Tag Archives: conservation

“Coal. Guns. Freedom”: Facts Fail Climate Comms


Facts alone are failing in the war on climate change communication. Instead, to truly engage, we need to share experience. Without the privilege of person-person contact, this can still be achieved remotely by inspiring others through art, to create their own experiences.

Understanding arising from experience is far more powerful than factual knowledge alone. This has been known for aeons and yet we are still failing to connect people to their environment in a way that persuades them to protect, rather than destroy, something that they are part of.

The Problem

Yesterday’s US mid-term elections are a prime example of the conservation movement’s failure “to move” the voter. To quote Brad Plumber at Vox:

Republican Mitch McConnell's re-election slogan. And it worked...

Republican Mitch McConnell’s re-election slogan. And it worked…

You had billionaire Tom Steyer spending $67 million trying to convince voters to care about global warming. You had the League of Conservation Voters pouring in another $25 million, more than in the previous two elections combined. All the while, some outlets were suggesting that recent natural disasters — from Hurricane Sandy two years ago to the ongoing drought in the West — just might push climate issues to the fore”.

Yet despite these efforts – based on pushing facts and reason – Republicans won control of the Senate by a ‘slam dunk’. The now Republican Majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, was re-elected on the back of the campaign motto “Coal. Guns. Freedom”. Recent polls show that only 36% of Republicans consider the environment an important issues, compared to 69% Democrats.

This is just days after Europe’s leaders compromised heavily on Climate Targets for 2030. While Angela Merkel was pushing for higher energy efficiency and emissions reduction targets, eastern European countries and the UK negotiated downwards. (See end results here).  The eastern countries’ unfounded fear of limiting potential economic growth is understandable, but the UK’s goading by UKIP is not. The fact that the UK government is being pushed around by a minority party on the right, who has less democratic representation than any party (including the Greens) on the left, shows a failure of imagination in communication. Arguably, this is the failure of everyone who believes in more social equality – but the environmental lobby can’t escape unscathed.

Bored Board by NaBHaN

Bored Board by NaBHaN

The facts that we’re pushing just aren’t being taken on board by a bored audience.

The Answer
Help is at hand from ancient wisdom – wisdom stretching from China dating over two millennia ago, to the surprising sagacity of Hollywood today:

  • “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.”
    Xunzi, Chinese Confucian Philosopher, 340-245 BC.
  • The only kind of learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered or self-appropriated learning – truth that has been assimilated in experience. – Carl Rogers, American Psychologist, 1902-1987 AD.
  • Fictional Psychologist Sean Maguire, Good Will Hunting, 1998.

But how to share experience?



Unfortunately, environmentalists can’t physically connect everyone to their outside world. We can’t stage other peoples’ journeys of discovery, helping them realise how our interconnected nature means that their actions are affect all of life, and how they can positively affect others by making some different choices.

We don’t have enough time, power, nor moral right, to directly force everyone to this understanding directly.


I know where I’d like to be! Tannenwald (c) Gustav Klimt

But as human beings, we do have the unique ability to inspire. While a small number of species outside H. Sapiens may demonstrate culture, none have been able to express themselves as complexly as we have. Art, in all its forms is an expression of humanity and helps individuals share experiences through a remote medium.

While we seem to be unique in our ability to destroy, the human race is unique in its ability to create and imagine.

My argument is that environmental communicators now need to harness this power. Artists have always been inspired by nature, as have scientists. We now need to bring these two groups together to inspire others in the truth that surrounds them.


So – I am super impressed. Further to last night’s self-flagellation and my email to Marks & Sparks querying the sustainable sourcing of my favourite nut salad – I was expecting at least a few days’ wait for some ethical … Continue reading

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I’ve recently discovered a theory of change which suggests we should appeal to human values rather than rationale – “Common Cause”. Could such a movement could take some cues from religion? Common Cause is a group of researchers who have … Continue reading

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Our Environment – Our Common Pension?

Pensions © guardian.co.uk

Pensions © guardian.co.uk

Us humans have a tendency to undervalue the future compared with our immediate needs. That’s why banks pay us interest on money we don’t spend.

Despite this, and because security is important to us all , many of us have the foresight to save, provisioning for our future old and infirm selves.

At first, we may rally and moan against the short-term sacrifice of saving for pensions, but we soon settle down. We’d rather make a sacrifice in the short-term to ensure our security in the long-term.

Yet governments around the world are unwilling to make the same sort of decision – failing to recognise the value of security in our future.

