Love. Not Loss. Communicating Biodiversity

20 October 2010 | News story

One of the most powerful points coming out of Nagoya, made both explicitly and also hidden in the maelstrom of debate around biodiversity policy, is the way we communicate is fundamental to the success of biodiversity conservation, writes Laurie Bennett, member of IUCN's Commission on Education and Communication.

Whether at the highest levels of political wrangling, or at the grass roots of public action, communication is the glue that sticks policy and action together. Persuasion, as well as policy, is key to ringing the political and public change required to safeguard the nature on which we depend.

Today IUCN’s Commission on Education and Communication held a side event entitled ‘Bringing Science to Life’. The event was designed to challenge ‘traditional’ ways of communicating biodiversity messages. With the climax of Countdown 2010 marking the end of one era, and the beginning of another, IUCN are challenging biodiversity communicators to turn over a new leaf too.

The event was presided over by CEC chairman Keith Wheeler, who started the session with a premiere of the CEC’s film for Nagoya, Love. Not Loss. The panel of experts included Frits Hesselink, special advisor to the chair, Laurie Bennett, Head of Strategy at Futerra Sustainability Communications, David Ainsworth, Policy Officer for the CBD and Florence Clap, Biodiversity Policy Officer for IUCN France.

The presentations covered the major challenges that biodiversity communicators face, from the psychology of the audience to the infrastructural hurdles of funding and resources.

Frits called for communication to sit higher up the biodiversity agenda. Rather than being called in once the decisions are made, communicators can and should help to shape debate and make policy accessible. It’s time that scientists trust communicators to take their findings and translate them into palatable messages for the wider community.

Laurie used Futerra’s latest publication, Branding Biodiversity, as a platform to challenge communicators to focus on Love not Loss. Extinction messages are built on guilt, and making people feel guilty doesn’t make them act. We need to celebrate the awe and wonder we all feel for nature, and use that to inspire people towards a positive future, rather than scare them away from an extinction crisis. He added that the economic findings coming out of reports like TEEB should be handled with care. While they are perfect ammunition to target policy makers, they risk undermining emotional connections the public have with nature.

David demonstrated the success that the International Year of Biodiversity has had putting a more positive approach into action. He showcased case stories from around the world, including intrepid Belgian travellers, and Google’s Doodle competition to inspire kids about biodiversity.

Florence’s campaign ‘La Biodiversite c’est ma nature’, has been a hit with celebrities and the public alike in France. Working with the CEC, the campaign has drafted a challenge to policy makers, and gets support for it in fun and creative ways.

The new message was applauded by John Francis, VP Research, Conservation, & Exploration at the National Geographic Society, whose new documentary Great Migrations is all about the Love message. An Ethopian delegate confirmed that Love not Loss is not an approach confined to the urban West, and UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttal called for consistency of message across all communications platforms.

Clearly there is the potential to shake up the biodiversity message. Together we can inject it with inspiration, move it out of the shadow of complex scientific subject, and into the light of the world’s most inspiring stories.