For the launch of the Common Cause for Nature report Ralph Underhill explores the endless ways we can get in touch with nature.
“Gonna get myself connected I ain’t gonna go blind For the light which is reflected”
Frankly I have no idea what the origins of this song are but it is just possible that the Stereo MCs were motivated to write this classic after the feeling of connection produced by a chance meeting with a pine marten on a forestry path in the Cairngorms. Read more
Creating and maintaining a sustainable, wildlife-rich world requires active, concerned citizens and a political system capable of rising to the challenge. Governments, businesses and the public will need the space and motivation to make the right choices. The UK conservation sector is large and well-resourced yet, as the recent State of Nature report attests, biodiversity is still in decline. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
Where is the public concern and political will to address these issues?
In 2012, thirteen UK conservation organisations – including WWF-UK, the John Muir Award, RSPB and CPRE – came together to commission an analysis of the values they promote in their work. Led by PIRC, academic researchers from Lancaster University, Royal Holloway, and Essex University carried out innovative linguistic analysis of six months of external communications of these organisations. The analysis was supplemented by interviews, surveys and workshop discussion with those in the conservation sector. Today sees the release of the resulting report. Read more
The Charity-Industrial Complex - A great critique of how philanthropy maintains structures of inequality: “The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over…. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.” What we need, he says, is systemic change: “It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.”
Childish mistakes - Experiences, particularly those that are repeated, shape our values by telling us what is ‘normal, possible and desirable’. What are we learning about ‘equality’ as children (and adults)? “If a teacher tells you in media studies … that Page 3 and similar images are airbrushed and photoshopped and therefore unrealistic, but the boys in your school compare you to them every day, then once again the experience is likely to win out over the facts. Add to this the fact that if anything is repeated often enough it eventually takes on a kind of truth of its own, whether or not it started out as a lie or a joke or ‘just a bit of fun’. The act of repetition legitimises things, as advertisers know very well. In this way images such as the Sun’s page 3 effectively ‘advertise’ to viewers the wares on show and make them seem normal and desirable.”
“Immigration is like trade. It makes us rich” – The Times (paywall), May 27th 2013
“Immigrants: don’t you just love ‘em? They travel to Britain from far-flung lands, coming here to toil away in our shops and offices and homes, paying their taxes and generally making us all better off.” – The Telegraph, June 13th 2013.
On the Australian campaign website, Kick a Migrant, you’re encouraged to chuck an immigrant into the sea (“as far as you can”). I’ve just hurled Kumar into the shark-infested sea, screaming. As soon as he hits the water, I’m confronted by a box condemning what I’ve done: Kumar was a scout-leading, local employment-improving, community man. But totally overshadowing this is a big, bold, red dollar sign and a large negative number: what I’ve cost the Australian economy by kicking Kumar out. Subversive, I think.
Immigration is a regular hot potato. It’s surrounded by economic myths: immigrants cost the health service millions, “they” are taking “our” jobs, they’re claiming loads of benefits and taking “taxpayers’ money”. But recent figures from the OECD show that – much like the Australian campaign – immigration has provided net economic gain for the UK. Great. I guess we can all stop arguing about it, and Nigel Farage will go away and leave us in peace? Sadly, I think there are five reasons why not. Read more
Reclaiming public spaces - Interesting article on the lack of public space in the UK, and how increasingly all space is viewed as a market opportunity.
Framing poverty - Good blog post discussing the way we talk about poverty, and how our language obscures the real inequalities in society. What do we associate with words like ‘benefit’, ‘wealth’ and ‘welfare state’? And are there alternative ways we can talk about poverty, that highlight systemic disparities of wealth (or, indeed, ‘illth’)? “What thoughtful rich people call the problem of poverty, thoughtful poor people call with equal justice the problem of riches”.
Neoliberalism has hijacked our language - this article by Doreen Massey (co-author of The Kilburn Manifesto) discusses how our vocabulary reflects the creeping influence of market values. Words like ‘customer’, ‘growth’ and ‘investment’ are becoming an everyday part of our conversations, and we are changing the way we think about wealth creation and work: “Work is usually – and certainly should be – a central source of meaning and fulfilment in human lives. And it has – or could have – moral and creative (or aesthetic) values at its core. A rethinking of work could lead us to address more creatively both the social relations of work and the division of labour within society (including a better sharing of the tedious work, and of the skills).”
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… Read more
The life of a mouse is entrusted to your care. You can either save this mouse, and receive no money. Or play the market to bargain for its life, and accept that it will be killed.
This is the Mouse Paradigm, and it’s the subject of a recent study into how economic markets affect our moral values. The way we produce and trade goods, particularly in complex global markets, tends to produce what are rather clinically termed ‘negative externalities’, or in plain English, social and environmental harm. This can mean the air and water pollution affecting villages near Chilean copper mines, or the street children in Kolkata whose livelihoods are directly affected by the price of gold on the international market. Often, these impacts are both difficult to grasp and easy to ignore. We all participate to some extent in these ‘externalities’ by our consumption of goods and services. But what role does the market itself play in our ability to turn a blind eye? And how do we react when these harms are directly and consciously connected with our own participation in the market? Read more
Coke go intrinsic? - Coca Cola have launched a new ad campaign focusing on friends, family and the important people in your life. There’s little research on how bad this is in terms of linking consumption to intrinsic values, but something definitely doesn’t feel right about the associations being made. Let us know what you think…
Climate change is a lousy “meme” - Climate change as a concept has so far refused to spread virally. Joe Brewer and Lazlo Karafiath started the Climate Meme Project when they realized that “global warming just isn’t a catchy meme. It does a terrible job of spreading. It is really hard to get people to think about it and act upon it and it is really hard to get people on their own to feel compelled to tell stories about it.”
Universal benefits vs. means-testing - from a shallow perspective, means testing makes a lot of sense, but viewed through a values lens it’s a disaster. Because, as this article points out, universal benefits: “create a sense of solidarity and shared understanding. Means tested benefits create the opposite, divisions and misunderstanding.”
How language shapes thought - a genuinely fascinating article exploring how language affects our perceptions of space, time, gender and causality.
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
What we learn and how we are taught are key to shaping the people we become. The heated debates around the UK’s National Curriculum in recent months attest to a general recognition of this: with the fight-back against the proposal to remove climate change from the syllabus; discussion around what is taught in history classes; and a current trend for questioning how to teach ‘character’. What is not always considered is what values are being taught through our education system. New ‘action research’, carried out by Lifeworlds Learning in collaboration with Oxfam, Practical Action, the British Red Cross, Think Global and the National Children’s Bureau, aims to address this. Their recently launched report, Leading Through Values, outlines the findings of a pilot study in which primary school teachers took to teaching children about values in nine UK primary schools. Read more
If our carbon emissions are falling, it means we’re on the right track, right? And we’ve done it without needing to drastically change our economics (or even our lifestyles). But what if our accounting systems are wrong?