The value-action gap – the crux of the problem

Solve this and save the world. Partially anyway.

We ‘love animals’ but buy cheap, factory-farmed meat. We want to reduce our carbon emissions, but drive because the train is a hassle. We want to reduce single-use plastic, but refill shops are few and far between. We know our phones and clothes are made in sweatshops but push that out of our minds. We shake our heads in response to global injustices but rarely write to our MP demanding action.

In short, we care but we don’t do.

This is the value-action gap and we NEED to address it to save the world.

Mind the Gap | Reminder on the platform at Paddington Statio ...

There are a few different reasons why values don’t translate into action:

Lack of ease – I think, at least in the past, this has been best exemplified well by recycling. ‘Plastic can be recycled. But only hard plastic. And only if separated from any paper constituents of the packaging. And only if cleaned.’ Who but the most dedicated / fastidious is going to do that?!

Lack of time – making eco-conscious choices takes time and planning. Yes you could cycle to the station, to get the train, change at a few obscure stops across the country, wait while there are line repairs, wait for a bus at the other end and walk the last 20 mins. Or you could just drive.

Lack of motivation – this can be linked to a lack of knowledge. You may not have thought twice about the material your straw was made out of until you watched Blue Planet and then immediately saw plastic as a dolphin-killer.

In it’s Behaviour Change Toolkit for Practitioners, RARE (Centre for Behaviour Change and the Environment) lumps the first two (ease and time) together and adds in a ‘Socialize’ strategy. Their toolkit, therefore, is:

  1. Motivate the Change (Leverage positive emotions; Frame messaging to personal values, identities, or interests; Personalize and humanise messages; Harness cognitive biases; Design behaviourally-informed incentives)
  2. Socialise the Change (Promote the desirable norm; Harness reciprocity; Increase behavioral observability and accountability; Encourage public and peer-to-peer commitments; Choose the right messenger)
  3. Ease the Change (Make it easy by removing frictions and promoting substitutes; Provide support with planning and implementation of intentions; Simplify messages and decisions; Alter the choice setting; Use timely moments, prompts and reminders).

More on this to come…


Looking out to look in

There is a lot going around at the moment about the benefits that nature can have on our mental health. It makes sense – as beings of the Earth, our souls are happiest when in their oldest, natural environment.

But why is this? Obviously the sound of birdsong and ocean waves is nice to listen to. But is there also something deeper, something that we unconsciously connect to – patterns, cycles, rhythms…

Much of what we see in nature is reminiscent of the ups, downs and experiences we have in our own lives. Birth, death, change, joy, fear, perseverance, luck, success, failure – it’s all there in nature.

Maybe looking outside can help us to understand what we see when we look in??

We may go through all four seasons within our minds in just a single day, and yet we rarely soothe ourselves in our own winters; a glance out of the window can remind us that frost will melt and new spring buds will appear.

Nature can be cruel and devastating. So can our human lives. We do not live in fear of being eaten, but we do have our own demons to contend with. Nevertheless, even after great trauma, nature recovers. New shoots appear in the wake of a devastating wildfire, classic predator-prey models show that imbalances in species numbers are always ironed out. Life always finds a way. Equilibrium is always restored.

Nature can help us better understand, even if on an unconscious level, some truths of life – impermanence, beauty, sacrifice, hope. Life in all its quirks and nuances is happening around us all the time. Perhaps sometimes it can help to remember use the window to the outside world as a mirror as well as just a pane of glass.

The Blue Planet effect – how hearts, not minds will save the world

World, Planet, Protection, Protect, Global, All

Since Blue Planet II aired on our screens, we’ve seen a literal tidal wave of interest and action on ocean plastic pollution. For those of us who were into it before it was cool and have been campaigning and raising awareness for years, this has obviously been euphoric; but also maybe a bit of a kick in the teeth (?) – struggling nine-to-five for years has made only tiny change, but then some guy holds up a plastic bottle to the camera, suddenly the world springs into action!

Of course this isn’t actually surprising at all. It brings to the fore the very thing the environmental movement has been missing – the mass winning over of hearts, rather than minds. The environmental movement has tried everything else – economic policies, laws, political lobbying – all good, but none enough. Why? Because it’s humans we’re dealing with, not robots.

