest inception and who have been my impetus, my inspiration, and my most adroit critics. I would also like to recognize the large and impressive jury of peer reviewers, many of whom I have the honor of knowing. Much of what you read in this book is a direct result of their insight, expertise, and enthusiasm for this emerging field of study.

Among those who have contributed significantly to the new edition are Allison Bailey, University of North Georgia; Terence Check, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University; Danielle Endres, University of Utah; Rebekah L. Fox, Texas State University; Carrie Packwood Freeman, Georgia State University; Peter Goggin, Arizona State University; Deborah Lanni, Jamestown Community College; Debra Merskin, University of Oregon; Nico Peck, San Francisco State University; Emily Plec, Western Oregon University; Jessica M. Prody, St. Lawrence University; Julie “Madrone” Kalil Schutten; Northern Arizona University; and Samantha Senda-Cook, Creighton University.

I would also like to acknowledge the reviewers of the first edition who substantively shaped this book. James G. Cantrill, Northern Michigan University; Terence Check, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University; Catherine Collins, Willamette University; Stephen Depoe, University of Cincinnati; Jonathan Gray, Southern Illinois University; James Hasenauer, California State University, Northridge; Jeffrey Kassing, Arizona State University West; William Kinsella, North Carolina State University; Mark Meisner, State University of New York, Syracuse; Jennifer Peeples, Utah State University; Daniel J. Philippon, University of Minnesota; Emily Plec, Western Oregon University; Steven Schwarze, University of Montana; Susan Senecah, State University of New York, Syracuse; Stacey K. Sowards, University of Texas at El Paso; Jessica Thompson, Colorado State University; and Anne Marie Todd, San Jose State University.

A special thanks goes to two internationally recognized and respected climate scientists: Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center; and Philip P. Jones, Research Director of the Climatic Research Unit and Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. Dr. Mann graciously sent us a high-resolution image of his and his colleagues’ famous Hockey Stick Model of mean temperature records for the past thousand years. Dr. Jones’s generous assistance helped to clarify and explain some of the science and issues involved in what has come to be known as “climategate.” We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these scientists for courageously and steadfastly continuing their brilliant work in the face of brutal, unwarranted, and false attacks from climate deniers and skeptics.

I wish to express my profound appreciation and gratitude to my editor and publisher, Kathleen Domenig, whose patience, encouragement, astute analysis, sterling insight, and magical colored pens have brought this book to publication and taught me so much. I also wish to thank Brian Henry, Strata’s general manager, for his hard work and meticulous oversight of this project. Every page of the book has been refined and enhanced through their keen judgments and extraordinary efforts.

And finally, this book could never have come to fruition without the tireless support and enduring patience of my husband, Doug, who, as in the timeless words of William Blake, can “see a world in a grain of sand.” Time and time again, his confidence in me, his gentle persuasion, and his steadfast support smoothed the journey and kept me going.




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