Nature Is Speaking: The New Voice of Environmentalism

Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature. That’s the message of the provocative new ad campaign Nature is Speaking that Conservation International (CI) unveiled at SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas. For this series of videos, CI turned to Lee Clow — famous for Apple’s 1984 commercial that launched the Mac — as well as an impressive roster of actors including Penelope Cruz, Harrison Ford, Edward Norton, Robert Redford, Julia Roberts, Ian Somerhalder, and Kevin Spacey to tell the story of the natural world, from its point of view. 

“We thought the idea of giving Nature a voice — Nature having been around billions of years longer than humans — might make it clear to all of us that the planet will evolve with or without humans. It’s our choice,” says Clow.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, and other big environmental nonprofits, including Conservation International, have spent millions over the past decade on marketing campaigns that aim to capture public awareness of climate change and other pressing environmental issues. Some — like Arctic Home, a collaboration between Coca-Cola and the World Wildlife Federation to support polar bear research — have been impactful. But many others have gone unnoticed.

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“I’ve been trying for a while now to figure out why the environmental community is so ineffective at communicating that humanity needs nature,” says Conservation International co-founder and CEO Peter Seligmann. “Not because it’s beautiful, or inspiring, or the right thing to do as so-called stewards of this planet, but because our survival as a species depends on it.”

To find a way to convey this message, Seligmann solicited Conservation International board members Laurene Powell Jobs, who reached out to Clow, a longtime family friend. “If anyone can get us on the right track, he can,” says Seligmann. “He’s an extraordinary person.”

The videos identify the key components of the natural world that are most effected by humans: the ocean, the rainforest, soil, coral reefs, trees, and Mother Nature. Each has a viewpoint, and became a character voiced by a different actor. Instead of focusing on pressing legislation, lawsuits, or worrying statistics and graphs like so many other campaigns, the characters reveal misgivings about the way humans are treating the Earth.

“I’ve been here for over four and a half billion years … I have fed species greater than you, and I have starved species greater than you … I am prepared to evolve. The question is, are you?” asks “Mother Nature,” voiced by Julia Roberts in “Mother Nature.”

The Nature is Speaking campaign, which is two years in the making, has already shot and directed seven short films, with more in the works. But Conservation International hopes it doesn’t end there. “I would love to see kids with YouTube, and university film schools, using some of this footage and coming up with their own ideas,” Seligman says. “We’re no longer in the era of just controlled media. This hopefully will get out of control.”

All the films are available at natureisspeaking.org.

*Mother Nature (@MotherNature_CI, played by Julia Roberts)

*The Ocean (@Ocean_CI, played by Harrison Ford) 

*The Rainforest (@Rainforest_CI, played by Kevin Spacey)

*The Soil (@Soil_CI, played by Edward Norton) 

*Water (@Water_CI, played by Penelope Cruz)

* November 10: The Redwood (@Redwood_CI, played by Robert Redford)

* More films to be announced, including Coral Reef (@CoralReef_CI, played by Ian Somerhalder)