“When it comes to communication about the environment and conservation, the need to come together, think together and work together has never been greater.”
Tim Scoones – ex BBC Natural History Unit executive producer, life-long, passionate biologist and conservationist, and the conference host for Communicate 2017 – shares a personal view on how environmental communicators can navigate change in a modern world where relentless social, environmental and technological change seems to be becoming the new normal.
It’s safe to say that we live in interesting times. Some see chaos, others see revolution – all recognise persistent change in turbulent times and few would dare to predict the future with confidence. When it comes to communication about the environment and conservation, the need to come together, think together and work together has never been greater.
It’s therefore with great pride that I have accepted the role of host at this year’s Communicate conference – a practical, useful and inspiring annual opportunity to swap ideas and share best (and worst !) practises between practitioners and professionals from across the environmental sector. This year’s conference theme is “Navigating Change”.
We live in a pivotal era. Our current generation finds the human race at a crossroads, with a huge and unique decision to take about where this generation takes Planet Earth – our only home (…. despite the name of the recent hugely successful BBC TV series, there is no “Planet Earth 2”, folks ….!).
Our generation has a unique – some might say awesome – responsibility : it’s the first generation of the human race that not only has the knowledge and the communication ability to know what’s happening – and what’s going wrong – with our planet, but it’s also the first generation that has the knowledge and the communication ability to do something about it. To me, this is a revolutionary thought. This is no fake news, political spin or “alternative fact” – the situation is real, the responsibility is ours and the opportunity is now.
Many find the pace of change, and the size of the task, daunting to the point of paralysis. Whether it’s the pace of climate change, the speed of species extinction or the scale of habitats lost, it can all seem too steep and slippery a mountain to climb. Then there are the enormous changes in the way we communicate, the way we receive and process information and the way we form opinions and organise ourselves – even these previously reliable goalposts are moving with unprecedented speed.
Then there are the power shifts in how we make decisions and control outcomes, with the emergence of new ways of thinking, being and acting together. The old days of “this is how it’s always been” politics, of trusted institutions and experts, of established traditional societal tribes which think and behave in predictable ways, are giving way to a new, globalised, digital, social democracy of the empowered individual and the impassioned community, which often forgets to recognise the traditional boundaries and expectations of authority, nationality or heritage.
So are we all now doomed to a world of chaos and disruption, controlled by self-serving spin-doctors, sound bytes and social media bandwagons, where the environment – still a given as the source of our biological survival, not to mention our emotional wellbeing – is rarely even mentioned, let alone addressed ? We might be …. if, that is, we decide to be the generation that chooses to do nothing with the great responsibility – and opportunity – before us.
However, for those of us for whom the cup will always remain resolutely half full, this is a call to arms, a chance to make a lasting difference and a moment to see not chaos but opportunity – an opportunity to re-think and re-assess our place in the world, and our responsibility to it. It’s a chance to be remembered as the generation that stepped up and addressed the issues that we are now capable of resolving.
So the onus is on us as environmental communicators to up our game; to see the world as it is, not how we would like it to be; to escape our comfortable self-validating echo chambers and to identify and understand the audiences who might not share our world view, but who we need to reach, inspire and persuade.
In an era where conflict and division seem to be on the rise, the Communicate conference on 1st and 2nd November represents a welcome opportunity to come together, to think together and to work together towards our common goal of environmental communication that is both relevant and resonant for the many different audiences we need to reach.
So please join us for insights from other worlds – behavioural and social science, government, big business and grass roots movements. Prepare to explore new tools for success, where our rapidly changing world requires us to navigate through it ever more effectively – or risk being ignored.
I believe that the future is green – it has to be, as there is currently no viable alternative for the human race in the long term – and it’s for us communicators to present the facts, tell the stories and find the connections that allow people to see their own way forward in these interesting times of unprecedented change.
Communicate is the UK’s conference for environmental communicators, bringing together over 150 delegates each year to develop their skills, share best practice and debate the latest issues in engaging people with the natural world.
Join us at Bristol Zoo Gardens for this year’s Communicate conference on 1st and 2nd November 2017
Communicate 2017 is sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council www.esrc.ac.uk