Nature First: “We Are Nature” and Rethinking Our Relationship with the Planet
In a world increasingly buffered by screens and dominated by technology, the deep, intrinsic connection we all share with nature has become dangerously frayed. This thought is on my mind a lot. While alarming, each headline about wildfires, floods, and biodiversity loss feels terrifying yet distant and abstract, diluting the urgency and immediacy of the environmental challenges unfurling before us.
The specters of wildfires, floods, and disappearing wildlife have become our daily backdrop. These aren't just news stories—they are cries of a world out of balance. That scares me, and I'm sure you as well. Not just for the planet we call home but for us, humanity. And my biggest fear? If we don't start painting a picture of hope, if we don't start imagining a future where respect for nature is normal, we will lose the fight against climate change and, ultimately, face extinction.
After eight years as a global climate and nature campaigner, I couldn't shake the thought that our traditional way of campaigning wasn't enough. I think it's crucial to not only conserve nature but redefine our relationship with it. It means seeing nature not as something "out there" but as a part of us, deserving respect, connection, and active restoration. There is a palpable need for a narrative shift, a fresh lens that not only spotlighted the crises but also knitted back the bonds between individuals and the living, breathing world outside.
It's not 'us' and 'nature.' We are nature. We are entangled, interwoven parts of a dynamic, living tapestry. Yet, our hypercapitalist lifestyles and choices often blur this fundamental truth, leading to a desperate need for a movement that truly embodies this realization.
In this past year, this yearning for reconnection and understanding found its first expression in a new type of campaigning at Greenpeace. It began during discussions and sessions at the Biodiversity Community Summit in Greece, marking the embryonic stages of what would later crystallize into the "We Are Nature" campaign.
A spark that became a flame in Greece
At a pivotal Biodiversity Community Summit in Greece in October 2022, some of my dear colleagues and I sparked a unique campaign idea that later flickered into existence. At this gathering, we, a consortium of global Greenpeace Forest and Food campaigners, convened for a series of soul-stirring sessions. During a memorable 'fireside chat,' a space blossomed for us to openly explore and dissect the flawed paradigm humanity held towards nature. It was not just a space for reflection but a crucible for transformation, where we collectively envisioned a new way of campaigning—one that was deeply rooted in fostering positive narratives, a sense of community, and solutions for restoring nature.
A shift was in the air in what dawned upon us: the true power of community is in these tangible, face-to-face interactions, which we had forgotten about after two years of COVID lockdown. In groups, consciousness can indeed shift. Through these sessions, we dissected and reimagined human-nature relationships, paving a roadmap for a change in consciousness imperative for tackling the imminent climate crisis and nature collapse. Nature is the symphony of life playing through forests, oceans, and the vast sky above. We realized that respecting and restoring local and global ecosystems wasn't just an environmental need but a spiritual imperative, a call echoing from the depth of our shared humanity.
This was a call for each of us to unplug, to consciously build offline communities rooted in shared values of protecting and restoring nature. The seed for the 'We Are Nature' campaign was planted here amidst discussions under the Aegean sky. As we left, each of us carried with us not just a sense of responsibility but a flame of hope, ready to illuminate the path ahead with a campaign that would change not just perspectives but hearts.
Seed becomes flower: wild experimentation
In the autumn of 2022 into early 2023, we began planning and networking. I mustered a cadre of diligent and inspired colleagues—Tim, Christine, Chu Chu, and Wenjing—to breathe life into this nascent "We Are Nature" campaign. Each brought a unique perspective, with their roots extending to various corners of the globe: China, Belgium, and Austria. Thousands of miles apart yet connected by purpose and a touch of crazy, we crafted a Campaign Proposal. It distilled our shared vision, articulating a narrative and Theory of Change that called for a mindset shift internally.
Eventually, we got approved with a humble yet sufficient budget—60,000 Euros. The constraints didn't stifle our creativity but honed it, forcing us to innovate in scarcity. Our mission was to experiment, to test the resonance of our messages across digital landscapes, tapping into the consciousness of supporters worldwide. We were encouraged to experiment and innovate with new tools and storytelling techniques that defied the conventional and embraced the inspirational.
From February to April 2023, our team took a leap of faith into the promising field of generative AI. We wanted to leverage generative AI art tools for swift conceptual visualization, but caution was our compass; we attribute meticulously, avoid crafting fictional faces, and commit to transparency, ensuring our AI-crafted visuals neither distort reality nor infringe on copyrights. It helps us create artistic concepts faster in the service of truth. But it's still very controversial. Ethical use of AI is paramount.
With little prior experience but an insatiable curiosity, I set out to master the nuances of Midjourney prompting for rapid prototyping after trying several tools like Stable Diffusion and Adobe Firefly. Like learning a secret language, Midjourney allowed us to sketch out the future contours of our campaign visually. It was a process of articulating ideas that demanded words, a palette of images, and feelings.
