Communicating climate change by celebrating nature
In this guest post, Ralph Underhill, from the Public Interest Research Centre, explains why their new report ‘Common Cause for Nature‘ offers one way of bringing the meaning of climate change home.
Why does climate change matter to me?
It is not that I have an issue with a change in the long term weather patterns of our planet, if these had no knock on consequences I might be indifferent to the human impacts on the climate. The reason I care about climate change is because of it’s potentially massive social and environmental consequences. I care most about climate change because of what it will do to the natural world and the wildlife that has provided me with my most inspiring and memorable experiences.
Importantly I am not alone, although some might not currently share my concerns, they do value the same things that I do.
The combined membership of the conservation organisations in Wildlife and Countryside Link is over 8 million. People aren’t motivated to join these organisations because they think nature conservation contributes significantly to the economy or because of the ecosystem services that certain wildlife rich habitats provide, they join because they love wildlife and want it to be protected. Some of these members are the civil servants, politicians and other decision makers that environmental organisations spend our time trying to persuade.
If a large number of people are motivated by the awe inspiring brilliance of nature why don’t those in conservation speak about it more?
This week marks the publication of the Common Cause for Nature report. Commissioned by the 13 leading conservation organisations (including WWF, RSPB and the Ramblers) and drawing on social psychology, it provides an original analysis of the values being encouraged in the communications of the sector.
The research shows that conservation organisations don’t talk about how inspiring and engaging the natural world is any more frequently than the rest of society. If the conservation sector is not celebrating the beauty and wonder of nature, who is? Social psychology shows that experiences or communications celebrating and appreciating the natural world are likely to strengthen people’s connection the natural world and bring about lasting concern about conservation.
The findings also show that the sector tends to focus heavily on the threats and dangers to nature, something familiar to those working on climate change. Research shows that the emotional responses to such communications can actually reduce people’s motivation to act environmentally, particularly when people aren’t given a way of responding that is proportionate to the scale of the threat. This is not to say that negative messages have no role: but they should be appropriately balanced with actions people can do and framed in a way that illustrates how it will help address the overall problem.
Another key finding of the report is that many communications share much in common with those of commercial businesses providing the ‘product’ of conservation to their supporters who are viewed as ‘customers’. Research shows that appealing to peoples consumer side reduces their willingness to act on behalf of the environment, something I covered in more detail in another blog.
CCfN sets out the values theory and how it applies to many different work areas – communications, working with volunteers, membership, the media, influencing government. There should be something in the report that is applicable to all staff in nearly every role and many of the recommendations should apply equally to those working on climate change as they do to those who are focused on conservation.
What I have laid out here is just a very short overview. The research and theory of this work, as well as many more findings and recommendations are in the full report. I encourage you all to read it and welcome any feedback that you have.
I feel strongly that Common Cause for Nature is a significant step towards understanding how we can inspire people to work with us to save nature and address climate change.
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