Tony Juniper on how the Watermelons will be trying to persuade you to fall in line with them in future:
For more than four decades the front lines of environmental campaigning have been located in the worlds of politics and technology. New laws driving cleaner and more efficient ways of doing things have been at the core of the environmental agenda, and up to a point it has worked.
But now we are reaching the limits to what politics and technology can deliver.
To make progress on environmental challenges at the scale needed it is necessary to have more public participation, for example in changing consumption patterns and in visibly backing more sustainable lifestyles.
Something which, when people realise what it actually means for them, goes down like a cold cup of sick.
Repeating statistics, imploring people to change their ways and warning of doom if they don’t hasn’t worked to the extent needed. It seems that something else is necessary.
And that would be..?
On the one hand are those who subscribe to the ideas presented by a group who promote a thesis contained in a report called Common Cause. This group criticizes campaigns that seek to engage people via non-threatening and easy steps, for example unplugging their phone chargers or turning down the washing machine temperature.
Instead of encouraging such modest shifts the Common Cause group urges that what they regard as commonly held values must be strengthened and brought to the fore, including “empathy towards those who are facing the effects of humanitarian and environmental crises, concern for future generations, and recognition that human prosperity resides in relationships – both with one another and with the natural world” .
The Common Cause report, backed by some of the UK’s largest environmental organisations including Friends of the Earth and WWF, argues that modest behavioral change is limited in its positive effect and at worst is counter productive, in so far as such advice encourages people to wrongly believe that simple and easy steps are sufficient, when in reality they won’t make the difference needed. Far better, they say, to focus on shifting people’s underlying values so that they will buy into solving the bigger challenges that are beyond the power of each of us as individuals to solve.
Well, you tried turning them into little Watermelons and it didn’t work. What’s the other option?
It sounds logical, but this view is not shared by a different group who argue that trying to shift values is a pointless and doomed project. They point to quite a lot of evidence that suggests it can’t actually be done, at least not without changing peoples’ life experiences (an option generally not open to campaigners in their dealings with the public). This is why they say that in the end it will be far more effective to work with the values people already hold, rather than trying to convince them to adopt new ones.
This concept is backed by dividing people into three basic groups; Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers.
Settlers: need safety, security and belonging. Tradition and family structure are important. They prefer things to be “normal” and are very wary of crime, violence and terrorism. They are comfortable with regular and routine situations and generally concerned about what the future holds.
Prospectors: need the esteem of others. They are success-oriented and always want to “be the best” and make things bigger and better. They like to show their abilities and take pleasure from recognition and reward, they are trend and fashion conscious and like new things and new ways of being successful.
Pioneers: more interested in ideas than things, are attracted to ‘issues’ and are interested in the big picture. They like to make ethical choices and tend to be the people who dominate most campaigns about the environment and world poverty.
No surprises where Tony places his fellow Watermelons, then?
Chris Rose’s book What makes people tick – the three hidden worlds of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers, sets out the implications of all this, including for campaigners who are trying to change behavior. And the implications are very considerable, because by understanding the clusters of values that are held by these different groups it is possible to present environmental ideas that resonate with people where they are already at.
By the simple expedient of disguising them as something else!
For example, in promoting green cars to esteem-hungry prospectors will it be best to tell them about carbon dioxide and their responsibility to future generations, or would it be more effective to emphasize how these are the latest, most modern and best vehicles? This group is more interested in the benefits of a product than its ethical credentials and so the latter message is more likely to work.
And in advocating solar panels to Settlers, would it be best to talk about taking personal action to reduce sea level rise to benefit the Maldives, or to highlight energy security benefits and reduced reliance on Russian gas?
And when both these groups realise that the Pioneers are taking the Michael?
What then? Given that they outnumber them two to one?