Miquel Ortega | Fundació ENT

Over the last years social pressure has been significantly increasing to face the problems derived from pollution generated in the urban environment. Why now? In fact, for some local pollutants we are at historical lows – little by little (maybe too slowly) we are winning the battle – for others, instead, as in the case of greenhouse gas emissions, we are in full rise after a decrease directly linked to the economic crisis.

Therefore, the increase in social demand for taking measures is not explained by the levels of emissions or immissions of pollutants, other interpretative keys are hence necessary. I think some of the factors that may have helped are the following:

  • The progressive abandonment  of an excessively technocratic approach to communication and its substitution for amore comprehensible type of communication to the majority of the population. This change has already occurred in almost all social movements, and some administrations around the world are starting to make this turn in the field of atmospheric pollutants: we no longer talk about “air quality”, now we talk directly about “pollution”, a much clearer, direct and understandable term for citizens in general.
  • The  change of approach from   a lexis  oriented to generated emissions and its impact on the environment, to  a lexis focused on health effects. For instance, increasingly local pollution is explained in terms of premature mortality or illnesses in humans, and less on the volume of emissions generated – or avoided -, or its impacts on the rest of the ecosystem . For the generalist media this type of vocabulary is much more attractive and understandable (especially considering that they have fewer and fewer specialists in the subject in the media) so that communication extends more. An example in this regard is the   expression  from London where a “toxicity tax” is used to refer to a tax on the most polluting vehicles.
  • The change in the political objectives orientation: from strict legal compliance to aspirational policies. You can see more and more how social movements, and in an emerging way the administrations, are linking the objectives of environmental policies with those of the World’s Health Organization and not just with those of legal compliance, which are usually lax. This connection with aspirational policies is a common element with other contemporary policies that favor the emotional ties of social actors and their mobilization.
  • An integral problem approach, as opposed to the typical techno-administrative division. Thus, communication mixes the messages of various pollutants, mainly local pollutants and greenhouse gases. In some areas, other factors such as noise and green are beginning to be incorporated into the same messages. This is a very important challenge for the communication of public administrations, who are very used to the fractionation of messages, but it has a much greater mobilizing effect. In Social movements this path is much more developed, for example, the climate crisis and biodiversity crisis are discussed jointly in many forums. We are already seeing in some administrations an intensification of  institutional communication in this same direction – despite the resistance from some technical areas – because it helps to avoid the excessive fractionation of messages, which diminishes political impact.

This new, more understandable, more integrating, more aspirational and health-related framework favors the emotional attachment of the population and its mobilization. New opportunities are thus generated to develop more bold public policies to meet the necessary changes.