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Dave’s Top 10 Ways that Environmental Mysteries Influence Conservation (and vice versa) Dave Butler

For this week’s post, I thought it would be both fun and illuminating to think about how environmental mysteries can influence conservation … and vice versa. There was another famous Dave who often used ‘top ten’ lists, so why not (from least important to most):

1. Poke some fun

Fiction can poke fun at the language, strategies and tactics used in conservation, and even some of the often-contrary science that people use to support their opinions. As an example, one of the groups in my novel No Place for Wolverines debate whether or not it is appropriate to use the term “mega” to describe a project. In the end, they choose to use it in their campaign, even though no one knows what it means…

2. Reflect on how we appreciate natural values and experiences

Fiction can help us reflect on the degree to which we – as individuals and as a society -- do, or don’t appreciate natural values and experiences.

3. Understand issues at a much deeper level

Because fiction allows us as writers to get as deep into topics as we wish to, it allows readers to begin to understand issues at a much deeper level. For example, feeling like you’re in the middle of a world where the climate has changed drastically from what it is now might give you a better understanding of the ways in which what we are doing now will impact the future.

4. Recognize that there are good guys, and bad guys, on both sides

While we love to divide people into “us” and “them,” the reality is that there are – potentially – good guys and bad guys on all sides of conservation issues. Sometimes, the supposed bad guys have good intentions (think of the ‘monkey wrench gang’), while at other times, the supposedly good guys might have intentions that are less than honourable.

5. Recognize the complexity of issues

In a similar fashion, our society today loves to divide us into winners and losers, right vs wrong, good from bad, fact and “fake news.” In my experience, fiction can highlight the fact that very few issues can ever be laid out in black and white. As I described in one of my earlier posts, the shades of grey in between are numerous.

6. Make issues less political and more personal

Because one of our main tools in fiction is to develop compelling characters, characters that you can care about (even if you don’t like them), it allows us to make issues more personal and less political. We can bring conservation issues down to the level of the individual and make them less about partisan politics.

7. Recognize your own biases and emotions

I truly believe that well-crafted fiction, again through the thoughts and actions and reflections of our characters, can help us recognize – and perhaps reflect on -- our own biases and emotions.

8. Encourage people – young and old – to care, without preaching

This is a big one for me. Fiction can be a tool to help people care. I see that when I read a story such as ‘The Lorax’ to my young grandchildren. However, it can be done in way that is less preachy … more encouraging of self-reflection.

9. Change behaviour

In ways that non-fiction perhaps can’t, fiction can draw readers into a compelling story, and into the lives and challenges of its characters … such that they will reflect on their own behaviours … and perhaps be willing to change them.

And now #1 – can we have a drum roll please…

10. Fiction is more fun than non-fiction

In my humble opinion, the #1 way in which fiction can influence conservation is by making reading fun. And I mean no disrespect to anyone who writes non-fiction. While enjoying reading the stories, we can take a break from the crazy world around us. Wouldn’t you rather spend an enjoyable afternoon in a fictional world that will teach and encourage and influence your thinking, through the thoughts and actions and successes and failures of characters you care about….?

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