Using Nonviolent Communication to Prevent Species Extinction
“The more we heat up the planet, the more it costs all of us, not just in money, but in colossal famines, displacements, deaths, and species extinctions, as well as in the loss of some of the things that make this planet a blue-green jewel, including its specialized habitats from the melting Arctic to bleaching coral reefs.”
Is it possible to use Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to prevent species extinction?
Yes, and… NVC is necessary but not sufficient.
In order to explain we need to make clear the root causes of species extinction and show how NVC is an important component of a tool box to address those root causes.
Understanding the root cause of species extinction
How do we understand the root cause of species extinction?
It could be said that the root cause of species extinction is loss of habitat. While this is true, it is an oversimplification. Habitat loss itself is driven by multiple causes.
It is more accurate to say that species extinction does not have only one, but rather multiple causes.
Habitat loss is driven by a combination of consumerism and human population growth.
Our hunger to consume, driven in part by how our economic system is structured, leads to the destruction of places other species need to live. An illustrative example includes the forests in which orangutans live, which are cut down for mass oil palm production. Imagine a diverse ecosystem with thousands of species of plants, trees, insects, and other types of life cut down in order to cultivate rows upon rows of only one species, for human consumption.
The nature of industrial scale single-crop agriculture also includes the widespread use of herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers.
To the destruction of habitat we can add the accumulation of toxins in air, water, soil, and organisms from agricultural and industrial processes, and from the breakdown of post-consumer products in the environment.
Climate change is also a key factor in the degradation of habitat — the causes of which are also derived from a consumption-based economy.
A note about exponential population growth
What leads to exponential population growth?
The deeper causes of population growth are beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that one of the main causes is poverty.
The pattern in lower-income countries is that people have many children because (a) many of them are not expected to survive childhood, and (b) the lack of a social safety net means that people expect their children to care for them into old age. In these societies more children translates into more old-age security.
Though an oversimplification, this elucidates the pattern seen worldwide, historically, and cross-culturally.
Alleviating poverty and strengthening social institutions that care for people are effective strategies toward helping societies achieve a demographic transition and slowing the kind of population growth that threatens both wildlife habitat and social stability.
Poverty also affects habitat loss in other complex ways. These include the cutting down of forests for subsistence agriculture and firewood gathering, as well as animal poaching for profit in the absence of other income possibilities, especially in places with low access to formal education.
The consumption-driven economy
One of the primary drivers of habitat loss and species extinction is our outdated consumption-based economy.
Why outdated? Two hundred years ago our Earth seemed infinite in its ability to provide resources as well as to absorb pollution. We now know that this is not true.
Our economy is what is known as a linear economy, as opposed to what is described as a circular economy (sometimes also referred to as a steady-state economy).
Here is a simplified graphic illustrating a “linear economy”:
In our current economic model the products we consume go from resource extraction, through utilization, and then become waste. It is linear in the sense that it is based on what is known as “throughput” — the turning of “resources” — which come from habitat — into “waste” — which goes back into “habitat.”
The health of the economy is measured primarily by GDP (Gross Domestic Product). GDP is a measure of money spent (which translates into resources consumed) and if GDP goes up the economy is said to be doing well. If the GDP goes down the economy is said to be doing poorly.
The thinking and languaging around the economy is that it is expected to grow, and grow, and grow.
However, economy is — and must be — a subset of ecology. If an economy outgrows its ecological base then by definition it can no longer be sustained, and all our clean air, water, soil, and habitat are gone.
Part of the issue is that of “externalities.”
Externalities are things that the current economic model cannot measure for their value.
A forest does things for us that are considered “free” but which are not reflected in the economic balance sheet. For example, a forest purifies the air and the water, prevents drought by allowing precipitation to filter into the water table and by creating rain through evapotranspiration, houses biodiversity, and prevents both flooding and erosion — and none of these “free services” can be accounted for in our current economic model.
Our present-day economic model can only value a forest for the wood that can be extracted and sold, or for the price people pay to visit that forest (eco-tourism). So we cut down forests to sell the timber and externalize the costs (soil instability, flooding, loss of precipitation) to other species and future generations. (While tree farming or “forestry” can help take pressure off of old growth forests, a tree farm is not a forest. One species of trees planted in rows does not remotely approach the diversity of an old-growth forest. So while people sometimes call tree planting “reforestation,” it is often more accurate to call it tree farming.)
We need an updated economic paradigm that can internalize these externalized costs. A life-serving economic framework would create perpetual value. Instead, our current system focuses on short-term financial profit for a relatively small number of people in exchange for long-term toxic waste and blighted expanses. (The myth of the “trickle-down” economy is beyond the scope of this article. However, it might be enough to point out that our economy is “trickle up.”)
