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New report: Common Cause for Nature

Starlings_Plain

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.

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What have the immigrants ever done for us? Five reasons why the economic argument for immigration is destined to fail

“Immigration is like trade. It makes us rich.” – The Times, 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

The Mouse Paradigm: how markets affect our morals 1

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?

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Values in education

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

It’s (not just) the environment, stupid!

People who cut their carbon footprint because they’re worried about climate change are ‘environmental’ types, right? They love ‘nature’ and get fired up by those photos of polar bears stranded on melting ice. They might even rate ‘protecting the environment’ or ‘respecting the earth’ as their number one value.

Well, no; not necessarily.

As part of a research project on promoting lower-carbon lifestyles, I interviewed people who have cut their carbon footprint because they’re worried about climate change, to try and understand more about what motivates them. Concern about ‘the environment’ for its own sake is not generally their main reason for action. They tend to be more bothered about the effects of climate change on poorer people in developing countries. They’re often motivated by a deep sense of the injustice of a situation where those who will suffer most are those who have contributed least to the problem, and they talked in terms of trying to live with a fairer – therefore smaller – share of the world’s resources. When I asked them to imagine that we live in a different kind of world, one in which climate change would threaten polar bears with extinction but would somehow have little effect on humans, several interviewees said they would probably not be so anxious about the issue, and would not be trying so hard to address it.

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Talking about consumption

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?

Last week, we launched our brand new animation exposing three lies we are told consistently by our government about our emissions. The animation, produced in collaboration with leading animator Leo Murray and acclaimed journalist George Monbiot, is the culmination of a lengthy project by PIRC to ensure the UK’s emissions are properly tackled by the Government. Read more

Rebuilding Optimism of Will

Che Guevara said that “the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love”. But not just any love, the love of humanity that transcends the day to day love of individuals (our family for example).[1] In a way its a shame that the actual content of this paragraph from Che has been bastardised to be about some nebulous love that drives revolutionaries. Instead what Che was talking about was a very real dilemma. How to keep ourselves motivated, heading towards the goal, when we have so little time for our real “loved ones”, so little time for ourselves, and to develop our personal lives.

This is a serious issue that is often unconsidered by the left. But more over today those of us who have invested years to the cause of stopping climate change are at risk of demoralisation, depression, exhaustion, and alienation. For me this has been a confronting reality as I have struggled with depression for the better part of 2012 and have undertaken to see a psychologist. I suspect there are others out there in a similar state of mind.

There is an idea that well sums up the reality of our task as climate activists “combining pessimism of the intellect with optimism of the will”. Unfortunately getting the balance right is no easy task, nor will that balance be achieved accidentally. Read more

  1. [1]Che Guevara, Man and Socialism, 1965

Money talks: the impact of economic framing on how we act and feel

We’re ‘consumers’ or ‘taxpayers’ and we care about things like ‘pay-off’, ‘return on investment’ and ‘growth’: that’s the bottom line. Right?

Well, I’d put my money on it.

But, actually, when did that happen? When did we start to pepper our meetings, our work, and even dinner conversations with such words and phrases? Sometimes, our use of economic framing has an obvious trigger; take ‘credit crunch’. In one of the recent economic crises, journalists repeatedly used it (with a straight face), and then before you knew it, the 2008 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary carried a new definition of the word ‘crunch’, as meaning “a severe shortage of money or credit”. It was always pretty difficult to pass that particular term casually into everyday conversation, but now we officially associate crunch with economic recession, as well as biscuits.

Economic frames easily creep into everyday language via news media, or advertising, or political rhetoric, but we have little awareness of the effect that might have on the way that we think and behave. Psychological research is finally shedding light on this.

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