How do we translate our concerns about nature into interventions that will make a meaningful difference? In this session, we will concentrate on creative of modes of intervention, ways in which we can actively remake ideas about nature, by popularising and politicising our concerns. Let’s explore how to challenge, or disrupt ways of thinking about nature, how to narrate possible natures, how to create a public sense of identification with nature, and how to motivate action. The challenges you will need to address include how to talk about environmental problems in ways that will resonate with your audiences, how to intensify and mobilise concerns about the more-than-human world, and how to establish meaningful mechanisms for navigating and intervening in decision-making processes.
There’s a number of potential starting points for launching into action. First, you want to decide what you want to achieve with your creative intervention. Do you want to address a specific problem, celebrate nature, acknowledge our interconnections with the wider world, or advocate for a particular outcome? Once you have identified your focus, the next step is to determine how you want your audiences or participants to respond to your intervention. What do you want them to think, feel, or do? And then comes the fun part. What is your creative idea, that will achieve your desired responses? And what will you actually do? Will your intervention be artistic, discursive, or performative? Here are some ideas to help you.
First mode of intervention: Challenging or disrupting ways of talking about nature is a key technique for increasing the awareness of mainstream audiences. One of my favourite ads is the World Wide Fund for Nature Ben Lee and Leo Burnett collaboration that depicts a chimpanzee travelling in space, and the subsequent return to a desolate, abandoned Earth. The “Song For The Divine Mother” lyrics, particularly the refrain, “Your love is everything,” coupled with the final text, “It’s not a planet, It’s our home,” evoked a very strong emotional response.
Although I knew the ad targeted our destruction of environments, I was so disturbed by the images of a chimpanzee alone in space, that I explored what it was like for space chimpanzees and watched the YouTube video about Ham, the first chimpanzee astronaut. For me, the WWF video was very successful in raising my awareness and concern about our relationship with non-humans, and raised broader questions over animal justice. It was, however, less clear what I should do with this concern. Perhaps, in your own work, you may like to think about whether you can achieve what you want by creating a shared sense of collaboration, and opening up multiple public agendas and opportunities for action.
Second mode of intervention: Narrating nature. If you adopt a discursive approach to intervention, and opt for re-storying nature, you will need to consider issues related to representational politics. Julia Roberts’ narration as Mother Nature, in one of the “Nature is Speaking” films, prompts us to think about how we may narrate and represent nature. Although the approach is very much grounded in a dualistic framing, it is a useful illustration of how we make a voice to nature. The key message, “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature,” is a provocation that has the potential to challenge how we make sense of our relationship with the wider world. Digital stories, too, are an effective way of documenting nature.
On their YouTube channel, Friends Of The Earth share ordinary peoples’ testimonies about how climate change is impacting on their lives. This type of ordinary effect, the ability to connect with our everyday lives, is more likely to resonate at an emotional level, and capture the public imagination.
Third mode of intervention: Creating a sense of identification. Social media opens up numerous possibilities for creative, clever interventions that resonate with your audience’s concerns, values, and attachments. Seek ways to create emotional connections, and use everyday language that your audiences will identify with. Check out @MaryLeeShark, a playful fake Twitter account for a real tagged great white shark, whose movements are tracked online. Experts, such as scientists, often struggle to create identification, because they use professional jargon. In this social media example, the short tweets about Mary Lee’s travel, and how she pings with her gal pal, shark Katherine, serve to connect us with sharks and the scientific research that they are involved in.
The tweets remind us that sharks have their own wild lives, and subtly influence public attitudes.
Fourth mode of intervention: Motivating action. Is it enough to intensify public concerns, and create a sense of identification? Or do you want to motivate social, corporate, and political change? If so, you will be involved in advocacy and activism. For many of us, LEGOs seemed like innocent children’s toys. However, in 2014, Greenpeace released a global campaign that targeted of the co-branded relationship between Shell and LEGO. The aim of the campaign was to highlight the role of Shell in the exploitation of arctic oil reserves, and to protest the normalisation of the Shell brand to children.
Greenpeace circulated an online petition, staged protests, and developed a video titled Everything Is Awesome, that anchored the campaign, and led to a viral avalanche of social media protest. The level of public condemnation of the LEGO-Shell co-branding relationship, had the potential to seriously damage LEGO’s brand, reputation, and customer loyalty. So the relationship with Shell was abandoned. Rendering concerns visible, and creating avenues for people to express their concerns is an extremely powerful provocation technique that can result in significant changes in corporate or government policy and practises. If you are interested in how social media may be used to express concerns, please check out the Sea Shepherd “Whale Wars” online site.
It challenges and disrupts how we understand our relationship with the environment, powerfully narrates encounters at sea, creates a very strong sense of identification and moral outrage, and offers a number of actions we can take. At the same time, take note of the creative and communicative techniques at play. At the heart of all of these interventions I’ve discussed, is a democratic imperative that calls upon us to open up possibilities for public participation in decision-making processes, and drive change.