The United Nations Forum on Forests recently released a new promotional video called “Finding Balance, Our Future, Our Forests”. At first glance, this 16-minute piece has all of the hallmarks of classic environmental messaging: beautiful imagery, expert testimonial, tales of destruction and an opportunity for redemption. MediaStorm –a company known for developing some really powerful films dealing with social and environmental issues– produced the film so the quality shouldn’t come as a surprise. In fact, they are one of the best in the business. Their documentary “Black Market,” which discusses the medicinal animal trade in Asia has stayed with me for months. So what is about “Finding Balance” that leaves me with such a feeling of hopelessness rather than inspiration to do something good? Even a gorgeous clip of a fish leaping out of the water in slow motion seems to be painted over with a sense of dread.
What is so odd about my feelings on this film is that, as I mentioned, it does offer hope. It does show people sustainably harvesting wood and solutions for replanting and nurturing forests. There isn’t an attempt to cut humans out of the equation or any outright messaging that says, “humans are evil.” It addresses the social side of conservation unlike many campaigns of the past. On the surface, it should resonate strongly with me but it doesn’t. My final reaction was one of nausea. To be truthful, it couldn’t be over fast enough and I’m empathetic to the cause. How might those feel who aren’t I wonder?
The problem, I suspect, is that while there is a message of hope, the piece is stained with more reasons to feel guilty than not. Was this intentional? I don’t know, but what I do know is that guilt is often used as one of the tools of the environmental movement to get people to act one way or another. While I used to believe that guilt-messaging was the number one way to convince people to care about the environment –or simply nature in my case– those days have long passed for me. I believe that coercing people into doing something through guilt usually results in a few predictable responses: 1.) A knee-jerk reaction to right the situation that quickly fades 2.) Avoidance, because it is hard to face-up to our faults or 3.) Anger, because no one likes to be told they’re wrong. While the first of these three reactions might yield some good, what we need in the world right now is sustainable, long-term changes in behavior. The only thing that I know that can do this is love.
We take care of what we love. Isn’t this true? While some projects and organizations such as Futerra (well-done!) are beginning to change the way conservation is discussed there is a desperate need for volumes more. We take care of what we know, what we can touch, breathe in and become familiar with. When we see something awful happen to someone on the evening news, a part of us feels bad about what has happened, but usually this is just lip-service if we are being really honest. These things are simply too abstract for us to hold on to. What’s more, all of us in developed countries are continuously bombarded with bad news: we’re too fat, the economy is plummeting, shark-bites are up, we’re not raising our kids right, we’re going to hell, bald guys aren’t sexy (don’t tell my wife). You get the point. So it is no wonder that when we see an environmental message that is dark and disturbing we switch off. We simply can’t take any more bad news.
Perhaps I’m being unfair? After all, this video was produced for the United Nations Forum on Forests and not a grassroots NGO aiming to rally a community around protecting a patch of woodland. Perhaps since it is intended for nations that can make drastic changes in forestry practices this approach might work well. And to be fair, I’m not attempting to attack what the UNFoF or MediaStorm are doing. I’m simply sharing my reaction to the film. Am I alone in this? Perhaps, I’m just having an off day, or week, or year.
As I said before, I know this: we take care of what we love. We protect what we love. We nourish what we love. Love comes from knowing. No matter how many images of destruction we see, nothing will move us more to action than love. This is how it has always been and how it will always be. Love is patient, love is kind and love leaves a sweet taste in the mouth, even when it is bitter.