Increased public interest in environmental issues (Biodiversity Project, 2002) by no means ensures that people will engage in ways that may modify their behaviors, adjust their priorities, and advocate the need for change.
The numerous impediments to achieving both public understanding and engagement on biodiversity issues, as related in the seminal 1998 Biodiversity Project “roadmap” report (Biodiversity Project, 1998), include science illiteracy, the related lack of public familiarity with ecological and evolutionary processes that inform conservation issues, an uncertainty as to why biodiversity conservation is good for individuals and society, a lack or impoverishment of experiences that put people into nature, the disinterest or even antagonism of media and other potential partners in outreach, mistrust of government, information overkill, and competitive choices (even often subliminal ones), such as unsustainable consumerism.
So, then, how shall we carry on with the mission? Recommendations, both specific and general (Biodiversity Project, 1998), include a clearer identification of the attitudes and understanding of diverse target audiences, greater investment on the part of scientists in public education and policy dialogue, notable improvements to science education, more strategic use of the media to reach the public, increased use of the Internet to reach new and expanded audiences, and more strategic ways of contacting and influencing policymakers and government and corporate leaders. These recommendations are embedded in the missions of numerous outreach programs, agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. Many of these recommendations are infrastructural, and they represent intensive long-term investments. This is commendable, but the approach may not develop at a rate fast enough for urgent response. For example, the poor state of science education in the U.S. and certain other countries (National Science Foundation, 2001) is an enormous problem that requires major correction. However, educational investments that might optimistically benefit emerging generations will not have an impact on people who have already experienced the system (Falk et al., 2007). These are the adult populations who must engage now to deal with the crisis at hand. Mechanisms are required to deliver clear messages to very large and diverse audiences and elicit action over a short timescale.
In this chapter, I offer a few thematic recommendations, some of which blend with those already proposed, some of which add to them, and some of which reflect more recent shifts in public attitudes toward environmental topics, such as global warming. With this come suggestions for a few course corrections. The basic goal, namely to promote broader and deeper understanding and more committed stewardship of biodiversity, requires a multidimensional strategy, but one that focuses on three major objectives: (i) improved understanding of the diverse public audiences we