People have known about mass biodiversity loss and the human actions that drive it for decades now, and yet we have largely failed levels to change our behavior to protect the environment. What’s failing to motivate people to change? Some conservation psychologists have partially blamed the negative way we communicate about environmental issues for paralyzing audiences into doing nothing because they feel helpless to change such a big problem. Instead, many psychologists have called for using positive emotions in communication to motivate an audience, but there’s still little research showing whether that’s a more effective approach or not. To study whether positive or negative emotions are really more motivational for inspiring change, I looked at how different emotions were used in the discourse about an emerging conservation technology called de-extinction as a case study. De-extinction claims to be both a tool for fighting biodiversity loss and for inspiring more positive and inspiring narratives in conservation. In this thesis, I examine those claims by exploring five emotions that the discourse around de-extinction elicits: fear, guilt, grief, awe and hope. I examined the motivating power of those emotions and what kind of actions de-extinction discourse motivates or fails to motivate through the way it uses those emotions. I found that de-extinction discourse erases negative emotions and boosts positive ones as many conservation psychologists recommend. However, de-extinction discourse accomplishes this in misleading ways: it minimizes the sense of importance of ongoing extinctions by framing extinction as a reversible phenomenon, and it overstates the ability of technology alone to combat the extinction crisis without requiring societal change. As a result, de-extinction discourse could risk making the public less motivated to take personal action to forward conservation goals. I conclude that positivity or negativity should not be the central concerns for motivating action, but rather efficacy and honesty.
- Reviving the Dead, Ignoring the Living: Emotions, Ethics, and the Dream of De-Extinction