The Real Value of Water

The Common Cause for Nature report highlights the importance of the conservation sector engaging with other actors with a firm understanding of the values implications of that engagement. In this guest post, Rob Cunningham head of Water Policy at the RSPB discusses these issues in regard to the water industry.

When I mentioned the work of Common Cause at a recent water industry conference I felt a momentary pang of guilt – should I really be pointing these servants of mammon to such valuable insights into our motivations and psyche? What if they use it against us?

And there are reasons to be worried. Recent reports and headlines have shed light on dubious tax arrangements, huge payouts and opaque foreign ownership. Such behaviour draws uncomfortable comparison with Google, Amazon and Starbucks.

But there is one fundamental difference. Read more

Confessions of an unwise activist

What have values and frames ever done for you? Got under your skin much? Made you rethink some fundamental ideas?  

Well, four years after I first started looking into all this with Tom Crompton and Andrew Darnton, I can say with confidence that they have had a pretty radical effect on my life. Radical being the operative word because the lessons I have learnt by studying these endlessly fascinating ideas and evidence have led to a radicalisation of my politics, made me quit a very comfortable job and hop across the Atlantic to try something a lot less secure and comfortable, and even led me into deeply spiritual territory.

This essay is an attempt to capture and make sense of some of that personal journey;  you might say the human side of what we usually only talk about only in professional terms. What goes on inside the privacy of our minds and hearts is, pretty much by definition, confusing, shocking and difficult to interpret. It’s also, ultimately, everything we have. This is an attempt to bring order to a bit of mine. Read more

Four reasons why consumers will never solve climate change


Last week’s publication of the first instalment of the new IPCC report is a vital moment to be seized upon. It presents a fresh chance to put the issue of climate change back where it should be as one of the most fundamental modern global challenges: at the top of the political and social agenda.  As has happened before, it will provoke a round of inquiry into why nothing (or at least nothing commensurate with the scale of the problem) has been done, and why we continue to run still further off the edge of a very high cliff.

In the recent past, the primary revision to the strategy of environmentalists has been to say we need to change the story.  We have talked too much doom and gloom, and we need to paint a positive vision to motivate Consumers to change the world.

This change of story has moved things on a little (as per my previous post on Martin Luther King), but we now need to take the next step.  The story is better; we have improved WHAT is said.  Now we need to change the audience; WHO we are talking to.

We have to face the fact that Consumers will never solve climate change.  Only Citizens can do it.

Here are the four big reasons: Read more

Give & Live – just don’t confuse the two!

I hover my mouse over the two photos; should I go for the Qualcast or the Flymo? I click on the Qualcast and add it to my basket. The Flymo was called an ‘easi-glide’ and I refuse to promote illiteracy through my purchasing decisions. At least Qualcast have had the decency to add a U when using the letter Q.

I have just bought a lawn mower from Argos and donated 50 quid to Cancer Research all in one click of a button; isn’t the modern world amazing?!

Okay, I haven’t: that was just artistic licence. I don’t need a mower; I have guinea pigs. But I could have, if I was signed up to ‘Give as you Live’.

Give As You Live

Give as you Live: Help your favourite cause just by shopping online.

The scheme allows people to contribute to charities whenever they buy things online. On the surface it seems like a great idea. I’m going to spend the money anyway, so why not give to charity while I do so? What could the harm be? Read more