I was recently at a conference where it seemed that a great realisation was dawning that, at least in the field of ocean conservation, the social sciences need to play a bigger part. The natural science has been done and communicated – we know there are problems. But how we OVERCOME those problems– that need social science. Sure, natural science also has a part to play here – in giving us carbon reduction targets and new, biodegradable materials. But if we really, really want to save the world, we need to change human behaviour. And we do that by understanding what motivates people, what they prioritise, what’s important, what’s affordable, what appeals, what will work for them.

We can’t have a David Attenborough TV documentary for every problem in the world (and indeed even if we did, the effect would probably be lost due to over-saturation!), but the success-story of Blue Planet II shows that ‘getting’ to ordinary people everywhere is invaluable.


Environmental protesting – does it work?


It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, but the recent rise of climate change protesting has given me a much-needed reminder to come back.

Extinction Rebellion. Is it good or bad for environmentalism? There are certainly arguments for both sides.

On one hand, what a stupid idea. We’ve had decades of ‘looking out for the environment’ as being an ‘out-there’, hippyish fantasy; what we desperately need to do is make it mainstream, relatable to the everyday person, ‘normal’. And so what do we do? Practice yoga on bridges and tell stories in parks. Really?! Talk about alienation.

And yet, it has ‘worked’ in bringing more attention to the issue. Media coverage has been huge, it seems to be more on politicians’ radars, even public concern has risen according to a YouGove poll.

XR admit in their ‘FAQs’ section on their website that people may find them alienating, but that their aim is to make the issue of climate change ‘unignorable’ to decision-makers. However they also admit that lack of public understanding/support for the issue is ‘the very heart of the problem’.

It seems to me that there are two routes to change here, and maybe yes we do need a combination of both.

  1. Straight to the top. I feel like this is mainly what XR are doing. Make your point heard loud and clear. Shout. Scream. Get into politicians’ heads by getting into their commute to work. Pros: fast way to get an issue on agendas, unignorable. Cons: may further alienate the public in the process, may be fleeting.
  2. Bottom-up. Begin with the people who put politicians there. Change society’s collective psyche. Get into ordinary people’s minds by getting into their lives. Pros: more permanent, deeper change. Potentially more effective change therefore. Cons: slow, very difficult.

Which is best? Can we have both? Can they even co-exist? To be continued after I have done more research…!

Factory farming – another inconvenient truth?

We are an animal-loving nation. Dogs are as synonymous with the British landscape as wellies. Nigel the Golden Retriever has become the star of a gardening show, and the Queen’s corgis have featured in our Olympic Games opening ceremony. And our adoration doesn’t end at dogs. Horses, cats, rabbits, guinea-pigs, and hamsters fill the hearts of many, many Brits.

It therefore seems somewhat of a paradox that farm animals don’t receive the same affection. Indeed, it is not just a lack of affection we give them, but an unrelenting life of cruelty. Three quarters of the pork we eat in Britain comes from absolutely horrendous, horror-movie-reared pigs. Three quarters. About half of the eggs we eat are from caged hens, 10 to a piece of A4 paper.

Will, Bow and the Cows

There is a sad tendency for environmental and animal rights activists to be viewed as extremist exaggerators, and I certainly agree that there have been cases where activists have achieved nothing but an intensification of the belief that those who care for the natural world are ‘annoying and naive hippy’s’.

But in the case of factory farming, there is no exaggeration. Having begun to volunteer for Farms Not Factories, a group campaigning against pig factories, I now know the facts. Perhaps even cleverer than our beloved dogs, factory-farmed pigs live in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions, with nothing but soiled and barren concrete to sleep on. They are pumped full of antibiotics just to keep them alive (indeed nearly 30% of all antibiotics used in Britain are given to pigs), leading to antibiotic-resistant diseases which are spreading to humans. Deprived of stimulation and the opportunity to express natural behaviours, pigs become stressed and engage in tail-biting. To prevent this, tails are docked – a pig has its tail cut off roughly every second. Sows are confined to farrowing crates for five solid weeks, unable to turn around and nurse their young. All in all, it is not an exaggeration to call this torture.

As Wayne Pacelle has discussed in his TED Talk ‘Animal factories and the abuse of power’, there is an immense disconnect between our beliefs about animals and our conduct. It’s so easy to make yourself forget that this is how the pepperoni on your pizza was probably made. The truth is disturbing, far away, and and very inconvenient. But it is most definitely there, and we must face up to it.

