My lifelong passion has been working to make information matter in pursuit of a better planet and society.
So when I get to know others relentlessly exploring communication frontiers with the same goal, I can't resist comparing notes and sharing their insights and breakthroughs, both here and in the companion Sustain What webcasts I run through the Columbia Climate School.
A frequent contributor to National Geographic, Nicklen has amassed 7 million followers on Instagram. Trained as a marine biologist, he has a particular focus on the ocean.
As he explained in his first Born Wild dispatch last summer, he was lured beneath the waves by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the French undersea explorer, inventor, filmmaker and pied piper of ocean conservation. (Nicklen is Canadian; I was similarly lured into the sea by Cousteau while growing up in Rhode Island.)
One of my favorite Nicklen posts so far recalls when he and Mittermeier had a remarkable 2019 encounter in waters off Dominica with a (vertically) napping sperm whale and her calf. Here's an excerpt:
We explored a particularly tough question: how to go beyond likes and clicks, how to go from image to impact.
Surprisingly, even though we're surrounded by environmental imagery, there's not a lot of research pointing to what works or doesn't. A 2019 Ambio paper by a trio of social scientists - Laura Thomas-Walters, Claire McNulty, and Diogo Verissimo - reviewed dozens of studies and came to this sobering conclusion:
"Although there is clear evidence that images of animals can have positive effects on people’s attitudes to animals, overall there is currently a dearth of accessible and comparable published data demonstrating the efficacy of animal imagery. Most existing studies are place and context-specific, limiting the generalizable conclusions that can be drawn. Trans-disciplinary research is needed to develop a robust understanding of the contextual and cultural factors that affect how animal images can be used effectively for conservation purposes."
You can read the open-access paper here: "A scoping review into the impact of animal imagery on pro-environmental outcomes."
We were joined by paper author Diogo Verissimo (@verisimmodiogo), a research fellow in the Oxford Martin Program on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, who filled us in on a fantastic new project he works on called On the Edge - a collaborative of storytellers & scientists aiming to reconnect people with nature through digital media. I pledged to do a fresh Sustain What webcast and post on their work!
Here's a video introduction to the initiative:
What images have not only captivated, but motivated, you to change some activity or pursue some goal? I'll offer some of my suggestions here after our webcast and post your insights and examples, as well.
Find my social media accounts, books and music in a click here. And please share Sustain What with solution-focused friends and colleagues!
I didn't get the framing right and there are plenty of other flaws, but when I shot this photograph in Djibouti in 1980, the sight of this pile of leopard skins for sale at a tobacco shop helped propel me toward the journalism career I've pursued ever since.