Love. Not Loss: A New Way to Talk About Biodiversity

by Melissa Harding

Above image from the IUCN’s Love. Not Loss campaign.

Let’s talk about biodiversity. When you think about biodiversity, you may think of a diversity of species, but do you also think of all the ecosystem services that a biodiverse region provides? Clean air and water, medicine, and erosion prevention are just a few intrinsic benefits that human beings receive from a biodiverse region. Conserving biodiversity includes tackling big environmental issues; how we solve these problems will greatly impact how a region’s plants and animals adapt and survive. However, the way we talk about biodiversity, especially to children, does not always bring these ideas across very well. It can be alternately alarmist and ineffective. The reality is that if our current way of talking about biodiversity was effective, we wouldn’t be losing so much of it.

Fortunately, the IUCN may have a solution. The IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization and acts as a neutral place for governments, NGOs, scientists and businesses to find pragmatic environmental solutions. The IUCN tackles hundreds of conservation projects every year and wields influence with its many member organizations, even having official Observer Status at the United Nations General Assembly. One of the IUCN’s committees, the Commission on Education and Communication, has recently launched a new campaign on biodiversity using positive messaging to get people engaged in the conservation message.

“Love. Not Loss” is based on the idea that inspiring awe, wonder and fascination with the power of nature is the most effective way to reach the public about the importance of biodiversity. Why is that? According to the IUCN, “Research on adults who care about biodiversity reveals the single most important factor behind taking action is an emotionally powerful childhood experience of nature, from a visit to a city farm to stroking a wild animal. When people experience a memorable natural encounter as a child, that experience can be reawakened in the adult. People who got outdoors and enjoyed nature as children are more likely to be environmentally responsible adults”. This not only speaks to the power of natural experiences in childhood, but also to our ability to recall them and the emotions that they elicited years later.

IUCN’s Love. Not Loss video “How to Tell a Love Story”; great examples of positive conservation messaging.

The three core aspects of this campaign are 1.) localizing its focus to regional species, 2.) humanizing the message and 3.) talking about the people behind conservation successes. The goal is to combine this positive messaging with a call to action. These two things together are what the IUCN are hoping will create a real shift in conservation attitudes and actions. As an educator, this approach resonates because of the pervasiveness of negative messaging in environmental education for children. Sometimes doom and gloom are the main motivators of a program, which can scare and guilt children; students who are given negative messaging retain less information and are less likely to make an attitude change than when given a positive environmental message (Source).  Another danger is that a focus on loss and extinction can often lead to apathy and inaction (Source). We should be inspiring our students towards opportunity instead of scaring them away from consequences. It is entirely possible to engage our students and inspire action, not fear.

Hand in hand with that, we should always be striving to provide the kind of outdoor and environmental education experiences that will allow our students to form a connection with the resource. Inspiring a love of nature in our young students will create a new generation of conservationists who ready to take action. Parents and families play a crucial role in this. While a field trip or visit can be amazing, continuous and positive outdoor exposure is what creates a sense of place and love of nature.

IUCN has also created a series of short, funny films to promote their campaign.

As part of their new campaign, the IUCN has put out a series of short films and images that focus on positive messages; they are hoping that educators, students, scientists and citizens will share them and pass the love on. They are also encouraging students to create their own Love stories and share them with the IUCN’s Twitter and Facebook followers. This could be a great project for a class or home school group.

Do you have any important nature memories from your childhood that shaped who you are today?
Share them with us in the comments below.

5 Comments to “Love. Not Loss: A New Way to Talk About Biodiversity”

  1. A positive thinking I liked it……

  2. Thanks for sharing this article, we’re really pleased to have you sharing the Love Not Loss message and it’s great to read of the experience with the dolphins. It’s true that having direct childhood experiences with nature can be a driving factor in our attitudes as adults.

    • Thank you so much for your kind reply! We are very excited to be able to share the Love. Not Loss message and encourage both teachers and parents to promote positive environmental messages. We are always striving to give our students memorable experiences that will resonate with them for a lifetime.

  3. I became a marine conservationist after being given a gift of ‘Adopt a dolphin’ with WDCS when I was 11. I learned about the resident bottlenose dolphins of Northern Scotland and loved the marine environment ever since. 10 years later I actually got to go to the place where the dolphins lived as part of my university studies (on how boats and tourism are impacting them), and saw one of the dolphins in the Adoption program. The positive message of an iconic marine environment, conservation goals and ongoing educational experience over the years really influenced me. I think IUCN has got it completely right: a message of love, hope, wonder and inspiration is a thousand times better than negativity. For children, and for everyone.

    • Thanks for sharing your beautiful story. I find that many people who work in the environmental field have similar stories of moving and important childhood experiences. Your experiences with the dolphins are a great reminder that inspirational messages are so powerful and I am glad that it has led you to a fulfilling conservation career.

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