Thursday, 12 January 2017

Getting the language right

There was a really interesting piece published yesterday by Erasmus in The Economist, which described the importance of story-telling and emotion in creating change.  If we want people to engage on sustainability and climate change, then we need to speak at a personal, emotional level, rather than just thrusting facts and figures in people's faces and hoping for the best.

The column reviews what Erasmus calls a 'very short, very sharp book' by Alex Evans called, 'The Myth Gap'.  He notes Mr Evan's key argument, that 'all successful movements, including those that overturned slavery and racial discrimination, consisted of a network of small and large communities held together not by common calculations or common acceptance of certain technical facts, but by commonly-proclaimed narratives about the past and the future.'

In these revolutions, rather than a mass response to technical data projections, change came from an expression of shared experience and a need for a new direction.  Martin Luther King did not present an Excel spreadsheet, he had a dream.  The New Testament does not define the number of Judeans expected to face damnation in the next four quarters, it tells parables that create a public consciousness of a shared morality.  If 2016 has taught us anything, then we should reflect that stories, emotions, and a common narrative can trump raw facts every time.

In food and farming this is also true. Mainstream food production is driving biodiversity loss, obesity, greenhouse gas pollution, anti-microbial resistance, and poor farm animal welfare.  But campaigners won't suddenly create sustainable agriculture by warning of these dangers time and again with statistics, facts and figures.  Activists have been trying this for thirty years and the ethical and environmental challenges have only increased.

Sustainable mainstream food and farming will only emerge because farmers and food companies believe the change is possible, necessary, and that transition creates new financial opportunities.

To invoke this change we need farmers to talk to farmers; food businesses to feel pressure from consumers and their corporate peers.

Farmwel's key principle is that we must work together to build a momentum for sustainable food and farming by demonstrating that sustainability works.

Later this spring we will start show-casing practical action taken by independent farmers, co-operatives, and larger businesses that have made real progress on sustainability, and who have often reaped the economic rewards of doing so.


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