After graduating with a degree in zoology in 1980, Mark took off for Kenya, thus beginning a 30 year career in conservation. Mark has worked for NGOs, governments, universities and private companies to develop his interest in the connections between protected areas and the communities who effect or are effected by them. Picking up an MSc and a PhD along the way, he's worked to promote innovations in the way conservation managers interact with local communities. In 2002, following ten years as advisor to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Mark joined FFI’s Asia-Pacific programme, returning to the UK in 2011 to design and develop the Cultural Values & Conservation Programme, a further extension of his ongoing commitment to improving conservation delivery through meaningful engagement with communities and their values.
IUCN launched a campaign at the World Conservation Congress at Jeju, South Korea, in September aimed at communicators of the conservation message. It is honest, hopeful, and even witty…but not everyone is going to like it.
The campaign identifies a serious problem with our current communications approach.
Simply put, the message is not getting through. We all kind of realise it, but it is a hard pill to swallow. Rather than point a finger at the listener, and the unresponsive, materialistic world in which we seem to live, IUCN recognises that the message is not being sent out in a way that it will be received. We are using negative advertising, and negative advertising doesn’t work, especially if it is about something that seems distant, both in place and in time.
We have a long history of messages of doom. One of my favourites was the one that described the rivets popping off the wings of airship-earth until it crashed and burned. It is not that the prediction was wrong (though hopefully it is!), but that most people – especially young people – don’t respond to a diet of negative pronouncements, bad news and apocalyptic visions of destruction. They switch off.
Doomsday messaging. Video courtesy of IUCN.
My wife makes that point to me whenever she catches me having a good moan about the gloomy future of the world and everything in it, especially if my 15 year old daughter is quietly listening (or, more likely, quietly not listening).
The IUCN campaign makes the point with a range of very funny video clips. I particularly like the talking Tsessebes. Two lonely figures up on a hill top while the herd contentedly grazes below. Under the banner of “Communicate Better with Love, not Loss” they make the sad, worrying but true point that few people are getting the message about the loss of nature. Not enough are paying attention or even just pausing to listen.
Talking tsessebes – from IUCN’s Love Not Loss campaign.
We might like to think we occupy the high ground, but that’s beside the point if our herd is still at the bottom of the hill.
Where the campaign loses me is the suggestion that it all seems to come down to love. “Once upon a time, nature and people were in love” we are told, but we lost our connection to nature and we need to “fall in love with it all over again.”
How to tell a love story – from IUCN’s Love Not Loss campaign.
Fauna & Flora International’s excellent turtle conservation project in Nicaragua is used to demonstrate this, but is our work to re-build connections between people and turtles really about love? RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch engages the British public on bird surveys. Is that about love? I am afraid it is too simple.
My mother loves her garden and the birds in it, but she does not love slugs! Find me a gardener that does. She loves roe deer but fenced the whole place to keep them out of her roses. The powerful connections between people and nature that IUCN talk about are too complex, too particular, and too personal to be summed up as “love”.
That being said, I like this campaign – it recognises an important truth. I too want us to remember the awe and excitement of nature that inspired us, but it’s all to easy to use the “L” word. Today we’re “lovin’” McDonald’s or our new mobile phone. Love is an app we can add on Facebook.
Loving nature will not be enough to save it. We have to respect it, try to understand it, appreciate all it brings us and recognise that compromises and complex trade-offs are needed if we want to keep it.
Love alone will not be enough.
Top image courtesy of Yogendra Joshi, via Flickr.