Presidents letter

Speaking up for naturePublished 02/01/13 | by Brian Bainbridge

Skillful communication is a tool for saving nature. People who care about nature are often, by ‘nature’ thoughtful and quiet. These qualities help make them fantastic observers and empathic to the lives of the non-human world. Frequently these traits are associated with reticence to speak out in front of a crowd. Our shyness means we are happiest working in the background, doing the essential caretaking of our local ‘patch’.

The viewpoints of nature-literate people need to be heard more than ever as our local reserves, our atmosphere and our ecosystems struggle with the weight of human needs, greed and ignorance. In our media, thousands of voices insist we ignore the peril that our wondrous living support system faces.

Skillful communicators share knowledge, deal with lies and ignorance, help others through despair and inspire action. David Suzuki documented in his book, the Wisdom of the Elders, the traditions of passing on local ecological knowledge that have arisen in all human cultures. Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson and Crosbie Morrison are heroes from the past whose skill with the written or spoken word have mobilized whole populations to action for the environment. David Attenborough’s voice and body-language, teamed with the skills of documentary makers, have switched on generations of naturelovers. Tim Flannery and David Suzuki are among those who have taken up the challenge to become spokespeople at a national or planetary level. There are many less well-known local voices but they are a rare and threatened species.

I have spent years agonizing over public talks which conveyed passion and knowledge but fell short of sharing a message. This year I joined Toastmasters to improve my skill in public speaking. Toastmasters is an eighty year old club that promotes better public speaking. It is worldwide and has thousands of self-organising groups supported by the original US structure. It surprised me how simple and enjoyable it has been to build the skills I needed to craft my message to hit its mark. I now enjoy the challenge of making a talk or piece of writing that takes what is in my head and heart and speaks to the head and heart of others. This years’ experience has given me hope that such training might unleash the potential of local environmentalists to influence people and build an informed and active public on conservation matters.

Have you a message to deliver from your experience of caring for nature? Don’t be afraid to try some training in communication. Like me, you might renew a sense of purpose and hope in your ability to make a change for the better.