Monday, March 21, 2011

Environment and Emotion

For years environmentalists have used various arguments in an effort to convince the public of the importance of sound legislation and action to protect the environment. However, despite these strategies the most important modern day issue, a fixed and continuous reduction of carbon emissions in effort to lessen the total severity of global warming consequences, has yet to capture enough importance in the public consciousness. The chief idea to accomplish this goal is to put a price on carbon, but despite various different methodologies to achieving this price, none have succeeded. Possibly pressed by the reluctance of the public to fully support this important issue, environmentalists and ‘climate hawks’ have continued to press rational fact-based scientific arguments and future cost-benefit ratio analysis to persuade holdouts. Unfortunately this strategy has yet to bear fruit and based on the behavior of the opposition there is little reason to assume that it will be successful in the near future. Perhaps it is time for a new strategy.

Few environmentalists have used emotional arguments to support their positions despite emotional and simplistic sound bites being the commonplace strategy among popular media and politics for winning debates. Some environmentalists would argue that the above statement is not accurate, that some arguments have focused on family and loved ones as an emotional tenor addressing the very real future hardships that children and grandchildren will face in the future due to global warming if carbon emissions in the present are not reduced.

Whether it is justified or not, humans tend to favor present day arguments over future arguments, especially for issues they believe are mired in uncertainty like climate science. Most individuals either cannot look far enough into the future to accept/appreciate the complicated macro-economical and social changes that will occur in response to climate change or believe that humans will somehow find a way to eliminate this threat without demanding a meaningful sacrifice. It is in these explanations why most individuals do not accept the validity of the child/grandchild arguments. Therefore, environmentalists need to focus on an emotional argument that exists in the present.

Returning for a moment to the rational behind why individuals reject child/grandchild arguments, another concern may be that these individuals have a more difficult time with non-referenced visualization. Basically these individuals can better accept an argument when a visual representation exists to aid them. This visual component is especially useful if it can exhibit changes over a short period of time supporting the nature of the argument. Therefore, the emotional argument needs to be in the present as well as have a visual component. While not exclusive, one strategy that encompasses these elements involves U.S. National Parks.

Regardless of how modernized society becomes individuals seem to have an inherent awe for nature when confronting it directly. However, due to the perceived demands of modern day society most people rarely get to experience nature in any real and significant way. Exposing individuals to various National Parks could be an effective means to rekindle an emotional and meaningful connection between nature and individuals that reside in the urban jungle or suburbia. Reaffirming this emotional connection would be important for future arguments in favor of human driven global warming and strategies to mitigate its consequences. The means with which environmentalists wish to demonstrate the importance of the environment through National Parks can emerge in multiple ways. For example three different ideas immediately come to mind and are outlined below.

First, when was the last documentary about the National Park system? Ken Burns did a 12 part series back in 2009 for PBS, but how many people even heard of it let alone watched any of it? The idea behind a documentary is useful because it can flow in one of two ways and has the potential to reach a wide audience. One a small group of twenty-something individuals can go on a road trip touring various National Parks and make a film about their trip. This method is more relaxed and indirect, but will more than likely expose the public to various National Parks and their inherent beauty in a real and meaningful way through the eyes of these youths.

Two a more professional attitude, similar to the one taken by Mr. Burns, can be applied similar to a filmed tour guide approach towards various National Parks. Although this method is more formal, it allows the film to express the full impact of the beauty of the featured National Parks through a structured experience. Also this method may provide a clearer opportunity to disseminate information about the park system further enhancing its value and the connection to the public. However, if one elected to take this route it would need to bring something different to the table over the one produced by Mr. Burns.

Second, it was previously stated that one of the drivers behind discussing National Parks is that the emotional connection between humans and nature has been lost. The reason for this loss is that individuals no longer experience nature on a consistent basis; however, one of the reasons for that reduced experience is that individuals do not have the time or the money to experience it. It is not surprising that everyday exposure to nature has fallen for most people as a reduction in opportunities is to be expected with population advancement (the need to construct more residential, commercial and industrial complexes), but lack of economic opportunity also plays a role. Therefore, it is possible for the environmental movement sponsor free trips to various National Parks. However, the concern about this idea is some of the finer details, especially regarding paid leave.

Third, the environmental movement can co-sponsor a special entertainment performance(s) at various National Parks under the supervision of the National Park Service. There are a wide range of celebrities that claim to care about the environment thus these individuals should be more than happy to volunteer their time to perform and/or host these functions. The basic operating premise for one of these functions could be the entertainment performance followed by a tour or some form of interaction with the particular National Park that hosts the performance or visa-versa.

It would be important to ensure a small-randomized population for these performances in order to ensure adequate attention and importance through exclusivity. Also if possible it seems reasonable to focus on entertainers that are currently popular with younger individuals (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, etc.) because younger individuals will have more influence in deciding the future of the country. For example suppose Singer x is selected, attendance for this event would involve a raffle requiring an investment of 5 dollars. There would be a limit on the number of tickets an individual could purchase (say 5). Only 100 individuals would be selected to attend the event and all funds acquired for from the raffle would be donated to the National Park Service.

Overall there needs to be a more earnest attempt on behalf of the environmental movement to demonstrate the emotional significance of nature to the general public to augment the logical and future economic benefit arguments to protecting nature through the reduction of carbon emissions. If individuals have a stronger emotional appreciation for nature they should be more willing to sacrifice for it. The above ideas are just some possibilities that could be explored to help rekindle the emotional connection humans once had with nature, certainly others individuals can think of other ideas that would also be useful.

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