Can Celebrities and Social Media Influencers ‘Rewrite Extinction’?

  • A new conservation fundraising group, Rewriting Extinction, aims to raise awareness of the biodiversity crisis by reaching new audiences.
  • The group raised about $180,000 for a range of different schemes in South and Central America, Europe and Asia.
  • Critics accuse her of misleading supporters about how conservation really works and of making exaggerated claims about what fundraising can achieve.
  • The true cost of tackling wildlife decline runs into the tens of billions of dollars, and some experts say rewriting the extinction sells a false narrative, while others support efforts to rewrite extinction to raise awareness among people who would otherwise be indifferent to the issue.

On February 3, a new conservation fundraising group called Rewriting Extinction posted a tweet with a video showing environmental activists as well as celebrities not known for their wildlife conservation expertise.

The short promotion Renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, British natural history presenter Chris Packham, and Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti appeared alongside model Cara Delevingne and actor and comedian David Schneider, among others.

The tweet accompanying the video claimed that “300 people and 7 charities have come together and saved 625 species since June 2021” thanks to the sale of a comic book titled The Most Important Comic Book on Earth: Stories to Save the Worldwritten by celebrity supporters with artwork provided by experienced illustrators.

The reaction on social media was immediate — and dismissive. “Can you post a list of 625 species please?” Requested Jonathan Colby, a former law enforcement official with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and an expert in the international wildlife trade. “In my experience, simply buying land is not enough to protect wildlife and people ‘forever’ and I would like to learn more about how you can accomplish that in less than one year.”

Others responded with greater sarcasm or simple disbelief. “Soon the biodiversity crisis will be over. Because of you,” one said. “Nonsense!!! Name them?” Another said.

Started by website designer and entrepreneur Paul Goodenough in 2021, the goal of the Rewriting Extinction was to raise awareness about the biodiversity crisis among people who are disliked by traditional conservation groups. A crucial aspect of this has been getting the support of celebrities, such as Brooklyn Beckham, Ricky Gervais and Yoko Ono, who are using social media to promote the campaign to their followers.

“Our strategy was to talk to people like my father,” Goodnough said. “People who, if you tell them, give us £5 [$6.30] And we’re going to fund some scientific research, and that’s not concrete enough for them. They won’t give that money.”

Instead, Goodenough wanted to be able to tell anyone who had donated or bought the book exactly what their money would buy.

“We chose projects that could say we have these species on this land, and this land is in immediate danger of being mined, logging or bought by a company, and if that land goes, that’s the last resort for these species,” he said.

An estimated $180,000 has been raised for projects in Guatemala, Ecuador, Vietnam and the United Kingdom, with an additional $50,000 allocated so far to the Greenpeace campaign to achieve adequate protection of 30% of international waters by 2030.

Comic rewrite of Extinction by War and the Pea.
A comedy rewriting Extinction by War and Peas, David Schneider, Amber Weedon, Ben Garrod, and Cheddar Gorgeous.
Comic for Rewriting Extinction created by lunarbaboon, Meat Free Monday, and Paul Goodenough.
Comic for Rewriting Extinction created by lunarbaboon, Meat Free Monday, and Paul Goodenough.


However, criticism of the group’s allegations didn’t just come from Twitter. Some experts point out that rewriting extinction can’t actually prove that it saved species from extinction and that celebrity supporters confuse the message by talking about issues like animal welfare, not wildlife conservation.

Amy Dickman, professor of wildlife conservation at Oxford University and co-CEO of Lion Landscapes, said she had “raised concerns about the messages several months ago” but “there was no suggestion that anyone from the campaign was listening”. Ultimately, she said, the campaign “does more harm than good.”

In an interview with Mongabay, Dickman said the problem is that rewriting extinction has oversimplified wildlife conservation challenges and overclaimed what it has achieved. She said this misled the general public as to what needed to be done to save species and ecosystems.

“I think we have to be realistic about the true costs of conservation, and if people are surprised by that, we need to change our thinking about biodiversity loss,” she said. “I know groups like Rewriting Extinction like to get everyone involved and make them feel that $5 for them makes a difference – and it will if enough people do – but in the end the idea that you can raise $10,000 and say that goal is achieved forever is very frustrating. “

Dickman noted that, earlier this year, conservation groups launched a campaign highlighting the need for the world’s richest countries to provide at least $60 billion annually to the poorest countries to combat biodiversity loss. She said Lion Landscapes alone has an annual budget of $1 million.

