Is bad news good news for conservation?

If you’re reading this article I imagine that you are either environmentally minded or have some interest in conservation; a very welcomed mind-set. However, there are obviously huge numbers of the population that don’t have such a keen interest or simply don’t care at all. The reason I say this is after watching the last installment of the hunt, which highlighted issues of wild dog numbers dwindling someone commented ‘Is there any good news?’. There are two sides of this imaginary conservation fence: being either active or passive. The percentage of people on each side is an important issue because we need a greater part of the public to engage and care about the natural world.

Every day there are articles suggesting that certain actions are harmful to wildlife, over-fishing, trapping, deforestation, unsustainable products like palm oil and such alike. Campaigns that counteract these are certainly needed and I definitely don’t want to negate the work undertaken but day after day people’s interest is weakened with topics like:

`Over Fishing is killing the local fish stocks`

`Unsustainable products such as coffee or palm oil are killing Orangutans`

`Wood for household items is fuelling deforestation`

`Wild fur from endangered wildlife`

The constant supply of negative language is going to result in a disingenuous response from the public; they may engage with certain conservation topics but soon they will become sick and drained, losing interest if all they hear is what they’re doing has literally no impact. They are spending extra money or extra time in conservation because they want to help, yet it does nothing. Our nature relies on positive feedback through constructive responses from their actions. Doing a good job at work is usually accompanied by gratitude from their boss or a bonus. I definitely am not suggesting paying people to buy or think in an environmental way, but the odd sprinkle of positive message may give significant uplift to any campaign.

From my perspective it doesn’t bother me to hear negative items on the news. I am never fazed. However, everyone else doesn’t share the same nature. Hearing the same bad news over and over is undoubtedly causing a disconnection between society and wildlife. It is the only explanation that I can understand why people don’t care as much as you’d think. Images of orangutans burnt alive or elephants killed for the tusks still results in people who don’t care which I accept to a degree. They don’t have any of these problems on their doorstep, it doesn’t directly affect them, hence there disconnection. Others, however, do have an interest in activities across the globe but don’t know how to tackle it due to huge numbers of headlines and messages that say : “ It is still not enough” . There are so many things in peril, how can anyone choose the right one?

Various news outlets should continue to report items on species in decline or despair because it is horrible news but it could also be because it grabs headlines. What is better?“ Lions are near extinction” or “Lions are doing better now?

This provides us with a dilemma often found in wildlife documentaries about the efforts to conserve and protect wildlife and the environment because of these two distinct groups. With such a split in both public opinion and the eagerness to help we are at a crossroads. First, how to interact with the interested party, giving them relevant information to continue to keep them engaged. Second, how to engage with the unmotivated party to keep them on board. If there is a continuous negative stream it will be exhausting and debilitating to hear that all is still not well enough.

This is a topic that I think has more significance than anyone gives credit for because not everyone is 100% committed to the conservation and preservation of species. The people who aren’t 100% are certainly not immoral people but probably more sane and normal than the hard-core conservationists. It seems, however, that the current method of bombarding the public with negative stories and rhetoric pushed out on the news and social media is exhausting and counterproductive, a constant stream of negative or repetitive news switches people off, which then has a negative effect.

An example of it being done in a different way is through the film ‘Racing Extinction’ and the spectacle shown around the globe because of it. The reason I wanted to highlight this is because there is no pessimistic language simply an  image in New York or the Vatican stating one fact. The images shown are of animals that soon will no longer be with us. Blame is only implied never spoken, a fact I’m sure many understood, but was never in bright lights. It means society has to reach a certain level of comprehension about the horrible activities take place in this world and for them to get involved and counteract it by their choosing alone.

It could be that things are pretty dire, a version I actually accept, because of climate change, unsolicited extraction of wildlife for food and various other activities that affects the animal kingdom. Informing the public of the positive outcomes if they choose to do good deeds or change habits that effect the environment is crucial. It may help and urge society to do more and to transfer their thoughts and practices to other people. Once the compliment is given to people, in other words, once the negative is removed, they may think positively about buying sustainably or not buying fur. To physically see the impacts would encourage them to share it with friends, increasing in speed and vigour that would have far-reaching positive impact helping the animal kingdom.

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I am a trained geologist who has a passion for conservation and working with wildlife. I write articles that interest me and that I am passionate about using skills and knowledge to highlight issues related to climate change. I don’t write articles for views, I write them to change views.

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