A new report rings a positive note, saying that people around the globe, with a marked increase in Asia, care for the environment and are ready to do something about it, be it on social media, grassroots activism or in choices they make as consumers.
A new report, called “An Eco-wakening: Measuring global awareness, engagement and action for nature” discusses how “the natural world is under threat” and that even though the problem seems immense, hundreds of millions of people around the world still care and want to initiate change.
The report draws attention to the fact that “Scientists warn that 1m species, out of an estimated total of 8m, face extinction—many within decades. This decline is putting the future of the planet and everyone on it at risk,” and warns that “Time is running out, and action to prevent fatal nature loss is urgently needed.”
The authors of the report, by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), then ask a simple question, wondering if people care. “Given the scale of the problem, it would be easy to assume that ordinary people are turning away, not only believing that biodiversity loss is not a priority, but also that nothing can be done,” they write. Yet “ordinary people” are not turning away. In fact, they are showing their concern in droves, the report finds.
According to the report, Asia leads in the “most dramatic growth in engagement and awareness”. Within Asia, the authors single out India (190 percent), Pakistan (88 percent) and Indonesia (53 percent). They also note that worldwide, people care about nature and “that trend is growing –– especially in emerging markets”. They reason that the cause of this concern is because people in emerging markets are “most likely to experience the devastating impact of the loss of nature.”
The authors of the study then investigate social media, and find that the number of “nature-loss conversations” has increased by 65 percent in Twitter mentions since 2016. They herald that the attention given to nature-loss and biodiversity issues are “gaining more traction online than ever before”, and that this trend is noticeable especially in emerging markets.
According to the study, major influencers, such as the Vatican’s Pope Francis, US politician and former First Lady Hillary Clinton, film star Leonardo di Caprio, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and organisations such as the BBC and the New York Times, reach a combined audience of almost 1 billion people around the world, and they do not shy away from using their platform “to amplify nature issues”.
The study also makes use of Google search engine data, positing a correlation between consumers who are changing their behavior, “with searches for sustainable goods increasing globally by 71 perent since 2016”, with corporations responding to these new trends, especially in the cosmetics, pharmaceutical, fashion and food industries.
The report’s authors answer critics of social media activism by quoting a Georgetown University study, “Slacktivists Doing More than Clicking in Support of Causes”, that finds that in the United States, social media users who lend support to online causes are “twice as likely to take part in an event or volunteer their time, four times more likely to urge others to contact politicians, and five times more likely to recruit others to sign petitions for a cause or social issue.”
The EIU study also finds that “public demand for action is rapidly growing through protests, petitions and campaign donations.” According to the EIU report, while global news media coverage of “nature-based protests” grew by 7 percent, between 2018 and 2019 “coverage jumped by a whopping 103 percent, driven by protest movements such as Extinction Rebellion.”
The study questions the disparity between public opinion and governmental action about protecting nature. The authors write: “There seems to be a gap between people’s growing concern about nature loss and the development of ambitious policies that will stop or even reverse it.”
They say that existing protection laws, which have increased by 38-fold since 1972 according to the UN, are not enough unless they are accompanied by enforcement measures by world governments. They also note that the perceived additional costs of sustainable practices may be making companies hesitant to embrace Earth-friendly methods of production.
The authors also point out that while almost everyone (98 percent according to a 2019 survey by National Geographic and market research company IPSOS) says they are “concerned about the threat of species extinction”, most people don’t know about “the exact pace or extent of nature loss around the world.”
According to an April 2021 statement by the EIU, “The fatal risk of species extinction can be avoided if individuals, organisations, businesses and policymakers unite to identify, assess, disclose, mitigate and overcome the issues to preserve nature for all the generations still to come.”
The study ends by noting “Concern about nature loss has moved beyond activist circles and into the mainstream. Voters and the general public in countries all over the world are demanding more radical action to protect biodiversity.”
Thumbnail photo: As the sun rises, a girl carries fishes at a fish market in Tha-Boke-Seik fishing village, on the outskirt of Dawei, Myanmar. (Minzayar Oo / WWF-US)
Headline photo: Sun rising over fixed fishing weir, off Grand Manan Island, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada, 2009. (Barrett&MacKay / WWF-Canada)