Common Threads – September 2013

  • So true – the status-quo is not values-neutral. ‘Anti-nudgers bemoan what they see as the nanny state; they think government should stay neutral on things such as diet and exercise. The problem is that staying neutral is trickier than it sounds. All else being equal, a government that decides not to influence fizzy-drink consumption (or whatever) isn’t staying neutral, leaving consumers free of pressure. It’s making an active choice to let the soft drink industry’s persuasive efforts – ads, sponsorship – go unopposed. You might feel the anti-nudgers are in the right here: after all, governments get to enforce their wishes using the law and police, so we should be hyper-wary when they stick their noses in. What you’re not entitled to claim, though, is that being anti-nudge is “staying neutral”. You have to pick a side. You don’t have the option of rising above the fray.’
  • Skirts are a leading cause of rape. Because men have eyes’ – A powerful (and hilarious) challenge to the way in which a male-dominated political arena frames rape. There are a lot of power dynamics reflected in the frames we are exposed to. Watch it!
  • Framing hits mainstream UK politics – Progressives ‘“won’t achieve meaningful change until [they] stops buying into the conservative “frames” – austerity, scarcity, threat; “transactional ideas” conveyed by phrases such as “something for nothing” and “culture of entitlement”. And, critically, the “taxpayer” frame, implicitly divisive because it separates the nation into taxpayers and non-taxpayers.”’ And as mentioned in the article, Tom Crompton takes a critical look at the rhetoric of the Labour leader in this fascinating essay [pdf].
  • As if a job title and a salary were the sole measure of a person’s worth – This cartoon version of a Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbs) speech is AMAZING.
  • Rising child poverty – what role does philanthropy play? – The inspirational Edge Fund ask whether “philanthropy just exists to protect a system which makes some people very rich?” Includes this excellent, really values-y quote from Crisis, who “recently said we live under an ‘anti-human system’ that ‘treats people as commodities, to be exploited and abused and thrown away and trashed if no profit can be made out of it.'”
  • Keeping your feet on the ground in positions of power! On the subject of philanthropy, this is a genuinely excellent article about the lived experience of being in a position of power as a funder, and the impact that has on a person’s values and responses. How can we address inequality while operating in unequal ways?
  • The Money Shredding Alarm Clock is the perfect metaphor for capitalism – Nothing is sacred. Valuing money takes over the realm of sleep. “In a consumer society, the official point of life is to make money, then use it to buy things. Lazing in bed sets you back in this interminable rat race. The Money Shredding Alarm Clock simply makes all that more literal: you snooze, you lose.”

The Art of Life: how arts and culture affect our values

“We need new ideas, we need new ways of doing things and we need a whole new way of approaching each other with much more empathy and understanding. This means that the rest of society really needs to focus on the world of art and culture as a vital source for not only solutions, but also ways of finding solutions… and a whole knew concept of what a valuable life really means.” – Uffe Elbaek, former Danish Minister of Culture

Last year the Future Generation Art Prize was created to help younger artists participate in the cultural development of societies in global transition. On launching the Prize, founder Victor Pinchuk said, “I believe artists can show our world of tomorrow better than politicians and analysts”.

This month a group of philanthropists working to promote social justice and peace met with artists to work on their relationship with art and culture.

Next week an art school will open in East London with a new model as both a school and communal space emphasising cooperation and experimentation. It is being set up to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and skills between artists, local residents and neighbourhood organisations.

These few examples go beyond art for art’s sake, they make art for our sake. More and more people are coming to the realisation that we are reaching the limits of our planet’s capacity to support us. Our wellbeing is declining and inequality is rising, which is fuelling conflict, mass migration, poverty and many other social problems. We need to act fast if we are to find new economic and social paradigms that recognise the limits of our finite planet and enable all people to flourish.

Can we transition the values of our society and economy within a generation? Well we need to give it our best shot, armed with insight into what makes a real difference. Our customs, behaviors, and values are byproducts of our culture. No one is born with greed, prejudice, bigotry and hatred; these are all learned behaviours. We need to find more and better ways to learn from and understand each other, disrupt vested interests and imagine and create more sustainable ways of living.

Art and culture’s core practice is one of the most participative, dynamic and social forms of human behaviour. It has the capacity to trigger reflection, generate empathy, create dialogue and foster new ideas and relationships and offers a powerful and democratic way of expressing, sharing and shaping values. It can help us build new capabilities and understand how to imagine and rehearse a different way of being and relating. It can enable us to design useful and meaningful things and is increasingly the basis of livelihoods and enterprises that are motivated by much more than profit.

But to fully release this potential, we need to deepen our understanding of how arts impact on our values and rethink how and why we value art. Our values represent our guiding principles, our broadest motivations, influencing the attitudes we hold and how we act. They shape the way we look at and understand the world and the mental structures that order our ideas. They are the frame through which we construct the stories that we tell ourselves and others about what is important.

