Tom Crompton

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I've worked on values and social change for nearly a decade. WWF’s work in this area started in 2008, with the publication of my report Weathercocks and Signposts. This was followed in 2010 with the publication of a book I wrote with Tim Kasser called Meeting Environmental Challenges, and then with the Common Cause report, published later the same year. In the last couple of years I’ve focused on research – particularly through a very productive collaboration between WWF and Scope. This has allowed us to test many of the principles we are advancing through Common Cause. I’m now helping to set up The Common Cause Foundation. Email me at: tcrompton@commoncausefoundation.org

Some psychological consequences of putting a price on nature

New research we’ve conducted provides further evidence that advancing the economic case for conservation is risky. It may undermine the foundations upon which deeper public concern about the environment will be built. 

We know that there are a range of problems with attempts to use estimates of the financial value of nature as a reason for conserving it. George Monbiot laid many of these out in his lecture at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute last summer.

Common Cause highlights one reason that these attempts are particularly problematic (the one, incidentally, to which Monbiot also attaches the greatest importance in his lecture). It is this: the values which motivate concern about economic performance seem to be almost perfectly opposed to the values which motivate concern about the preservation of nature.

Engaging and strengthening concern about the economy seems to risk undermining concern for the preservation of nature – even where concern about the economy draws attention to the economic benefits of conserving nature.

This is a case that Common Cause has advanced for many years – Tim Kasser and I lay it out in full, in our book Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity (see especially Section 4.2.1). There we cite Douglas McCauley, writing in Nature back in 2006:

[Conservationists] may believe that the best way to meaningfully engage policy-makers… is to translate the intrinsic value of nature into the language of economics. But this is patently untrue – akin to saying that the civil rights advocates would have been more effective if they provided economic justifications for racial integration.”(p.28)

Conservationists should take note: Martin Luther King had a dream, not a cost-benefit analysis.

Tom CromptonSome psychological consequences of putting a price on nature
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No Cause is an Island

A major new piece of research

Common Cause makes the case for a different approach to creating change.

Most current approaches to creating change focus on specific causes (for example, biodiversity conservation or international development; climate change or disability rights). They identify key interventions – changes in people’s behaviour, or policies for example – that will help to advance these causes. And then they promote these interventions.

Common Cause makes the case that this approach, important as it is, isn’t sufficient. We confront huge challenges. If we are to step up to addressing these, then our approaches need to add up to more than the sum of their parts.

We have built the case that we need also to look ‘across’ a wide range of causes. In this way we can identify the values that motivate people’s concern about these causes, and work to engage and strengthen them.

Common Cause has accumulated a large body of evidence for this approach. But much of this evidence comes from studies run by academics who don’t necessarily set out to address the specific challenges faced by charities. Often we hear from communicators and campaigners in charities that the material tested in these studies isn’t very ‘realistic’.

A new study

Today we’re publishing a new study, which we have been working on for many months. It combines the best of both worlds. On the one hand, we’ve worked on it with some of the world’s leading experts on values. On the other hand, we used it to test the effectiveness of material produced by staff in WWF (a conservation charity) and Scope (a disability charity). The study makes use of a large panel of nearly 14,000 people managed by the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton. Having read text describing the work of either WWF or Scope, in either intrinsic or extrinsic terms, we then asked people about their intention to help one or other of these charities – by donating money, volunteering, lobbying their MP, or joining a public meeting.

Here are some key findings, each of which I’ll be unpacking further in subsequent blogs.

Tom CromptonNo Cause is an Island
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The Conscience Industry:
Tom Crompton at TEDxExeter

Unlike Ed, my polystyrene alter ego, I found this TEDx thing pretty nerve-wracking. There’s a big digital clock at your feet that counts down your allotted time, and then starts flashing admonishment if you overrun. But though Ed may seem rather more chilled out than me, at least I’ve still got more hair than him.

Let me know what you think in the comments below…

Tom CromptonThe Conscience Industry:
Tom Crompton at TEDxExeter
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Leave Our Kids Alone

Yesterday saw the launch of the campaign Leave Our Kids Alone, with a letter in The Telegraph, and articles in the Daily Mail and The Guardian. This campaign grapples with what must surely be one of the most important common causes around which third sector organisations, irrespective of the issues upon which they work, should be galvanised: the problem of advertising aimed at our children.

Tom CromptonLeave Our Kids Alone
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Michael Sandel on “the corrosive effect of money”

We’ve drawn attention to the strong synergies between Common Cause and the work of Michael Sandel before. He’s in the UK (speaking at LSE) tomorrow, and I’ve just read his latest book – “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets”.

The arguments that Sandel develops in the book revolve importantly around the way in which charging for a good or service changes its nature. He writes:

“Standard economic reasoning assumes that commodifying a good – putting it up for sale – does not alter its character” (p.113).

