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Assessing Diverse Audiences and Attitudes

Many of the above-noted surveys are useful in detecting some general signals of response from the public. However, these surveys also show diverse responses that relate to particular levels of education, economic background, cultural affiliations, and religious beliefs. Environmental educators argue that the true complexity of the audience has not been sufficiently sampled and analyzed (Bride, 2006). For example, we are just beginning to survey people in developing countries faced with difficult choices because of their very poor standard of living (Agrawal and Redford, 2006). Here, we can take a lesson from business marketing strategies, wherein target audiences are identified and parsed for different approaches. This underscores the need for more surveys that identify groups according to their onset knowledge, economic status, cultural identities, and motivations (Falk et al., 2007). Of course, this targeted sampling should be accompanied by the kind of general assessments that identify some of the overarching concerns shared by many different audiences.


A consistent result in surveys of public attitudes is that the basic message, that the biodiversity enormously important to the sustainability of the environment and the quality of our own lives is at serious risk, is not getting across to many of the target audiences. Moreover, the message carries some unfamiliar terminology, as noted above in the case of the word biodiversity itself, that requires constant attention and clarification. When people are given a definition of the word, they respond in ways compatible with efforts to protect biodiversity, expressing concerns over the destruction of habitats and the loss of species.

This leads directly to a consideration of those messages that have been more effective than others in reaching the public. Such an assessment is difficult; surveys, for the most part, have been aimed at eliciting the very general responses noted above. The limited insights gained from those responses, however, suggest that the most penetrating messages are those that clearly relate scientific insights concerning biodiversity and biodiversity loss to more general environmental problems and, in turn, to problems rooted in common experience: poor water quality, depletion of fisheries, zebra mussels and other invasive species, forest clearing, open-pit mining, urban sprawl, and many others. For example, the concept of shifting baselines in fisheries (Pauly, 1995) describes a tendency to assume that ocean life is abundant and ocean ecosystems are healthy, even though they have experienced steady, albeit slow, deterioration. Thus, putative “recovery” in the populations of some species by no means indicates the species has

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