In The Art of Life, Tim Kasser, professor of psychology and co-author of Common Cause; The Case for Working with our Cultural Values, sets out the evidence base for the shaping of values and explores the potential of engagement with art and culture to affect our:

  • self-acceptance,
  • affiliation, and
  • community feeling,

As well as values that are known to affect higher levels of personal, social, and ecological well-being such as:

  • freedom,
  • creativity,
  • self-respect,
  • equality and
  • unity with nature.

A number of people have offered their responses to the ideas that Tim explores in his article, including an emergent artist, a playwright, a campaigner, a designer, a director of a cultural organisation, and two academics from different disciplines. Their generous contributions and critique are fascinating and sometimes fierce.

This report is the beginning of a dialogue about how art and culture impact on our values, what that might look like in practice, and how we might foster new collaborations between artists and cultural institutions and the third sector to create new ideas for development.

This is a dialogue that needs lots of voices, and we’d love to hear from anyone who’d like to be involved.

This is a guest post by Shelagh Wright of Mission Models Money. You can download the report below, or contact her at: [email protected]

The Art of Life: Understanding how participation in arts and culture can affect our values

The Art of Life: Understanding how participation in arts and culture can affect our values

Mission Models Money & Common Cause | September 2, 2013

This report is the beginning of a dialogue about how arts and culture impact on our values, what that might look like in practice, and how we might foster new collaborations between artists, cultural institutions and the third sector to create new ideas for development.

783.9 KB | 6581 Downloads

People for Ecosystem Services: Rethinking market solutions for sustainable farming practice

I have just been reading Jay Griffith’s latest book ‘Kith’, in which she urges us not to lose sight of our relationship with nature and our connectedness with the earth:

“Land can make someone who they are, can create their psyche, giving them fragments of themselves… shatter the relation to the land and you can shatter personalities”

Common Cause for Nature (CCfN) brings the same plea centre stage as a means to guide the conservation sector in their task of championing, protecting and restoring the environment that is our home. Demonstrating the importance of nurturing intrinsic values, which foster care for others of every species, ‘Common Cause…’ provides an important caution against the ever increasing reliance we now place in economic value and market solutions. Read more

Food for thought: how values affect our food choices

We in the West are living in an age of food plenty: faced with dizzying choice in our supermarket aisles, with foods from across the globe available – whatever the season – at prices that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago. How do we navigate this? What guides our decision to pick one product over another, or to forgo some foods altogether? And how much can our own personal choices really affect the way the food system works?

When it comes to the big issues we are concerned about, be it animal welfare, climate change, or health and nutrition, there is only so much that our individual shopping choices can do. The responsibility lies also, and sometimes more so, with the powers that structure the food industry. In the UK, for example, we generate about 16 million tonnes of food waste a year, but 60% of this occurs in the supply chain, before it even reaches our shelves. So the power we wield with our shopping baskets, in cases like this, is somewhat limited. However, if we understand what motivates our food choices, on our own and as a society, we can get a better understanding of what’s accentuating those bigger problems we care about. And this will hopefully give us a better idea of how we can be more effective at making the changes we’d like to see. Read more

Common Cause for Nature: A call to collaborate

This is a guest post by Jon Alexander of the National Trust.

The lessons for the conservation movement held within Common Cause for Nature are deep and many. But I would argue the most important is the simplest of all, and comes before you get beyond the cover. It is the title – Common Cause for Nature. This is a call to arms to all of us who work in this space not just to work and campaign separately on our own specific ‘bits’, but far more importantly, to get beyond those bits and work together to create a proactive, persuasive, powerful whole. Read more

The spirit of Fenton

The Common Cause for Nature report highlights the importance of both talking about and experiencing nature in motivating people to support the environmental agenda. We asked author of Silent Spring Revisited and Looking for the Goshawk Conor Mark Jameson to write something about the importance of connecting with nature. He found inspiration from nature in an unlikely suburban setting, via YouTube.

I’m not sure why I laughed so much when I saw Fenton the black labrador in what is by now a legendary piece of amateur footage. It has even gone viral, viewed about 10 million times on the internet. In fact I’m not sure it’s even right to laugh at it, but laugh I – and so many others – obviously have. I’m not actually sure why it’s even funny. I’ve been trying to analyse the reasons. Read more

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