There is no doubt that the natural world is in decline. In fact, species are going extinct faster than they have since the fall of the dinosaurs (Worrall, 2014). But how does one encourage others to take meaningful action to reverse this trend?
As explained in Common Cause for Nature: A Practical Guide to Values and Frames in Conservation, the answer is not to frighten people. Nor is it to flood them with numbers. Instead, we need to understand that human behavior often has more to do with emotion than reason (Butler, 2015). Rather than lamenting this fact, we should use it. Common Cause for Nature is full of practical advice that will help conservationists tap into the subjective drivers of human behavior. Importantly, all of its suggestions are based on science.
Developed by the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC), Common Cause for Nature devotes special attention to human values. Through years of research, the PIRC has uncovered enlightening information about how values shape human behavior. According to Common Cause, universal human values can be divided into two super-categories: intrinsic and extrinsic values.
Intrinsic values underlie many pro-social behaviors. They center around the sub-categories of benevolence (e.g. kindness towards others), universalism (e.g. social equality and unity with nature), and self-direction (e.g. independence). The second super-category, extrinsic values, contains the sub-groups of power and achievement. They include values related to personal wealth and success, respectively.
The authors of Common Cause found that appealing to intrinsic values is an effective way to encourage socially responsible behavior. Activating extrinsic values is not only ineffective for conservation purposes, but counterproductive. The reason for this is that the two super-categories mutually oppose one another. This means that communicating in monetary terms can suppress the very values conservationists should be promoting. This carries important implications for the practice of ecosystem valuation (determining how much money nature is worth).
Another eye-opening concept discussed in Common Cause for Nature is the spillover effect. When a value is activated, it will also trigger related ones. For example, thinking about social justice can make individuals more concerned about the environment. Therefore conservation organizations would benefit from promoting compassion towards wildlife and people. Few groups do this better than the Snow Leopard Trust.
Common Cause for Nature is an enlightening and important book. It contains many lessons on how to spark behavior changes that will create a better future for all. Significantly, all of the recommendations in Common Cause are founded on scientific research. For these reasons, Common Cause for Nature is the newest addition to this site’s Recommended Reading section.
R Hawkins (2012, July 4). Common Cause for Nature [Blog]. Retrieved from http://valuesandframes.org/initiative/nature/.