Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Ox, but X-box

On Sunday,  I took the opportunity of a long car drive from another beautiful but distant wedding, to debate the best PR tactic for persuading modern man of the personal value of a public good (specifically, the environment) with my driver/ lucky, lucky boyfriend.

Inspired by Stephanie Draper’s article, and encouraged by the fact that we’re a couple of “PR professionals”, I was determined to make some significant headway on this toothsome problem during the four and a half hour journey.

First suggestion from the driver: “knock on everyone’s doors”. Disappointing. Even mother-in-law-to-be piped up from the backseat that this was not a good idea. Why? Because such doorstep conversations are always preachy, whether or not they’re religious in content. And besides, everyone pretends they’re not in.

But after a few more rounds, we finally alighted upon something a bit more substantial – “establish the value of nature”.

Initially, I was unconvinced. Surely everyone already knows the value of nature – they’re just not buying because personal convenience (sushi, lights on and melon year round) is so important? Haven’t we already done the billboard advertising of nature  – doesn’t everyone already know that nature’s good for them?

Perhaps not. As an ecologist, country dweller and environmentalist, my views of the public perception of the value of nature are skewed.

The value of nature is not established among our ever growing urban population. Once upon a time, to be rural was the norm – and with that came an understanding and appreciation of nature now lost amongst the world’s growing urban populations. But today, over half of us live in cities, some of us existing without having been lucky enough to tramp around in the undergrowth, making mud pies.

Moreover, as the rise of the megacity looms (expected to arrive in a country near you by 2020), this oblivion will only become more entrenched. Much of the migration to urban areas will be by farmers, once the guardians of the land. Raj Patel in “Stuffed and Starved” describes in detail the desperate flee of farmers to the city; the loss of knowledge and understanding is inevitable.

Because once you arrive in the bustling metropolis, what you judge as valuable is determined by your neighbour’s judgement and by what they “have”. The x-box becomes more important than the ox. As exemplified by the looters in the recent riots who favoured Miss Selfridge over Selfridges, who left prêt unturned, but scoured MaccyD’s.

So we need to establish the value of nature. And I don’t mean just the economic value – I mean the inherent value. I trained as an environmental economist – but economic valuations ring hollow when your mates don’t give a damn. Costanza et al said nature was worth $3 trillion.  But city dwellers, the consumers and shapers of much of our way of life aren’t buying.

Perhaps the green movement thinks we’re further on than we already are? It could just be me, but until a chat with a St Albans boy, I was pretty convinced that we are the PR stage of hashtags, viral videos – even a good old press release. Anything more subtle than a billboard. But perhaps we need to billboard it up. Less of the Peggy Olson, more of the Don Draper.

How do we make nature worth something to the bloke who lives without it?

Any suggestions welcome, to be debated by an unlikely trio on a motorway near you shortly.


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