Contrary to the widespread belief that this is a problem too big to change, much can in fact be done. As a society, we need to change our relationship with meat. As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has said, “We’re downgrading the role of meat as a food into being yet another cheap sandwich-filler… meat is and always should be a precious food”. We don’t have to give it up, just eat less. We can understand more what labels mean, for example the Red Tractor label is no guarantee the meat is cruelty-free. Farms Not Factories has a great labelling guide (

The common retort to buying high-welfare meat is that it is too expensive. I do believe it is naive to think that we can promote animal welfare while ignoring, or even at the expense of, human welfare.  However it costs half a sausage more to buy high welfare pork than factory pork. If you really can’t afford this, then fair enough. But many of us can.

It’s been said that ‘You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals’, and as things stand, we are far from saintly. If we want to uphold our reputation as animal lovers, without knowing deep-down we are hypocrites, we must find space in our hearts for all animals – with or without a collar.


No less than the trees and the stars?

‘You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars’ Desiderata 


This blog will be a collage of thoughts, art, and musings on the relationship between humans and nature. If indeed there is a relationship at all – are we one and the same, or separate entities, interacting in increasingly more conflictual ways? This puzzle has been at the forefront of my mind for a long time, and I thought it was perhaps time to explore it.

Why is this important? Our epoch has been declared the Anthropocene – humans are now ‘officially’ altering the earth’s system processes. But will this ‘distancing’ ourselves from nature also provide solutions to the environmental challenges we face? Perhaps –  we may be separate – stewards? Or maybe we should recognise more our affinity and immersement in nature, to ultimately feel Mother Nature’s pain as our pain? How do we go about doing this? Or maybe a mix of the two is the best way forward?

Are there other advantages of recognising ourselves in nature? Spirituality, mental health and even interactions between people may be improved in some ways… but might  emphasising our differences with nature benefit them in other ways?

This question of this relationship will be at the centre of posts. Comments and thoughts are very welcome!


Healing the planet means healing democracy

green revolution

‘You tell me it’s the institution, well you know you’d better free your mind instead’

If the environmental revolution is to be successful, we need to start thinking about environmental policy in a very different way.

It feels like we’re in a new era, of President Trump, of Brexit and to many environmentalists, of fear. All mention of climate change has been wiped off the White House website, and vicious rumours encircle us that there is to be a bonfire of EU environmental legislation. What hope is there for our planet? If we can learn a lesson in listening, then potentially more than there ever has been.

Like it or not, the political earthquake that that thundered through 2016 showed that whatever we had before wasn’t working. It became irrefutably clear that systems and institutions had become too distant to properly reflect the will of the people at the base of the democratic pyramid. So-called ‘liberal elites’ were out of touch and needed to start listening to the people instead of insisting they know better. The worst thing any policy-maker could do now is to ignore this lesson. And that includes environmentalists.

David Attenborough has said that ‘No one will protect what they don’t care about’. Environmental issues are all too often seen as white, middle-class problems – ‘nice-to-haves’ as soon as we’re all safe, fed, educated and healthy. And maybe not even then if it looks like a toss-up between the environment and the economy. Environmentalists need to make it more explicitly clear that environmental issues are also social and economic issues. This means linking the environment to poverty, to health and to happiness. We need to move from ‘up-in-the-clouds’ greenhouse gas rhetoric to nitty gritty reality – dirty air in the playground, pollutants in tonight’s fish fingers and waste disposal down the road. Even climate change deniers want a clean environment for their kids to grow up in. Fostering and encouraging care and appreciation of the environment at local level will filter through society, and eventually become the bedrock for successful climate agreements. But we can’t keep putting the cart before the horse.

Another quote, from Sarah Hansen, that ‘Healing the planet means healing democracy’, reinforces this. Her report* argues for decreasing reliance on top-down funding strategies and increasing funding for grass-roots communities that are directly impacted by environmental harms. Once local passions have been ignited, people need transparent, accessible routes, through which to voice concerns. This means less ‘top-down’ organisation and more ‘bottom-up’ spontaneity. It means instead of complaining about the ignorant masses, listening to people’s grievances.

Yes, this process will take time, and of course top-level international agreements are also crucial. But unless national efforts are supported by a willing base, they will never be truly effective. Unless environmental policy is more clearly for the people and by the people, it will never progress beyond being a glorified university-student movement akin to champagne socialism. Now, as the west is rediscovering democracy, is the time to give the environment back to individual citizens. People power is rising, and environmentalists must harness it.

*S. Hansen (2012) Cultivating the Grassroots – A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy