Creative thinking for the living planet – ecospin doctors

Think of the word Forest bathing. What do you imagine? What images flash through your mind? What feelings vibrate in your body?

Then think of the word Environment and explore the images and feelings.


The words we use to express our ideas, emotions and thoughts are not neutral. Our language is not innocent rather it may alter how our reality is interpreted. And this in turn may change the way we act and react. Advertisers and spin doctors use words to manipulate us and to change our behaviour.

In an article by George MonbiotForget ‘the environment’: we need new words to convey life’s wonders” it is suggested that if we want people to engage with the living world, we should stop using certain words. The language is crucial to how we perceive the natural world and George wants help to find better ways of describing nature.

Consider this quote from the writer Robert Macfarlane.

“If Moses had promised the Israelites a land flowing with mammary secretions and insect vomit, would they have followed him into Canaan? Though this means milk and honey, I doubt it would have inspired them.”

So let us assume that we want to change how people perceive the natural world and also that we are prepared to live with the consequences and actions that may follow for a change. Let us play saving the natural world spin doctors.

What creative tools can we use to find new words and ways of describing the living world? How can we help people who care about the ??? to be more creative?

Let us begin with some examples of words and descriptions that estrange people from the living world.

  • Sites of special scientific interest, no-take zones and reference areas are words used to describe places on land and at sea in which nature is protected.
  • The term animal reserve is cold.
  • The word extinction does not suggest our role in the extermination.
  • Professionals often describe animals and plants as resources or stocks, this way of referring to them suggest that they are here to serve us.

Describing animals and plants as resources and stock may lead to  the idea that we can use them and also that when resource or stock disappear we can stock up with another animal or plant. We can also breed and manipulate them in whatever manner we like. Not all of us may agree with this way of treating and looking on animals and plants, nevertheless the choice of words lure us into this way of thinking.

An approach to change the words that is suggested by George in his article is to use our awe of nature in our descriptions. Such as calling protected areas “places of natural wonder” to show that they are not only beautiful places but also that we need to work towards protecting and saving these areas.

Instead of the word environment we could use “living planet” or “natural world”.

However, names like places of natural wonder, living planet or natural world are in our opinion still distant, objective descriptions. The words have a bleak  image and not enthusiastic action calling resonances that signal the moods you may have experienced while looking at the photos in this blog post.

Let us take an example from the world of cooking. Like it or not, word choice plays a huge role in the way we perceive food.

Stanford University California decided to investigate just how food affects our tastes. The study took place in a large university cafeteria and every day one new vegetable dish was labelled in one of four ways – basic (“green beans”); healthy restrictive (“healthy choice beans with no sugar”); healthy positive (“smart choice high-fiber beans”) , or indulgent (“sweet sizzling green beans)”.

The labels changed on a daily basis, yet, there were no changes with how the vegetables were prepared or served. Research assistants recorded the number of diners who chose the vegetable and weighed the mass taken from the bowl. In short, the study found that more people choose the beans when they were described as sweet sizzling green beans.

The new indications for environment and other related words should also be value/loaded. Compare the term extinction with exocide, as suggested by the lawyer Polly Higgins.

So, we should generate some new words and test them as is usually done in marketing research. Forest bathing is one of them. Perhaps meadow dancehall or the mountain place of love. But we are sure, you have better suggestions, let us know.

Need some inspiration, below is a poster with words to describe nature from culture around the world. A rich tapestry to inspire you to care and to experience these words for yourself.

“The earth has music

for those who listen”

William Shakespeare

Happy Thinking!



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