Reflections on underlying communication challenges emerging at the European Conference on Bridging the Gap: New Needs and Perspectives for Environmental Information (London, 1998) under the auspices of the European Environment Agency
There is a desperate worldwide search for sustainable development strategies and for the appropriate means for their implementation. To a large extent such strategies are elaborated and presented through the use of military metaphors. In discussing the associated challenges of communication, great emphasis is placed on "target audiences", "targets", and "targeting" in designing "campaigns" and "mobilizing" resources. Typically in slide presentations, notably those enhanced by Microsoft's Powerpoint software, strategies are structured in terms of "bullets" -- which are also characteristic of the documents in support of such presentations.
The question asked in this paper is whether such simplistic language is adequate to the challenges of communicating complex insights in response to complex environmental issues -- or of eliciting the support of partners vital to the success of such initiatives. Furthermore, there would seem to be a strong possibility that such language is based on mindsets and frameworks that were fundamental to the generation of the problems that sustainable development strategies purport to address. In this sense use of military metaphors may contribute directly to inhibiting and undermining any useful implementation of such strategies.
The obvious response to this criticism is that "targets" and "bullets" are mere metaphors of purely rhetorical function and that the significance of this interpretation is totally exaggerated. The whole debate concerning political correctness in language has however severely undermined the legitimacy of this retort. Use of inappropriate metaphors has become unacceptable because of the manner in which it conditions and reinforces discriminatory thinking. It is therefore useful to ask how dangerous such language (and thinking) may be in the case of sustainable development strategies. Especially interesting is that the "command and control" principles governing military action encourage efforts to "take control of the target" and ensure that it is maneuvered into "killing zones".;take control of the target" and ensure that it is maneuvered into "killing zones".