The moral appeal of environmental discourses: The implication of ethical rhetorics

Clare J. Dannenberg, Bernice L. Hausman, Heidi Y. Lawrence, Katrina M. Powell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Environmental sustainability demands civic action through both changes in individual and community behaviors in addition to national and international agreements and cooperation. In moral appeals to the environment, individuals are often called upon to behave in good waysreduce, reuse, recycleto save the planet. Behavior, and our attitudes about it, is therefore an important component to ongoing sustainability efforts. This pilot study, conducted in Fall 2009, brings together research methods in sociolinguistics and rhetorical studies to examine the discourses that students produce when describing issues and practices concerning sustainability. In interviews with 15 students in an earth sustainability general education core, our study found that students were knowledgeable about environmental issues and expressed intentions to engage in sustainable behaviors. Yet, students produced accommodating discourses when addressing competing demands on their time and resources. The sociolinguistic analysis of interview data shows a disassociation from environmental issues at the symbolic level of language use. The rhetorical analysis shows that this disassociation manifests as guilt, largely because when choosing between various moral appeals in their social context, students are left without tangible direction for engaging in new sustainable behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-232
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironmental Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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