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2.3 What Are the Major Discourses?

Discourses reflect the general and enduring systems of thought which, in turn, influence the formation and expression of ideas within a historically situated time (Grant et al. 2004). Communication scholars Gail Fairhurst and Linda Putnam (2004) discuss how Discourses order and naturalize the world, are culturally standardized and shared ways of understanding the world, and establish power/ knowledge relations. Bound up in political power, each Discourse advances the interests of some and suppresses the interests of others. Understanding the range of environmental Discourses is important because they shape how environmental debates are framed and what is considered to be a reasonable option (Dryzek 2005) when environmentally related choices are being made. Embedded in language, Discourses allow us to put bits of information together into coherent stories and construct meanings for what is common sense and legitimate knowledge (see Fairhurst and Putnam 2014, for a discussion of organizational discourse analysis).

For example, Al Gore's 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, entered the public discourse and helped change our perception of climate change and reshape the role of environmental protection in our lives from an infrequent conversation to a moral obligation (Walker and Wan 2012). Because many of the film's narratives fit within our long-standing cultural perspectives of nature (Rosteck and Frentz 2009), viewers could identify with the arguments being made. The documentary included actions viewers might take to minimize global warming. The Climate Project which was launched with the documentary has trained over 3,500 people to give Gore's presentation in their communities worldwide.

Although multiple typologies exist to identify environmentally related Discourses existing in Western societies (e.g., Prasad and Elmes 2005), in this section I focus on the work of Dryzek (2005), a professor of social and political theory, who described ten environmentally related Discourses in hopes of promoting “critical comparative scrutiny of competing discourses” (p. 20). Because each Discourse is based on different “assumptions, judgments, and contentions that provide the basic terms for analysis, debates, agreements, and disagreements” (p. 8), they often conflict.

Industrialism has been “the long-dominant discourse of industrial society” (Dryzek 2005, p. 13) with its commitment to growth in the quantity of goods and services and the hope of material well-being such growth might bring. The industrialism Discourse reflects the DSP and is the point of contrast for the other nine Discourses (i.e., survivalism, the Promethean response, administrative rationalism, democratic pragmatism, economic rationalism, green politics, green consciousness, ecological modernization, sustainability). Over the last 30–40 years, movement away from the industrialism Discourse has occurred. I interviewed Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), about his work with business organizations. The NRDC is a New York City-based nonprofit international advocacy group with offices in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Beijing. It consists of more than 350 lawyers, scientists, and other professionals and has grassroots support from 1.4 million members and online activists. NRDC priorities include curbing global warming, creating a clean energy future, reviving the world's oceans, defending endangered wildlife and wild places, preventing pollution, ensuring safe and sufficient water, and fostering sustainable communities.

Allen discussed the legacy of our reliance on the industrialism Discourse saying:

There are a lot of challenges in advancing our issue [environmental stewardship] because you know we have built-up our existing industrial system based on environmentally ignorant practices which is why we are in the mess we are in. Whether it is globalclimate disruption or biodiversity loss or the proliferation of waste or water scarcity or deforestation in ecologically rare places, I mean, there is such a diverse amount of pressures happening around the world and that's in large part because of our past environmental behavior and production techniques.

 
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