Great Climate Communications Example: McDonough’s Elegant “Butterfly Revolution”

I’m always on the lookout for great examples and stories of “what works” in climate communications.

I’m interested in writing that not only shares information, but also inspires us to make ourselves, our communities and our world better.

Here’s a darned fine article chock full of ideas for changing how we actively care for all other humans–by caring for Nature.

In this conversation with Cradle to Cradle creator William McDonough, Greenbiz’ Joel Makower tackles a specific way that Nature needs humans, and a concrete plan for doing something about it.

The McDonough Conversations: Why nature needs humans

Joel Makower: You’ve been talking lately about the fact nature needs humans as much as humans need nature. That’s the opposite of what some conservation groups are talking about — that “humans need nature more than nature needs humans.”

Bill McDonough: I’ve been thinking specifically about the collapse of the monarch butterfly. This is one of the most amazing indicator species. We talk about the canaries in the mineshaft as the indicator that their air quality has collapsed and it’s time to get out. Well, I think we should see the monarch butterfly as the harbinger of some amazing information for us to quickly integrate because this is a case where nature needs us now.

What caught my eye most was how effectively McDonough describes (and Makower reports) a step-by-step how-to for inspiring action.

The conversation starts with the end in mind–a beautiful, meaningful, lasting result. Just like the very best Design of any kind, and intrinsic to Cradle to Cradle projects.

Here’s how an outline of the article looks to me:

* * *

Nature is beautiful and meaningful. (Start with the end in mind)

But it needs our help. (The problem)

How can we go about doing that? (The challenge)

Here’s a specific answer to a specific problem:

Make it about children.

Children love butterflies.

Butterflies start as caterpillars.

Caterpillars need flowers and plants, including milkweeds.

Plant lots of butterfly and pollinator friendly plants.

But milkweeds are scraggy plants and sound weedy. (An obstacle to be overcome)

So let’s call them milkflowers instead and plant them everywhere that’s not a park. (A solution that keeps the process moving forward)

Let’s have a a BUTTERFLY REVOLUTION (Moving the solution to scale with a positive, collaborative idea that brings people together for a common purpose)

For kids. (Brings it all around to the beginning as kids grow up to be parents who have kids)

* * *

Kudos to Makower for so ably presenting McDonough’s elegant ideas.

I’m touched by something else that goes unsaid in this article.

McDonough is implicitly acknowledging his indirect connections to an industry that harms Nature: forestry.

While McDonough has never personally wielded an ax to Mexico’s forests, his life’s work as a builder and designer has caused harm through overlogging.

Thankfully, the overlogging that threatened Mexico’s Monarch migration has largely ceased.

Blame for the Monarch’s extinction risk has shifted north, to agricultural practices that have decimated milkweeds populations.

McDonough’s sensible solution includes pollinator-friendly public spaces, inspired by the love we all share for children, and the love they have for butterflies.

As a designer and architect of considerable renown, McDonough has a platform to speak out for Nature. (Another great communications tactic is picking the best, more credible messenger.)

The article’s title, “Why Nature Needs Humans” is very smart too.

Framing the discussion in this way gets people to pull back from our usual perspective of taking and consuming from Nature. This step back lets readers see things from a broader perspective.

To see things from a fresh perspective.

It’s true, ineluctably, that Nature needs us.

And by answering that need, we find we need it back.