Here is a simplified graphic denoting a circular economy:
In a circular economy material flows are maximized as resources, rather than hastened into waste.
The difference between individual behaviors, group behaviors, and systems & structures
There is a significant difference between changing individual behaviors, changing group behaviors and thereby the culture, and updating systems and structures so that they incentivize or disincentivize life-serving behaviors by the population as a whole.
Changing individual behaviors can be important and valuable — and yet it contributes an insufficiently slow rate of change for the scale of challenges we face as a species and a planet. It helps when the individuals involved can influence many other individuals, or better yet, influence the behavior of entire groups and lead to cultural change.
An example of cultural change can be seen in the changing attitudes toward tobacco use in the United States over the last 50 years. This effort included not only legislation, but widespread education campaigns to make smoking culturally undesirable. Smoking went from “cool” to “not cool” in a few decades.
Changing systems and structures makes it easier for people to change individual actions. The term “systems and structures” covers a vast amount of collective behaviors, processes, and human constructs, including land use, infrastructure, procedures, habits, conventions, and laws. A simple example of systems and structures can be seen in public places that have no recycling bins versus public places that make recycling easy by having differentiated bins next to each trash can.
Another example of systems and structures involves taxation. Taxes are not merely a way for governments to collect revenue to pay for roads and services. Taxes are also a way governments create incentives and disincentives with regard to products and services that harm or benefit humans and other species. When activities that are harmful for people and the Earth are taxed it creates a disincentive from participating in them. Lowering taxes on things that are beneficial to humans and the Earth makes them more economically viable, thus incentivizing them.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg — originator of NVC — pointed out in some of his live workshops that our economic system is set up so that we don’t see the consequences of our purchases. It might be different if product labels included things like n amount of acid rain, x amount of pollution into a river, y kilos of carbon into the atmosphere, and z number of hectares of habitat lost.
Besides looking at individual behaviors, and beyond shifting cultural norms and therefore collective behaviors, it’s essential that we look to how systems and structures support or undermine Life. We can create systems and structures that are more life-serving for humans and the Earth!
And skillful use of NVC will aid us in creating life-serving systems and structures that are long-lasting.
Understanding the deeper needs people are trying to meet through acquiring and accumulating things
Species become extinct through habitat loss. Habitat is destroyed largely by collective consumer behaviors, which are in turn supported and incentivized through systems and structures.
Viewed through an NVC lens, acquiring and accumulating things is a set of strategies which attempt to satisfy Universal Human Needs.
Because of it’s focus on needs and it’s key differentiation between needs and strategies, NVC can help people understand the deeper needs they are trying to meet through acquiring and accumulating consumer products so that they can open up to less destructive ways of meeting their needs.
For example, imagine a fictitious person’s internal dialog: “I want a Lamborghini.” With NVC, this person might ask themselves, “well, if I had a Lambo, what would that give me?” We can imagine them continuing, “…I would have status, prestige, respect, acceptance, and belonging! And when I have these things, then what do I have? A-ha! Self acceptance!” In this scenario, this person now has the opportunity to find less expensive ways (strategies that are less costly economically and ecologically) to meet their deeper needs for self-acceptance, belonging and acceptance by others, as well as respect in the world.
NVC gives us the thinking and language to look inside ourselves to find the underlying motivations and needs we are trying to satisfy through any set of strategies, including our participation in consumptive behaviors.
Using NVC to persuade individuals about consumerism, overconsumption, and the state of the planet
When the other person feels heard, then they are more likely to hear you out. — Dr. Marshall Rosenberg
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. — Source Unknown
Through a process of empathy and honesty, NVC can help you make a connection with others — enough so, that then they might be willing to hear your perspective and values.
One major shortcoming of the environmental movement for decades has been the belief that enough data will convince individuals to change.
However, information is ultimately not what motivates individuals to act. People are motivated by what is important to them… their values and their needs.
So rather than flooding people with information about climate change or species extinction we will have more success meeting people where they’re at — in a way that connects with what’s important to them. NVC helps you do that with the greatest likelihood of success.
To be clear: NVC is not about changing others. NVC contributes to making a high quality connection out of which people are much more likely to find mutually agreeable outcomes and solutions.
In addition to trying to persuade others to see a different perspective, we need to change and adapt systems and structures in order to make it easy for people to perform life-serving actions regardless of their worldview or orientation.
Using NVC to inform campaigns that influence group behaviors without shame, guilt, or coercion
When we face pressure or coercion we naturally resist it.
