text over an image of tree that reads 'covid-19's impact on nature-related conversations, 2020-2021'
ONALYTICA X TNC REPORT COVID-19's impact on nature-related conversations 2020 - 2021 © TNC/Onalytica

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Conversation counts: How we forgot nature and its crucial role in helping solve global challenges

Twitter analysis from The Nature Conservancy and Onalytica reveals COVID’s stifling effect on conversations around urgent planetary challenges

During a crucial year for global environmental policy decisions, a new analysis from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and social intelligence firm Onalytica reveals that climate and nature are being crowded out of the social media conversation, just when we need these urgent issues to be front-and-centre.

While global media headlines and social feeds have been filled with stories of more time spent outside during pandemic-enforced lockdowns, the study suggests the majority of these were about the general benefits of outdoor recreation – whereas social conversations specifically calling-out nature actually decreased by 16% in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the previous year.

text over an image that reads '16 percent: conversations on nature were down by 16 percent in Q1 2021, compared with Q1 2020'
ONALYTICA X TNC REPORT Conversations on nature were down by 16% in Q1 2021, compared with Q1 2020 © TNC/Onalytica

Even where nature did feature in social conversations, too often it was discussed in parallel and not seen as being intimately connected with other mega-issues like COVID-19, despite the increasingly clear link between human activity and the pandemic’s emergence. Where nature was referenced as a potential cause of COVID, it tended to be in terms of the disease’s animal origin, with little conversation devoted to related issues like deforestation and destruction of wildlife habitat.  

So too, amidst promises of a so-called ‘green recovery’, data from TNC and Onalytica indicates that nature only featured in two per cent of social conversations related to its potential contribution to economic rebound – despite the huge potential of nature-based solutions to create new jobs and mitigate a range of global challenges.

text over image of northern lights that reads '2 percent: nature featured in only 2 percent of social media conversations around economic recovery'
ONALYTICA X TNC REPORT Nature featured in only 2% of social media conversations around Economic Recovery © TNC/Onalytica

Where overall nature-related Twitter conversations did reveal a spike, this was typically in relation to natural disasters and the rolling news cycle around extreme events like hurricanes, or last year’s catastrophic wildfires in Australia and the western United States. Even here, nature-related conversation quickly ebbed and Twitter’s audience of c. 192 million active daily users suggest much scepticism still persists around the degree of human influence and correlation with disasters exerted by long-term impacts of climate change and nature loss.

text over an image of trees in orange light that reads '1 percent: less than 1 percent of covid conversations were linked to the destruction of nature as its cause'
ONALYTICA X TNC REPORT Less than 1% of COVID conversations were linked to the destruction of nature as its cause © TNC/Onalytica

Commenting on these trends, TNC’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Meg Goldthwaite said: “It’s no surprise that the pandemic has dominated social conversations over the last year. What is worrying though is that even while many people took solace in nature in the early days of the pandemic, there is very little appreciation of nature’s crucial role in our own health and economic stability, or the links between pandemics and the destruction of nature.”

“Fortunately, world leaders are paying attention with more signatories this month for The Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, and there is hope of meaningful progress this year at the major UN environmental summits.”

“There will be no better year to make amends with the planet than 2021. We know we have years, not decades to course correct, and every single one of us with a social media account has the opportunity to help push for the change that our planet and all its inhabitants badly need.”

Elaborating on this analysis, Onalytica CEO Tim Williams added: “While the wider consumer conversation has shifted to focus on the pandemic, the level of focus on the climate debate from policymakers and social climate influencers has remained high. There is an enormous opportunity to address how we live to protect nature and with social platforms able to amplify the voice of the climate concerned we expect environmental issues to be one of the main policy debates areas in 2021.”

To read a summary of key trends, and download the full analysis, please visit Onalytica's page here

For more information on The Nature Conservancy's global efforts to conserve biodiversity and finance its recovery, pleast visit Nature.org

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.