Glass half full!

Posted by Ana Nuno

As conservationists, we all know that species are going extinct, pristine ecosystems are being destroyed and major environmental problems are caused by consumers who live thousands of kms away while scientists, policy-makers, politicians and other stakeholders struggle to agree on a way forward. Things are not looking good and some problems may be just starting. Often, the glass looks half empty indeed. But what if our own gloom and doom approach is a reason to blame for conservation failure? For example, the results from a study published last year suggest that, when faced with new information, people seem to be more likely to update their beliefs if the news are positive.

Also, the same study showed that positive future events are imagined closer in time and more vivid than negative events. This unrealistic optimism may well explain why, even if we tell the public that biodiversity loss will have consequences for human health, our message is often ignored. That’s why I welcome the new campaign by IUCN’s Commission on Education and Communication called “Love. Not loss”. This campaign, initially presented in Nagoya in 2010, was launched at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea, last month and aims to incentivize conservationists using the love of nature as a driver of public behavior. Instead of messages of loss, we should be promoting action by "celebrating love"! At the same congress, a motion to create a Green List to assess conservation success was adopted. The Green List for Species will include species identified as “fully conserved” and aims to celebrate success and provide a positive vision for conservation. A green list of well-managed protected areas, an initiative to improve management standards by providing role-models of best practice, is also expected to be launched in a couple of years.

Conservation is a problem-driven science but the public needs to believe that there are feasible solutions, even if not optimal, to these problems so that there is a positive incentive for action. There are successful conservation projects and we have to get better at communicating them so that the less successful ones can gain from it. I welcome this optimistic and proactive approach in conservation that learns from mistakes but doesn’t forget to celebrate and communicate all that has been achieved already! And it’s with this in mind that I hope to hear plenty of positive news from the CoP11 in India which started this week. Of course, I might be crossing a thin line between being optimistic and naive. Here’s a video to get you started into a positive mood: