The Use of Language in Conservation

In relatively recent years, environmental conservation has undergone changes in theory and subsequently in practice. At one time, conservation was driven by a preservationist view rather than an active conservationist view. The latter view requires pro-active strategies including the use of language promoting ideas and subsequently recruiting people to join in efforts. Language is a key player in most conservation efforts. In order for conservation to be successful, both passion and science need to be well articulated. “Feel good” phrases and words are among the language chosen in communication styles. Given that conservation and biodiversity are inextricably linked, the lack of a definitive definition of biodiversity poses a huge problem to conservationists as differing ideas about what constitutes biodiversity inevitably leads to differing strategies for tackling conservation efforts. Biodiversity is an “all-inclusive” word. How else does one summarize life on earth or beyond as we know it? Words such as biodiversity are crucial in addressing a global conservation movement.

While the use of language articulating specificity and local scales offer success rates of their own, they fail to convince as it harkens back to an out-dated, classical approach to the conservation movement. To focus primarily on, for example – a species level organization level is to lose sight of a much larger goal. The more contemporary approach recognizes the biological processes as essential to species and ecosystem survival. It is these processes that support all biotic life. It is far more fruitful to ask questions and communicate at an organizational level rather than at a species level knowing that species and ecosystems are not static, but have dramatic relationships with other species and their neighboring environments that are critical to survival. In the end, species specific strategies can have unforeseen damages at an organizational level if not properly thought out.

Beyond the discussion between contemporary and traditional conservation movements, feel good terms are needed to encourage individuals to take an active role in conservation. Just as biodiversity is a feel good term , so is the catch phrase “think locally -> go globally” Who would not want their efforts felt beyond their local neighborhood? In fact conservation, itself, is a feel good term. The idea of conservation has, until recently, meant preservation to most people. Clearly, a feel-good idea. I would argue that it is exactly these feel good terms/phrases/ideologies that are essential in appealing to the human conscience. It is a conscience that persuades most people to join large efforts, enact changes or basically “do the right thing”.
It is effective to continue the use of “larger scale” words such as biodiversity. The focus of a conservation effort should be on the process and the context rather than the species, and using terminology gently to remind individuals of that goal is important. In addition to moving away from traditional beliefs, it is also important to identify strategies that will speak to others and one of those could be the use of “feel good” words.

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