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Lions, Whales, and the Web: Transforming Moment Inertia into Conservation Action

I have a new paper out today with an incredible team of co-authors: Naomi Rose, Mel Cosentino, and Andrew Wright.

Thaler and friends (2017) Lions, Whales, and the Web: Transforming Moment Inertia into Conservation Action. DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00292.

In it, we look at three case-studies of online and offline reactions to the deaths of specific, charismatic animals, and discuss how preparation, planning, and tactical thinking can be used to promote effective conservation messaging in the wake of these haphazard events. We talk about how outrage, empathy, and curiosity play a role in the global conversation and how to effectively mobilize this attention into conservation action.

Conservation activism following moment inertia is a balancing act between strategic planning and a quick, tactical response. When the catalyst is moral outrage, it is important to allow people to be angry, rather than to try and curb such responses. In these circumstances, it is possible to leverage predictable moral signaling into tangible conservation gains.

Regardless of the emotional reaction—outrage, curiosity, or empathy—the general guidelines for conservationists leveraging moment inertia are the same. First, planning for pseudorandom events is essential to produce meaningful outcomes. Second, understanding the limitations of campaigning on an inertial moment will help establish and achieve concrete, realistic goals. Third, the call to action must be informed by the local context, address local cultural values, and be delivered by those who can connect with the public. Finally, it is critical to maintain a factual basis while acknowledging the emotions involved.

With foresight, a focus on concrete goals, and an understanding of the strengths and limitations inherent in moment inertia, these events can be harnessed to help achieve lasting conservation successes.

Thaler and friends (2017)

What is Moment Inertia: Moment Inertia is a phenomenon that arises from focus of attention around a single, clarifying event, or moment, which propagates, undirected, through media unless acted upon by outside forces.

This paper evolved from a panel we help at the Forth Annual International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John, Newfoundland last summer, and represent the coalesce of a lot of different ideas and approaches to conservation outreach and messaging. The full paper is available open-access, so take a look. Open access fees for this paper were partially covered by my Patreon supporters. If you want to help fund more work like this (and receive a monthly, limited edition Jaunty Ocean Critter sticker) head on over to Patreon and sign up!


Marine science and conservation. Deep-sea ecology. Population genetics. Underwater robots. Open-source instrumentation. The deep sea is Earth's last great wilderness.


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