And he then argues that this is far from the case – that, in many instances, creating a market for a good or service profoundly effects its character. For example, paying people to give blood changes the nature of blood-donation.

“As markets reach into spheres of life traditionally governed by nonmarket norms, the notion that markets don’t touch or taint the goods they exchange becomes increasingly implausible” (p.114).

In another example (one also mentioned in the Common Cause Handbook), Sandel cites a study of community attitudes to nuclear waste dumps in Switzerland, finding that offering citizens financial incentives for supporting the local siting of a dump erodes their support.

In discussing this further, he presents some insights which Common Cause has itself worked to highlight:

Tom CromptonMichael Sandel on “the corrosive effect of money”
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Do we have time to shift values?

“Do we have time to shift values?” This is a question that is often asked when people respond to Common Cause. This blog, itself an expansion of the FAQ question of the same title, offers a response.

Clearly, we don’t have long to bring down greenhouse carbon dioxide emissions very markedly before we hit devastating levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – with profound, effectively irreversible, effects upon our climate. Often, when people ask “Do we have time to shift values?”, they are posing the question in the context of the urgency of addressing climate change. In this context, we need to effect major changes in how our economies are run, and we need to effect them very soon.

In formulating a response to the challenge posed by climate change, it is important to hold in mind that these reductions in greenhouse gas emissions need to be (i) sufficiently ambitious; (ii) made sufficiently soon; (iii) sufficiently durable to be maintained for a long time to come.

Implicit in the question “Do we have time to shift values?” is the belief that some alternative strategy could perhaps provide the requisite ambition and durability, and deliver these emissions reductions in a short time-frame. Also implicit is the suspicion that, while the strategy of ‘shifting values’ may be sufficiently ambitious and dependable, it is likely to take a long time. Too long.

This blog, then, provides some responses to this important question.

Tom CromptonDo we have time to shift values?
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What about people for whom extrinsic values are particularly important?

A great deal of the research that we have brought together on this site points to the advantages, on aggregate, of appealing to intrinsic values in communicating to people about social and environmental problems – and the potential costs of appealing to extrinsic values.

But, of course, people aren’t all the same, and it may be that there are some people who are simply impervious to communications which appeal to intrinsic values. We’ve argued that this is unlikely, because we all express all these values at different times – life, afterall, is a ‘dance around the values circle’!

But the original group of people who supported the Common Cause report – from COIN, CPRE, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and WWF – wanted to test this further. So we enlisted the help of some psychologists (at Cardiff University, and Knox College, Illinois) and linguists (at Lancaster University).

Tom CromptonWhat about people for whom extrinsic values are particularly important?
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DECC report on ‘energy behaviour’

A new paper from DECC forms the basis of their Customer Insight Team’s capacity-building on behaviour change. Drawing on Common Cause, it reviews evidence from behavioural economics, social psychology and sociology on different ways of  “changing energy behaviour”.

The report can be downloaded here.

Tom CromptonDECC report on ‘energy behaviour’
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The High Price of Materialism

Tim Kasser is professor of psychology at Knox College, Illinois, and author of The High Price of Materialism. He has been of great help in developing the Common Cause work.

In this animation, produced for The Center for a New American Dream, Tim discusses how America’s culture of consumerism undermines our well-being. When people buy into the ever-present marketing messages that “the good life” is “the goods life,” they not only use up Earth’s limited resources, but they are less happy and less inclined toward helping others. The animation both lays out the problems of excess materialism and points toward solutions that promise a healthier, more just, and more sustainable life.

 

Tom CromptonThe High Price of Materialism
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Opening the ethical debates in advertising

We’ve suggested elsewhere that there are two broad categories of response to Common Cause.

The first is to focus on the implications for the campaigns and communications that we are already producing: how might we campaign on biodiversity conservation, or disability rights, or cancer research, while simultaneously helping to strengthen those values upon which systemic concern about these issues must come to be built?

The second is to ask: what might we begin to do collectively, across the third sector, to strengthen the cultural importance of intrinsic values and reduce the pervasiveness of extrinsic values? Here there are many opportunities for new joint campaigns. One of the most obvious – but it is only one – is on advertising.

There is persuasive evidence that advertising serves to reinforce the cultural importance of extrinsic values – and to undermine the importance that we place on intrinsic values. As such, it will operate to reduce public concern about a wide range of social and environmental issues. This is an effect which is likely to be further strengthened by the fact that advertising is so pervasive – we literally can’t avoid it; and by the fact that much of it is targeted at children – people who are likely to be more vulnerable to its influence on values.

PIRC and WWF-UK have today launched a report highlighting the evidence for the cultural impacts of advertising. George Monbiot has written about it here. And you can download the report below.

We’ll now be hosting a conversation – with people from the third sector and business alike – on the cultural impacts of advertising and possible responses. Do get in touch if you would like to be involved in this!

Tom CromptonOpening the ethical debates in advertising
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