But Chris Packham, best known as the lead presenter of the British Natural History Program Springwatch As a prominent activist on issues such as the persecution of birds of prey, he said in an interview that while rewriting extinction had offended some things in the tweet, talking about it publicly was also a mistake.

“Joke,” he said, “that’s all nonsense,” what a handful of dealers wouldn’t help. “It is counterproductive and distracts people from the honest mission. They are trying to draw attention to the climate and biodiversity crisis, and they are trying to do it in a way that other NGOs cannot and do not, and therefore deserves support.”

He added that critics of rewriting the extinction should have shown more tolerance and a bigger picture. “If I were them, and all these people were piling on me, I would have just thought, ‘Oh my God, why bother doing this?’” We’re trying to help, why are all these people yelling at us? “

Comic rewrite of Extinction created by Druton and Ben Jarrod.
Comic rewrite of Extinction created by Druton and Ben Jarrod.
Comedy rewrite of Extinction by Harry Finning and Steve Backshall.
Comedy rewrite of Extinction by Harry Finning and Steve Backshall.

Rewriting the form?

The money raised from the sale of the comic was passed to established organizations such as the World Land Trust (WLT), a protection group that has been using the “buy an acre of rainforest” model since 1989. In this case, WLT then sent the money to FUNDAECO, its local partner In Guatemala, to help manage Laguna Grande, a 2,000-hectare (5,000-acre) reserve on the country’s Caribbean coast that is home to a wide range of tropical species, including West Indian manatees. (Trichet Manatos), Yucatan black howling monkeys (Alota Bigraand red-eyed tree frogsAgalychnis callidryas).

Dan Bradbury, director of brand and communications at WLT, said the Rewriting Extinction has donated $131,000 of the $1.84 million raised to Laguna Grande, or about 7%.

“We can really say concretely [Rewriting Extinction]Bradbury said. We’ve been really clear with them: This can benefit these species and this region. But we also said, ‘If you raise £1,000 [$1,260]You can’t say you saved a Jaguar, because you didn’t. “

More important than fundraising, Bradbury added, is that rewriting Extinction has put the World Land Trust’s name in front of new people because of the different audiences its celebrity backers can reach.

Dickman agreed that conservationists should appeal to a “wider church” and said it would be “cool” for Extinction Rewrite to try to do so, but noted that with “a bigger platform comes greater responsibility.”

One problem that can arise when engaging celebrities is that they have their own agendas, which may be different from those of the campaigns they face. For example, a prominent proponent of rewriting extinction is British comedian and actor Ricky Gervais, who campaigns largely on the issue of animal rights rather than wildlife conservation. For the comic book, Gervais chose to highlight bullfighting.

But, as Dickman points out, animal welfare is different from wildlife conservation. “It’s like saying any doctor does the same job,” she said. “It’s like going to an ophthalmologist and asking for help to rebuild a broken femur.”

Confusing these two issues, she said, is a broader problem behind the campaign to rewrite extinction, something the media often get wrong. “They take an animal welfare organization and write,” conservationists say… “They are not conservationists, although they are an animal rights group.”

The art of rewriting extinction created by mxvisoor.
The art of rewriting extinction created by mxvisoor.

Dave Goulson, a professor of ecology at the University of Sussex who has written a number of popular science books on insects and wildlife horticulture, said the rewriting of the new extinction approach is welcome, despite the mistakes it made.

“There are those of us who really care about the environment and the breakdown of biodiversity, and yet most people seem to be doing nothing,” Goulson said. “Any effort to sway that indifference seems worthwhile to me. It would be nice if they tried to be more careful with what they say, but I suppose they are trying to maintain positivity and attract more people to buy it.”

You don’t have to simplify or smooth out stories in order to raise money or get support, Dickman said. She pointed to groups like Save the Rhino International, which aren’t afraid to tackle thorny issues in public, such as the bounty hunting controversy.

Paul Goodenough, for his part, said he hopes to continue raising awareness and money for conservation by rewriting extinction and engaging those people who don’t know what wildlife trafficking or bycatch is. He said he doesn’t know exactly what he’s going to do next, but it’s likely something online and not another book.

“I think of it like exercise,” he said. “Imagine you have different people coming into the gym, those who understand how things work and total beginners. They look around at everything and are terrified because other people know more than they do, and so they come out again. My role is to get these people to stay.”

Banner picture: Spider monkey Jeffroy. An estimated $180,000 has been raised through Rewriting Extinction for projects in Guatemala, Ecuador, Vietnam and the United Kingdom Image via PxHere.