No matter how positive the actions might seem from the outside, when people act out of shame, guilt, or other pressure, they often miss the deeper reasons for such enlightened action.
NVC is a powerful set of tools to enroll rather than to enforce. By helping people see how certain courses of action will better meet their needs, they then do so willingly — without any need to pressure, manipulate, or coerce.
Additionally, many life-serving undertakings, ventures, and endeavors fail when the relationships within that group fail.
NVC can help you support the functionality of relationships within your project or venture so that the whole attempt does not sink from the failure of human relationship breakdown.
Using NVC to access those who can change systems and structures, and turning those interactions into highly effective conversations
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg defined social change as any given number of NVC conversations.
What he meant by that is that we can use our communication prowess, and the power of our relationships, to gain access to people who have their hands on the levers of power — people who have the structural means to effect change.
And once you have access to such a person you might only have a short time with them. So NVC gives you the tools and skills to have the most effective conversation possible in the time you have, by forging a connection and concluding with an actionable request to create forward movement.
Transforming Enemy Images
Sometimes the obstacle to having an effective exchange with someone in a position of power is that we have a negative opinion of them, judgments, or have otherwise created what is referred to in NVC circles as an enemy image.
NVC guides you to get support ahead of any critical conversation in which you have judgments and/or emotional charge, so that you can transform that enemy image and increase your chances of a successful exchange.
This negative impression of the other person can often block authentic human connection and disrupt the effectiveness of what otherwise could be a productive interaction. By transforming the enemy image — clarifying your feelings, needs, and requests, as well as humanizing this other individual — you are more likely to generate a positive, mutually satisfying outcome.
The value of actionable requests
Assuming it is guided by the powerful consciousness and tools of NVC, any such exchange with a person who holds structural power would conclude with an actionable request.
What exactly does that mean?
In NVC, requests have four criteria: specific, doable, positive-action, and present.
When a request is specific there is a greater likelihood of you getting what you are wanting. If it’s too vague, the response will be equally vague and unsatisfying.
If you make a request that is not doable, the other person agreeing to your request will not help anyone. They could agree, then fail, and the situation has not improved.
When a request includes positive-action language it tells the other person what you want rather than what you don’t want. This increases the likelihood of the other person understanding what you are requesting.
When a request is a present request, it gives the other person an opportunity to respond in the present moment. This allows you to get a response now, contributes to avoiding lack of accountability, and keeps the conversation moving.
These four criteria add up to your request being clear and actionable.
Without a clear and actionable request, the conversation is left hanging, without a clear direction or next steps, and without a clear opportunity for the other person to respond in the moment.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg used to say that the number one reason our needs are not met is a lack of clear requests.
With a clear request, there is every possibility of action being taken that can move things forward.
If there is ONE root cause to species extinction, it is human immaturity
This is sometimes erroneously ascribed to the notion that human nature dictates that we are inherently bad.
It’s more likely that human nature is not “bad” but rather, represents a spectrum of possibilities. In other words, humans are not bad, just not mature enough — yet.
It is through the maturation of human consciousness that we as humans can and will expand our worldviews, behaviors, skills, systems, and structures to restore a semblance of balance on our precious Planet Earth.
There is no Planet B
The closest planet which might resemble Earth would take 50,000 years to get to with our current technology.
When you look around us, Earth is surrounded by cosmic desert. Our home planet is a precious oasis in this vast expanse.
Perhaps Earth really is the best way to fly through space!
The Difference Between Endangered Species and Extinct Species
What is the difference between an endangered species and an extinct species?
Endangered species are still with us — but they are in danger of becoming extinct. In danger. Endangered.
Losing an individual of a species — like a great ape, a lemur, or a tiger — can be experienced as tragic. But losing a species is at an entirely different order of magnitude that is challenging for the human mind to wrap itself around. This is because we are talking about losing an entire genetic lineage that has been with us since time immemorial.
If we lose an elephant, an eagle, or a lion — while it may be painful — does not mean that we forever lose elephants, eagles, or lions.
Once we lose an entire species we will never, ever see that kind of life-form again!
This means that we are leaving an impoverished planet for all future generations.
And we don’t know all the ramifications this has for life in general, ecological balance, and by extension Earth’s life-support systems — or for humans specifically.
How Does Species Extinction Affect Humans Everywhere?
How does species extinction affect humans everywhere?
We have a physical connection with other beings — whether it’s the dog or cat that you pet, or the plants and trees that produce the oxygen that you breathe.
Our connection with other beings is also emotional, metaphorical, archetypal, and spiritual.
And we have a connection with future generations, whether or not we are aware of it. After all, the planet we leave is the planet they inherit and will have to inhabit.
