16 March 2006

Global Warming & Other Misnomers

A couple of weeks ago, Seth Godin challenged the term "Global Warming" as being too warm and fuzzy to garner the necessary action to thwart it. (See my post with link to his: Seth Godin on the trouble with "Global Warming".) This is just one example of the backward way in which we currently frame issues in the conservation movement.

Here's another one that I'm wrestling with at the moment. Nature provides a range of life-sustaining gifts to the rest of us: food, shelter from storms, climate regulation, water, and livelihoods. All pretty important stuff, wouldn't you say?

Yet economists, ecologists, and even ecological economists are stumped to come up with a better phrase than "ecosystem services." (Amory Lovins and Paul Hawken called it "Natural Capital," which might be closer to the mark.)

As a colleague said to me today, "Ecosystem services sounds like some guy pulling up with a truck to clean out your septic system."

We need to think about how we frame and name our issues, whether significant threats like the climate crisis or the benefits to human beings provided by nature.

I tend to agree with the authors of The Millennium Development Goals and Conservation: Managing Nature's Wealth for Society's Health who wrote, "We could do with the creativity of an advertising agency to craft new terms to inspire the popular imagination with the scale of the challenge we face." Any takers? I'd love to hear from you.

(Image: Sam Blanc and early Roto-Rooter machine from Wikipedia contributors, "Roto-Rooter," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Roto-Rooter&oldid=39733234 (accessed March 17, 2006).)

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Anonymous said...

I'm with you. I saw that post of Seth's and thought "Yes, so what's the answer?" I don't think that his climate cancer is right, and climate crisis doesn't quite do it either, though it's better. I'd love to see a more marketing oriented approach in the conservation movement. Seth offers non-profits free seats in his seminars - since we know that this is an issue he's interested in, why not try to attend the next one? Bet you could get a seat, and make a huge difference just in naming.

The Green Skeptic said...

Good idea. I sent him this post and he responded, so I'll ask him about the next seminar.

I'm also thinking of trying to organize a session with various marketing gurus to wrestle with these two issues, plus how to better define the links between biodiversity conservation and human well-being and poverty alleviation. Important, but not well-articulated links. Might be another opportunity to loop someone like Seth into such a dialogue.

john dodds said...

Ecosystem services is dire. Reminds me of Gilliam's Brazil where central services serviced you centrally!

Natural Capital is clearly better. It conveys the idea of something that can be positively enhanced but can also be denuded in a way that is clearly a bad thing. However it is still wishy washy.

I think you have to look at a name that conveys the concept in terms of the fuel that powers the planet. Peopel get upset about gas prices and shortages - if you can feed into that mindset you'll find it easier to get the message across.