Our visual ideas were deliberately awe-inducing, designed to inspire a new future reality rather than depict reality as it is. Each image was a homage to nature's mighty, protective power, a visual snapshot celebrating the possibilities of community and regeneration. We sought to depict nature as a shield and nurturer, providing shade, moisture, and life in times of scorching heat and soul-sapping drought. These were tales of re-growth, re-wilding, and revitalization. Our ideas included powerful visuals:
Solarpunk visions in the not-to-distant future where nature redefines urban spaces
Animals and plants larger than life sending humans a message
People doing larger-than-life heroic asks on behalf of nature
Scenes of giant animals replenishing dried river beds with water
Going live: International Biodiversity Day
May marked International Biodiversity Day, which we thought was a good moment to release these messages and images. Artist Christopher Relander, hailing from the serene expanses of Finland, became our collaborator, bringing a unique lens to the project through his double-exposure fine art series. Chris had this distinct, delicate way of blending humanity with the essence of nature, crafting portraits where people and their cherished natural environments coalesced into singular, harmonious images. We recruited staff and volunteers to become the canvas. As the campaign rolled out, our visual narrative reverberated across digital channels, reaching out to the corners of the world. We hoped that in a single frame, people could be inspired to protect and restore the home that houses us all.
A key component was gathering data from our supporters to understand their orientation to nature. We launched a Nature Connectedness survey on Typeform. This platform allowed people to soar through nature scenes and delve into their relationship with nature, providing us with invaluable insights from over 8,800 respondents globally.
We learned that people across regions deeply and emotionally connect to nature, valuing it for spiritual fulfillment. Interestingly, the echoes of the COVID-19 pandemic reverberated through the responses. The crisis, with its multifaceted challenges, inadvertently nudged many to seek solace in the embrace of nature, instigating a trend that showed signs of enduring permanency. A significant finding was the looming fear of heat waves and drought, the silent, creeping disasters that instilled a pervasive sense of dread among individuals.
On a hopeful note, the survey illuminated a strong inclination among respondents to champion the cause of regulatory measures aimed at banks and industries notorious for their destructive endeavors against nature. Through the lens of the survey, the picture was becoming more apparent, providing us with the tools and understanding to steer our campaign.
From Extreme Weather Despair To Hope
The summer of 2023 was Earth's hottest since records began in 1880, with August being 2.2°F above the average, impacting tens of millions with severe heat waves. They enveloped other parts of the globe, including North America, Europe, and Asia, due to human-driven global warming and El Niño, with record temperatures experienced in China and extreme heat leading to the closure of Athens' Acropolis.
Utilizing findings from our Mindworks Lab, we crafted communications that navigated through the various stages of extreme weather events, understanding that messaging differ from phase to phase. The process begins with Phase 1, a period marked by fear and uncertainty as a crisis looms, often leading to panic and denial in the community. This transitions into Phase 2, the Impact phase, characterized by emotional reactions where self-preservation takes precedence.
Then, the crucial Honeymoon Phase, or Phase 3, kicks in. During this pivotal time, community cohesion is at its zenith. The shared experience of the disaster fosters a strong sense of unity and purpose among community members, leading a spirit of generosity and support. This phase is significant as it turns the tide from despair to hope, fostering a sense of agency and control among community members, making it a focal point in our communication strategy during extreme weather events.
We enlisted the creative abilities of Greg Rawson. This artist, based in Singapore, used AI and Adobe Photoshop to craft inspiring and surreal images. These visual eyecatchers encapsulated nature's mighty power and indomitable spirit in the face of crisis. We asked him to build upon our larger-than-life series, playing with giant animals. His work included a giant turtle saving a family during a flood event and a giant hummingbird blowing smoke away from a city with its wings. And people responded.
Our most engaging post of the campaign was a carousel of Greg Rawson's six extreme weather images, reaching 25k likes on Instagram, comments, and shares with 415k impressions that went viral for several days. In the public realm, these visuals were accompanied by a thought-provoking op-ed penned by GPI IED Mads Flarup Christensen, finding its home in the prestigious columns of Al Jazeera. The piece artfully underscored the indispensability of nature restoration.
Nature First: Integration of two campaigns into a global campaign
In August 2023, something exciting happened. The teams behind the "Bankrolling Extinction" and "We Are Nature" campaigns decided to join forces. We saw that working together could make our message more powerful and have a deeper impact.
"Bankrolling Extinction" was about exposing the ties between big finance and the industries harming our planet. The campaign called for urgent changes and regulations to protect our most precious ecosystems from further damage. Conversely, "We Are Nature" was a tapestry of stories and images celebrating our connection with the environment. It was more than just a campaign; it celebrated the bond between people and nature, filled with hope and a deep love for the Earth.
We realized that combining these two narratives would create something special and potent. "Bankrolling Extinction" offered a strong, analytical foundation, advocating for essential systemic changes in banks and governments' operations. It was a call for alignment between finance, industry, and the vital global goals for biodiversity. "We Are Nature" brought these cold facts to life, wrapping them in engaging storytelling and compelling visuals. It added the human touch, sparking inspiration and community action to challenge the financial giants and shift the mindset contributing to nature's destruction.
With this unified approach, we outlined our global priorities and set the stage for impactful work in 2024 and 2025. Many of our key offices: Brazil, Indonesia, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Central Europe are all on board.
Reflecting on my eight years at Greenpeace, the "We Are Nature" campaign stands out as a high point, bringing daily challenges, innovation, and deep passion for a cause dear to me. This initiative was not just about education but also aimed to resonate and inspire action, fostering connections with both nature and like-minded individuals around the globe.
As we transition to the "Nature First" campaign, I’m filled with hope and excitement for the possibilities unfolding before us. This new phase signals a potential turning point towards global sustainability and a renewed respect for Earth, marking a pivotal moment in our collective effort to safeguard the planet. With the campaign evolving, I eagerly anticipate the positive global impact it will undoubtedly generate, contributing to a legacy of love, respect, and protection for our precious Earth.