As mentioned earlier, losing a genetic lineage leaves our shared planet permanently impoverished for future generations.
We also don’t fully understand all the ways in which ecological balance is maintained or preserved by the complex interactions of the web of life or the interconnections in the great chain of being.
Turning a blind eye to species extinction is like opening the hood of your car, and if you don’t know what something is or what it’s good for, taking it and throwing it out. It overlooks the complex interrelatedness and interdependence within ecosystems that makes for ecological stability.
Increasing numbers of people are arriving at an understanding that our very existence depends on the Earth’s life support systems. We disrupt that balance at our own risk.
Leaving a genetically impoverished planet commits a great disservice to future generations because we are reducing their options, which in turn reduces their choice and their freedom.
“Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
― Chief Seattle
Overcoming the Politics of Extinction Through Healthy Communication
How do we overcome the politics of extinction through healthy communication?
It might be safe to assume that humans do not necessarily intend to make any species extinct. It’s easy to infer that those in power either don’t care or don’t understand. And it’s possible to conclude that they don’t understand, assuming that if they understood they would care.
It’s also possible that some people in power understand, care, and simply don’t know what to do.
Usually the difficulty comes in through our current version of economics, as described partially in this article. And this view of economics is in turn supported by our collective answers to the questions: who are we? and what is the good life? (More on these questions, below.)
We need a new economics that supports the thriving of humans and natural communities.
“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
— Edward Abbey
Economics is one of the systems and structures we need to transform because economics, as it functions today, leads to increased species extinction.
As described above, a linear economic system is one based on throughput, which is the flow from natural existence to resource to waste.
We use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure the health of an economy and by extension the health of a society.
However, GDP is a measurement of money spent. Whether $100 is spent on textbooks for school, private prisons, pornography, something that pollutes, or something that heals — as far as GDP is concerned it is the same $100!
Measuring the health of a society primarily through GDP is much like flying a plane using only the altimeter. “The higher the better” does not equate to health, safety, or effectiveness!
And we could add to this the unquestioned assumption that the economy can and must grow infinitely — on a finite planet — and our predicament becomes more clear.
“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”
— Cree Proverb
The wisdom of multiple indicators
There are increasing numbers of communities around the world that are seeing the wisdom of using multiple indicators, beyond GDP, to measure the health of society.
Things we can measure include the degree to which our towns and cities are pedestrian-friendly, the number of rivers and streams that support healthy habitat for fish, and the percentage of people who have work that is meaningful to them. There are literally dozens of indicators that can be used in conjunction to see a more holistic picture of societal health.
Economy is and must be a sub-set of ecology
If your economy outgrows your ecological base you are dead.
The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy is one of the groups working toward a circular or steady-state economy — presented here as an example of the types of systems and structures to which we need to upgrade.
Speaking to multiple sub-cultures
As mentioned earlier, more data does not motivate people to act.
What motivates people to act, or change, is what is important to them.
All of these issues can be presented as “national security” issues that appeal to people who are conservative-leaning.
They can also be presented in a cost-benefit analysis, especially when we look at the Earth, nature, ecosystems, and other species as a form of “natural capital” in cases where that is the only language certain people are able to hear.
And we can speak about it in more spiritual terms if the people to whom we are speaking mostly resonate with that kind of thinking and language.
The point is understanding to whom you are speaking, and focusing on connecting with them! And creating connection through dialog is one of NVC’s greatest strengths.
Finding a Common Ground with Compassionate Communication Skills
How do you find common ground with compassionate communication skills?
The greater your skill level the more likelihood that you will have success in finding common ground with people who have different views than you do.
A greater skill level usually translates into a greater depth of self-connection. The more self-connected you are the less likely you are to take things personally or get defensive. This becomes incredibly useful when things become contentious, so that you can keep the emotional charge manageable.
Having civil discussions and conversations without turning others into enemies involves understanding what your needs and requests are. And it involves an interplay between empathy (listening) and honesty (speaking).
NVC facilitates finding common ground at the level of universal human needs, but occasionally common ground is elusive on the level of action, strategy, or solutions. This is where a high level of skill is most useful!
Protective vs punitive use of unilateral action or force
If every avenue of dialog has been exhausted, and there is a threshold of urgency that involves safety, an existential threat or some other paramount concern, NVC does allow for unilateral action. Typically this is framed as “protective use of force” in which force or unilateral action is used to protect life. (Protective use of force is distinguished from punitive use of force.) However, this is only done when every other avenue has been exhausted.
Again, this is where a high level of skill and NVC consciousness comes into play, because sometimes people think they have exhausted every possibility but they are merely at a crisis of imagination, meaning that they are stuck, unable to imagine other possibilities.
