European Wilderness Society

The power of words in Nature Conservation

George Monbiot just published a great article in the Guardian about the effect of using word to describe nature conservation efforts. He appealed to use much more emotional wording to describe what nature is and what it stands for.

In our work, we often see words being used by different stakeholders that often obfuscate the true meaning. The stunning fact is, that nature conservation organization often do not realize the power of words since we are typically more science based and do not pay to communication and marketing the same level of attention as we do to our research.

Wolf Management Plan

For example, the nature conservation community has adopted the word “Wolf Management plan” when in fact it actually refers to the terms and conditions under which wolves can be legally killed for abnormal behaviour, whatever that is (Have you even witnessed a wolf on the couch of Sigmund Freud?). Just the idea that we humans can identify, when a wolf is acting abnormal is stunning, but even worse is that we then define this behaviour in a management plan as a reason to kill a wolf is even more sobering.

Sustainable Harvesting Modus

Have you ever heard of a Sustainable Harvest Modus for Lynx? No? It actually defines killing scenarios based on population models and their effictiveness tested on the Karelian Lymx population in Finland. This action is defined in the Key Actions for Large Carnivores populations in Europe published by a the European Commission and the Istituo di Ecologica Applicata.

Climate Change

As George pointed out, climate change is another one of those words that disguises the real issue. The Trump administration just announced that they are now labelling Climate Change as Weather Extremes. George in his article referred to it as climate breakdown. Most people actually like change and see in the word nothing threatening, when in fact it is already killing hundreds and thousands of people every year. We therefore decided to call it for what it is: climate overheating.


Other words that we have come across is deadwood. Dead always has a negative connotation and we should seek for a much more positive description considering that trees that have fallen over are in fact more rich in biodiversity than live and standing ones.

Ecosystem Services

We fully support George´s argument that the attempt to put a value on nature is absurd. Not only can no one really calculate the value of living organism in a changing environment, but it also opens the door to a negotiation process. If biologists calculate a value of a tree at X there will always be someone who then will offer X+1 to remove it. We will suddenly be caught in bid and speculate and trade nature just like we do with stocks on a stock exchange. A classical example on how this failed is the C02 certificate market. Many organization did not change their C02 output but just priced it into their business model.


George rightfully pointed out that we harmlessly call the eradication of species with the term Extinction. This ambiguously indicates that it may have been natural causes that eradicated the species from this earth, when in fact it often was human activities that were the reason.

Lets call a Spade a Spade

I can go on and on and on, but all the lamenting does not help nature. What we all should do, question the use of certain wording and ask ourselves if this wording does not hide or belittle or obfuscate the true meaning or impact of the phenomena described by it. We should develop a more emotional and more honest set of words for what we do in nature and against nature. This will take some courage since it will open a discussion not on the sciences but on the more emotional level of our work but with emotion there cannot be any passion and with passion our work is just like any other employment.

We at the European Wilderness Society decided  to review our wording we used in the past and are currently starting to update this to reflect the above mentioned objective of being more emotional and objective. We will now use climate overheating for the human impact on climate, we will use Natural Wonders (Thank you George) instead of protected areas, we will use Wolf Killing Plan instead of Wolf Management Plan, we will not use the word ecosystem services anymore and we will refrain from using words like extinction of species or removal of flora and fauna when in fact it means eradication of a species or at least the killing of it at a local level.

Join us on this endeavour and helps us in our passion for natural wonders.

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