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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

For the love of nature. Engaging people in action on climate change and biodiversity loss.

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

If we are to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, it seems clear that governments and citizens need to take action to reduce carbon emissions and halt the destructions of habitats that support biodiversity.

This self-evident statement begs two questions:

(1) What citizen actions are efficacious in terms of halting global temperature rise, and protection of habitats?

This is difficult to determine, as we have yet to see large-scale positive outcomes; global temperatures are still rising, habitats are still being destroyed, more and more species are becoming extinct, despite much activism.

2019, which saw mass lobbing on climate e.g. the Time Is Now mass lobby of the UK Parliament on 26 June 2019 organised by the Climate Coalition; and mass non-violent direct actions e.g. the Extinction Rebellion "rebellions" of 2019; ended with the election of a climate-change-denying government in the UK.

We must try to find out what actions result in real outcomes in terms of ameliorating global warming and biodiversity loss and avoid activism that feels good but achieves little, and avoid inaction

(2) What motivates people to engage in citizen action in halting climate change and biodiversity loss?

The lack of real outcomes from current activism, and the global hiatus of covid-19, both the medical emergency and the economic crisis the medical emergency that has necessitated focussing on covid-19, is likely result in decreased engagement in climate change and biodiversity loss action.

How can re-motivate people to act for the climate and biodiversity?

I would suggest that what motivates action is love of nature; not anger - although anger with multinational corporations harming nature and governments' often misguided and insufficient action on nature is certainly justified; not fear, although to be frightened of the future of life on the planet is an adaptive emotional response to the world as it is. Anger and fear may motivate action initially, but long-term engagement in action is, I believe, ultimately motivated by love.

The love of nature (animals, plants and their ecosystems) needs to be nurtured as a source of motivation for action.

There are various examples of formal interventions that attempt to promote the love of nature. The annual New Zealand Bird of the Year vote (November 2020), for example, engaged many citizens in New Zealand, of all ages, classes and ethnicities to celebrate and love birds; although it unclear how long the benefits of this sort of intervention last, and whether they motivate action that achieves outcomes. However, the campaigning of individual teams supporting species to win the title "bird if the Year" involved informal education about the importance of habitats and how to conserve them. The sense of humour that was shown by the rival teams (scientists, volunteer conservationists and "ordinary" citizens) in their attempts to get "their" bird elected engendered positive emotion (which is often a motivator of action).

Another factor in engendering this love of nature was it was New Zealanders' (European and Maori) nature - it was "their" nature.

Whilst it is really important to care about all nature, including that far away from you, often love of nature starts with nature close at hand; local animals and plants that are (or should be) familiar to everyone.

Ensuring that people have opportunities for formal and informal encounters with nature close to them seems particularly important. There is a clear role for organisations like the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB to widen opportunities for all in nature and support people to access nature; specifically with those on lower incomes and those who may, for other reasons such as disabilities, have difficulty in accessing nature.

The house sparrow or hedgehog or fox in your garden may well engender a love of nature that is more palpable than consideration of a polar bear, a panda, or an antipodean albatross, however exotic, beautiful and endangered these animals are.

I would suggest that if we want to stay motivated to act to halt climate change and biodiversity loss, forming an ongoing relationship with the sparrows in your garden (or the hedgehogs or fox who visits your garden, if you are lucky enough to have visiting hedgehogs or foxes) or the wild animals in close-by environments (herons, little egrets, kingfishers and cormorants in Shoreham Harbour or Widewater Lagoon for me) is a great way to remain motivated. The closeness of our encounters with nature around us is, I believe, a main source of the love that motivates action.



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