A Love Story Can Save Our Planet

Lonesome George, last of the Pinta Island Tortoises. (CC putneymark, 2007)

“100 critically endangered species at the brink of extinction”

“Only 3000 tigers left in wild”

“36 football fields deforested each minute”

Grim, isn’t it? The world we manage seems to get worse every day and all we can do is shake our heads in helplessness. We want to do something, anything, but all we feel is a pervasive sense of gloom and a slow-spreading paralysis. We are fast losing most of our natural wealth and we seem unable to reverse the situation. Why do we not jump up and save the world? If anything, these frightening messages of “irreparable loss” have the opposite effect on most of us. We end up pulling a warm, fuzzy blanket over our heads and try to bury ourselves in a little bit deeper.

The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one of the world’s largest conservation agencies, seems to think so too. At the recently concluded World Conservation Congress, held at Jeju, South Korea, the Communication & Education arm of IUCN (CEC) launched a new campaign that hopes to step away from the traditional “gloom & doom” rhetoric. Designed and executed by UK-based Futerra Sustainability Communications, the “Love. Not Loss” campaign is attempting to change the way we think about conservation. The overall takeaway is to use the language of love, a deep-seated connection with Nature that is within all of us, to kick start dialogues around conservation. Most of us (even the most in-bred city dweller) has a happy memory of growing a plant, caring for a pet or spending a lovely day outdoors. By channeling the more serious agenda of conservation  through these inherent feelings of wonder for the natural world, IUCN is hoping that conservationists worldwide will be able to rekindle our love for Nature.

This short (and beautifully executed) clip explains their thought process;

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“Love. Not Loss” is based on “Branding Biodiversity”, a 2010 report by IUCN/Futerra that argues for a brand-driven approach towards conservation, the kind of thinking that has made Apple into a consumer goods giant. If brands can sell products, companies and lifestyles, why not Nature? In the process of creating a brand, they identify four distinct types of messages surrounding conservation efforts;

  • Loss:  Messages based on extinction and destruction. Most of the information on biodiversity today falls under this category, originating primarily from the scientific community.
  • Love:  Messages based on our fascination for Life. The popularity of nature documentaries can be explained by our inherent awe for all things wild.
  • Need:  Messages based on economics is a fairly recently phenomenon. Here, the emphasis is on the “value” of services that Nature provides or how Nature is useful to us in stark, monetary terms.
  • Action: Messages that focus on what the individual can do to protect the environment, from planting trees to buying rainforest-friendly products.

The problem plaguing conservation efforts has been the mismatch between type of message and intended audience. While science-based evidence of habitat loss and species extinction is perfectly understood by biologists, they have very little impact on our everyday lives. Economics and “value” based calculations are great for policy-makers, they just don’t translate well for the rest of us.  What could work for getting people from all walks of life to think about biodiversity is the formula of “Love + Action”. Remind us of all the magical things about our planet, make us fall in love again and then point out ways to act upon those feelings. A interesting approach? Undoubtedly. Panacea? No. There is no guarantee that such a message will appeal to all, some might dismiss it as sentimental or patronizing. There is also the risk of appearing to sweep hard truths under the rug and lose the sense of urgency conservation issues demand. However, it is a fresh and powerful way to rejuvenate biodiversity communications and bring a sense of joy into the work of protecting our home. A love story could very well be our ticket to a sustainable future.

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For conservationists who feel a bit like this;

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IUCN recommends three principles for creating engaging conservation communication campaigns using the “Love. Not Loss” framework.

Personalize: Use local pride, familiar landmarks and stories to link conservation to everyday life.

Humanize: Accept that people want to participate because it makes them feel good and don’t be afraid to anthropomorphize Nature.

Publicize: Promote positives over the negatives. Make conservation actions and their results highly visible.

To build that world-changing conservation campaign, dive right into “Branding Biodiversity” by IUCN and Futerra.

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