originally published May 23, 2007 by Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
Much emphasis in traditional conservation is paced on ‘charismatic megafauna,’ meaning the species that we all know and love. The heroes of the big screen. Save the Oceans for Flipper and Free Willy. Keep those penguins marching and the polar bears drinking Coca-Cola. Market the smiling dolphins, the majestic blue whales, and those adorable baby seals. ‘Save the Sea Cucumber‘ just doesn’t have the same clout. Package your landscape or region of choice under the umbrella of huggable marine mammal and everyone’s on board to clean up the next oil spill and protest dynamite fishing. All in all, a good strategy.. but wait, who are these masses you’re appealing to?
The superstar that will really make waves in conservation isn’t any of the aforementioned lovable cuddly ocean dwellers. In fact, the most critical of species is repeatedly overlooked. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Homo sapiens sapiens. That’s right people.
You see, as a global population, the ‘animal lover in all of us’ only goes so far. Take oil drilling in the outer continental shelf. While we generally don’t want tankers colliding with manatees, socioeconomic incentives such as decreased dependence on foreign oil and national security also happen to be aspects of the big picture. In other words, the broad perspective includes key economic drivers and this game is all about spin (I believe this is one area where Chris may hold a different view). Residents and policymakers will not want to see tar balls rolling up on their beaches in a state maintaining high revenues from tourism. It’s these factors that are most apt to drive policy decisions.
The challenge for environmentalists is to speak with regard to the human element of important issues. Make the connection between our actions and their impacts on us. Are we really a society of egomaniacs? Well no, but we are apt to be motivated when our lifestyle and purse-strings may be at stake.
Charismatic megafauna mostly appeal to those already convinced, but when human interests are part of the big picture, new possibilities abound. For action, as scientists we must present our message and rationale in a way that makes it personally relevant to everyone. Frame it right!
Expect a last post on urgency, spin, and politics around 3:30 pm.