In my experience working with communicating HIV issues in India, it has been important to consider children’s rights and gender sensitivity in the words and images we use.  Although that may not be a part of an NGO’s mission statement, you can see in the films and media that comes out of India in relation to combating the rate of HIV, there has been some attention paid to gender and child sensitivity.  (A famous HIV campaign in India involving Bollywood actors also made sure to portray different religions and ethnicities.)

As professionals, dealing with refugee crisis or public health epidemic, we are cautious to make sure that media accurately promotes and reflects positive gender roles as they are crucial to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  Environmental sustainability and creating a new environment that responds to climate change is also an MDG, but somehow it has become lost in communication agenda.  

I often see a global ad campaign that incorporates gender equality, disease prevention, and poverty alleviation, but hardly ever does it ever touch on the environment.  For one, much of the money and grants for international development focus on media advocacy in the developing world, whereas it’s really the most developed nations that have the burden of carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption.  Of course Europe and the US have been bombarded with green campaigns and billboards to promote the use of energy efficient alternatives, but somehow the impact is always singular.  There seems to be a multi-pronged approach to international development that leaves alone the environment for its own lonely campaign.

Is this because it’s hard to create a media campaign that links the results of climate change to people’s actions?  We see posters of children and families with mosquito nets in Africa with the message of malaria eradication, but rarely do we actually see people in environment campaigns.  We don’t see people using bikes next to a situation of a climate-related weather disaster.  I feel this can probably be attributed to two things.

First, the consequences of climate change seem for some funny reason to still be “debatable”.  Even though everyone everywhere is experiencing higher temperatures and droughts, people still have a very hard time linking what they do and drive and eat to these natural disasters.  Second, the cause and effect of environment destruction looks like it is a missing an immediate link which often results in a lack of urgency to act.  Development campaigns thrive on the relationship between good governance and voting in the next election, or poverty alleviation and going to school today.  But we rarely ever link importing food from halfway across the world to the flooding of a neighboring state.

We have a long way to go with communication for environmental development.  May be we need to create a new communication strategy or model that addresses issues having long term consequences.