Ecuadorean Amazon (c) Guardian.co.uk

Ecuadorean Amazon (c) Guardian.co.uk

Ecuador’s announcement of their plans to auction off more than 3 million hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies (as reported by Jonathan Kaiman) is understandable. As described by Ecuador’s Ambassador when addressing the Chinese delegation at talks, this would establish “a win-win relationship” between the two countries. Meeting both Ecuador’s development needs and China’s energy requirements – the arrangement is one which the West could not denigrate without being hypocritical.

Yet this decision prioritises immediate reward over the natural capital offered by forests, important for both national and international security in just decades. Our collective environment is akin to our common pension.

Governments are charged with responsibility, to lead their nation for today and tomorrow, and within that to look after the commons. So we need to let them know, we want to save some for humanity’s future.

Fish Fight’s Value: Getting Us to Give a Damn

Fish_FightHugh’s Fish Fight has come in for a bit of a roasting today.  As plastered over the Twittersphere, Dr Ruth Brown, a scientist interviewed in the TV show’s 2nd episode – has accused the producers of “glaring inaccuracies” regarding their portrayal of bias science and the effects of krill fishing in the Southern Oceans. Worse, her comments seem to have been deleted from the Fish Fight website, appearing to many as an attempted “cover-up”.

Thankfully, this mess-up has now been addressed – with Hugh commenting directly on her accusations, as reported by Fish2Fork here.

But the error has fuelled the fire of criticism. So I want to explain why despite this, and despite many of the shortcomings of the movement frequently cited by both individual fishermen and their representative organisations – I think Hugh’s Fish Fight has tremendous value.

Fish Fight’s crowning achievement is that it reminds everyone in the UK, that UK oceans are collectively, ours.

I know that MPAs are not a black and white issue, I know that fishermen need continued livelihoods – I know that many fishermen work hard to protect the seas that they live in.

Lundy Island (c) Mike Deaton

But I also think that the seas are the “commons”. Sure – they are a source of income for fishermen – but they also provide a whole wealth of ecosystem goods and services and INHERENT values for the rest of us.

Urbanised humans are increasingly disconnected from nature. This, combined with growing political apathy and impenetrable bureaucracy, means that it’s becoming difficult for citizens to think about and investigate, let alone care for, much beyond their house and home. The great outdoors is too great for our attention.

The result is that members of the public interviewed on the beach in Lyme Regis believed that as much as 50% of our oceans were protected for conservation reasons, while the sad truth is we protect less than 1%. As consumers, we don’t know about fish – and so 80% of our purchases consist of only five species – meaning fishermen have to throw the rest of delicious, but unknown species back into the sea.  The wonderment of the oceans is buried beneath the waves; out of sight, out of mind.

Because we don’t know it’s there – we don’t know its ours. And because we don’t know its ours, we don’t value it.

So yes, Fish Fight has some problems, some simplification and doesn’t always give progressive fishermen a fair hearing.

Protesters on the MPA March on 25th February, organised by MCS and Fish Fight.

Protesters on the MPA March on 25th February, organised by MCS and Fish Fight.

BUT –  Hugh is leading people, other than fishermen, to value our seas. He’s leading us, from students in Cardiff, to families in Hampshire, from a super-yacht operator from the Western Highlands (just a selection of the people I met on yesterday’s #127march) to give a damn.

And that, is priceless.


Marine conservation gets political: the FishFight March in Pictures.


Emma Mclaren behind the Greenpeace folks as we gather in front of the London Eye.



Myself & Emma with some friendly sea creatures.


Innovative jellyfish costume.


Elisabeth Whitebread from Pew as a mackerel!



Jack Clarke, the coordinator of the UK’s first ever Community Supported Fishery, Catchbox, and a very nice man dressed as a crab.


Cara Batt from The Wildife Trusts as we wait for Hugh FW.


And Hugh’s Up!


The groups behind #127march


Many dressed the part!


1500-2000 came to the rally.

Why I’m going on the #FishFight MPA March

Whether you believe that the oceans’ integrity is inherently valuable, or there to serve humanity – MPAs are crucial to healthy oceans, functioning properly. 

As citizens of the UK and an increasingly globalised world, its important that we stand up for our rights to the global commons – the oceans. 

Governments already work to recognise to the rights of fishermen- which are hugely important in deciding the fate of our seas, and indeed, their continued livelihoods. 

But as citizens, consumers and inhabitants of this planet – the rest of us also need to make our rights a priority. We need to support our progressive fisheries minister, Richard Benyon MP, by showing that healthy oceans are important to us, and that he has public support in working to protect a greater number of Marine Protected Areas.