The two main factors to finding mutually-beneficial outcomes and solutions, once connection has been established, are knowledge and imagination. Your knowledge of what already exists, of solutions others have created, or of possibilities will increase your chances of finding something that works for both or all parties. And your imagination — your capacity for creative thinking — will also serve you well when trying to come up with win-win outcomes.
Protective use of force — including any unilateral action — only comes into play when you have exhausted all other possibilities including an exhaustive search of what is already out there and every creative brainstorming possibility.
The movement for the legal rights of nature
As we move toward shifting humanity’s relationship with nature, there is much important work to be done to ensure the protection of nature.
At the level of systems and structures, one of these significant elements includes creating a framework for the legal rights of nature.
The Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights has been spearheading this important work.
“Rights of nature laws secure legal rights of the natural environment, including species and ecosystems. Legal rights include rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, evolve, and be restored.
The Rights of Nature movement reflects a growing understanding that nature deserves our respect, protection, and legal rights — it’s a fundamental shift in humankind’s relationship with nature: from one of use and exploitation, to one of care and protection.”
From: https://www.centerforenvironmentalrights.org/timeline, a page that lists laws and legal frameworks from all over the world to secure the legal rights of nature.
Flipping the consciousness
When it comes to protecting ecosystems, habitat, and other species relying on legislation and the enforcement of laws can be useful, but it can also be tragically insufficient.
The reason for this is that decisions are appealed in court, laws can be repealed, and new government administrations come in and change the course of previous decisions.
A longer-term, more stable, and more sustainable solution involves what some people refer to as “flipping the consciousness”. This means catalyzing enough of a shift in collective perception and understanding to arrive at the uncontroversial insight that we are not separate from the Earth, that ecosystems and other species have value for us and in and of themselves.
A summary of several decades of consciousness research concludes that human consciousness grows from me to us to all of us. That “all of us” can include the other inhabitants of our precious home planet.
If the collective consciousness can evolve to the point at which leaders in positions of power are expected to protect ecosystems, habitat, and other species, as well as humans, then we won’t need to fight each other in court, in legislatures, or in the court of public opinion with regard to species protection. From this foundation within the collective consciousness, the right laws will flow and the right systems and structures will flow.
So one important perspective with regard to species protection involves helping the human collective consciousness grow to the point at which our shared circle of compassionate embrace includes other species — so that we can share our systems and structures with that level of care in mind.
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher.
As a resource for you, here is a video of CNVC Certified Trainer Alan Rafael Seid, speaking on NVC at the United Nations conference titled “Unlocking Your Emotions to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on NVC for Species Preservation Efforts
During a conference on NVC and Social Change, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg asked, “What is the most important question we could be asking?”
And that, itself, was a trick question! Why? Because that question itself could be the most important question to ask.
This is driven by the insight that the answers we get depend on the questions we are asking!
With regard to social change, including species preservation efforts, Dr. Rosenberg encouraged us to ask two key questions:
1) Who are we?
2) What is the good life?
Who are we?
Consumers? Citizens with the right to remain silent and the right to refuse to vote (at least in the United States)?
What is our true nature at its depth?
What is ‘the good life’?
What are the stories you grew up with regarding what constitutes living a good life? What does the media tell us as the story of what the good life entails? Are these stories true? Is it possible there is much more?
These are questions for us to ponder and consider as we move toward creating the world in which we would like to live, and the world we want to leave for future generations.
“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, in Letters to a Young Poet.
As we consider these questions, the kind of world we inherited from our ancestors, and what kind of world we want to bequeath to future generations, let’s consider the possibility that two of the scarcest resources in our day and age are meaning and purpose!
In the spirit of that exploration, we offer you this poem:
“I slept and
dreamt that life
I awoke and saw
that life was
service was joy.”
– Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet
Puddledancer Press Books for Personal Growth and Development
PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication for personal growth and development.
NVC has shown time and again that human beings are capable of growing, learning, and implementing more life-serving solutions.
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Our books on NVC for personal growth and development can help you:
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Whether you are a long-time student — or are brand new to NVC — PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources, including the books on NVC for personal growth and development, to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, communication prowess, and positive change effectiveness.
Check out our catalog of books on conflict resolution… and give yourself the gift of Compassionate Communication!
More information on Books related to Species Extinction
NVC Species Extinction Web Resources
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There is a wealth of information on Nonviolent Communication – in articles and videos. Of course we endorse all of Marshall’s sharing’s, however, there are many transcripts and videos created by others. Due to limited resources we do not verify the full accuracy of any particular video or articles created by others, even though there is plenty of wonderful and educational information on the web.