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As you read the latest from Lakoff below ask yourself what reframing should conservationists work on?
Normally I would never post a link to a story in Reason, a right-wing magazine. But I consider this particular story a tribute to the power of your voices and your actions.
The writer of this piece is upset that we are reframing regulations as protections. He’s upset because he even sees regulations being framed as protections in the pages of the newspapers.
He attributes this to the work we have done to raise awareness among journalists, elected officials, and our fellow citizens that, from the Public viewpoint, regulations are protections. And most regulations come into existence to protect the public from harm by irresponsible or unscrupulous corporations.
Specifically, the author references an essay I posted in January — aptly titled “Regulations Are Protections.” He does a great job of repeating all of our arguments in an effort to negate them. In other words, he’s saying: Don’t think of protections!
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Science, supported by federal tax dollars and unhindered by federal politicians, helped make America the envy of all nations. George Lakoff’s blog post provides food for thought on this relationship.
The enormous role played by science — especially government-sponsored science — in our everyday lives is barely appreciated.
Start with modern medicine. We, the public, paid for it through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and research universities where the medical researchers, surgeons, doctors and nurses were trained, and where tools like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) developed. Modern drugs were also developed through basic research sponsored by NIH. Modern medicine is the dividend of our investment over decades in medical science.
Next, computers. Computer science didn’t just appear. It was developed through grants from National Science Foundation (NSF) and Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARP). The Internet was developed by the Defense Department. It was originally called the Arpanet. Satellites were developed through NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Defense Department, with vast amount of new science: rocket fuels, physics, new materials for rocket shells, advances…
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What role might conservationists play in the future of humanity?
Conservation is a means to an end. Conservation cannot and is not disconnected from human activities. We conservationists do not ask questions and test assumptions for mere entertainment. There is a purpose for conservation. It is to conserve parts of the planet so that we humans might survive and thrive and all those things we need for our minds and bodies – including those “cogs and wheels” we may not appreciate at the moment.
Humans, and in particular, we Americans, are increasingly aware of what’s at risk from human development activities but we seem…understandably…unwilling to connect those pressures to our lives and choices we make each day. In other words, we refuse to own our piece of the mess. Where does conservation and conservationists come into the picture?
Perhaps the future of conservation is informing and inspiring the essential pursuit of sustainable human thriving? If so, we must do so skillfully. “Informing” others is risky. We could harm friendships or future budgets. Our communications would have to be grounded in science. We would use scientific evidence to guide not just our behaviors but our engagement too. Skillful engagement guided by social science is necessary to lead others through adaptations that are required.
What does this look like for conservation professionals? At a coarse level it likely means a shift of budget and effort that maximizes data interpretation and minimizes data collection and mitigation. In short, we’d gather or examine evidence of impacts on flagship fish and wildlife species and their environment. We’d create and share that story with the public. The obvious example is the plight of polar bears. Rather than talk population trends with a quiet mention of sea ice loss, we’d skillfully engage others in discussions not just about polar bears and loss of sea ice, but…most importantly…the cause of sea ice loss. We conservationists would also set an example in our work and life that acknowledges and reduces that cause. We’d seek to reduce the footprint of our work while owning the irony of burning fossil fuels to capture a polar bear.
Just like the resistance to loss we face when contemplating a change in our personal behaviors, conservationists leading this change must consider the resistance fellow conservationists will offer. Changing the traditional model of conservation from primarily scientific exploration to citizen engagement would surely be met with much resistance. History has shown when managers face budget reductions they consider biological capacity as primary and public engagement as optional while ironically the latter is cheaper and most essential for agents of the public.
Perhaps the adaptation required today and in the future mustn’t be viewed by conservationists as the loss of our identity but gaining relevance to our customers and our children. We’d merely let go of a bit of one type of cultural DNA no longer essential to make room for another. This adaptation wouldn’t require letting go of all biologists and data collection but shifting some of that capacity to the interpretation of scientific evidence and skillful engagement of the public.
What do you think?
Is conservation communication using the right language? Read this post from George Lakoff and reflect on the messages our profession has used and how we might change.
Journalists are bravely standing up to Trump’s attacks on the free press, as they should. Yet one way in which they’re expressing their solidarity and resistance shows how little most journalists know about political framing and messaging.
Case in point: Trump has labeled journalists as “enemies.” So, journalists have responded by labeling themselves “#NotTheEnemy.” This hashtag is currently trending on Twitter, which is unfortunate. Adopting this slogan is a big mistake that helps Trump.
Anyone who has read my books or taken my classes at Berkeley will immediately understand why. For those new to political framing and messaging, I’ll explain briefly here.
Quick: Don’t think of an elephant!
Now, what do you see? The bulkiness, the grayness, the trunkiness of an elephant. You can’t block the picture – the frame – from being accessed by your unconscious mind. As a professor in the cognitive and brain sciences, this is the…
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On November 22, 2017 the next president of the United States met with staff of the New York Times and said this:
I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important.
And with that statement I found common values with a person who will be my next boss. This discovery is fascinating to me so I decided to explore those values a bit and the federal legacy he’ll be inheriting.
We agree clean air is vitally important. According to the World Health Organization air pollution kills more people than any other environmental reason – more than seven-million men, women and children in 2012 – with about half dying from outdoor air pollution.
In the US emissions from road transportation and power generation caused the highest number of premature deaths (cutting a person’s life short by about a decade). While one death is too many, 200,000 US deaths out of about four million worldwide may show we’re on the right track.
We have this information because US voters and taxpayers have made America great by funding efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency and others to reduce pollutants, and study and monitor air pollution and human health in compliance with the Clean Air Act.
We agree again! Clean water is vitally important. Here again from a global perspective contaminated drinking water kills nearly one-million people per year and sickens over 200-million more.
Here at home, the federally-funded Center for Disease Control, reported “32 drinking water–associated outbreaks… accounting for at least 431 cases of illness, 102 hospitalizations, and 14 deaths [2011-2012].” Sources of those outbreaks are broken into two categories – community and non-community. The main source within community drinking water was unregulated plumbing within hospitals and hotels. The main source of non-community water pollution was unregulated drinking water contamination from ground water sources.
Again, fourteen deaths are regrettable and should have been prevented. But when you look at the overall quality of our drinking water thanks to the Clean Water Act and the EPA you have to believe America has great water and is the envy of most nations.
I’m thankful president-elect Trump values clean air and water. I believe every child has an inalienable right to those things as well as healthy food to eat and natural areas in which to play and learn. I hope he does too. And I hope he learns what has led America to have perhaps the greatest set of environmental protection programs on the planet and makes them even more tremendous. Believe me.