"Cutting Through the Green Fog"

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Orion Magazine always comes out with classy articles. This one, by Randy Olson, about communicating environmental messages struck a chord. I struggle with finding words to capture the attention of general readers and then to get them to accept the seriousness of threats to present state of the world. I don’t feel so bad when real professional communicators complain about the same thing.

“HOW ARE YOU GOING to cut through the green fog?” The radio interviewer was referring to the glut of environmental media these days. And as a filmmaker, I knew what he was getting at; last year, independent film distributors developed a “no mas” attitude toward films that aim to save the planet. Unless they are amazingly entertaining, the distributors just don’t see a market for them… .

I took to heart the admonition that successful communication relies on much more than simply reciting the facts in an accessible way. I have spent much of my life in places where most of the time was spent in convincing everyone that I was holding the right set of facts. But Olson added that stories without sincerity and passion fall short. “The object is to move the message out of the head and into the heart with sincerity, into the gut with humor, and if you’re skillful enough, all the way down to the lower organs with sex appeal.” That’s not easy for those of us that come out of the academic world as Olson did earlier in his life.

Taking risks to protect the environment is not just about standing up in front of bulldozers in a forest. There is a courage needed for mass communication, too. You can stick with only the facts and figures, but they will never reach the heart of a mass movement. To truly motivate the nonacademic public, you have to take some chances, come down out of your head, and reach for the other organs of the body.

Figuring that out is essential to saving nature.

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