Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions

Guest Perspective: Change in the Conservation Movement


To fellow environmentalists, it’s easy to see that protecting our environment is a matter of national security. Framing such an important and even overwhelming idea so that everyone understands and is on board with the move toward a sustainable future is almost an incomprehensible task. I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Dr. Peter Kareiva of The Nature Conservancy, who proved we can easily rally mass support by achieving two simple goals: Overcoming stereotypes within the movement, and presenting numerical evidence of how preserving the environment is an economic asset.

The current stereotype of your typical environmentalist is an extremely exclusive one. There were polls taken across social-political-economic lines throughout the US where the stereotypical environmentalist was painted as female, white, young, rich, and preachy. It’s no wonder that the earth is suffering popularity with such a condemning and privileged representative.

In Alabama, a ballot initiative to defund conservation projects across the state was coming up for a vote. The Nature Conservancy was afraid the funding might be cut and a poll was taken to see if it would. They found ~ 60%+ of the state were in favor of slashing the funds. They acted fast and came up with a plan to sway public opinion. They sent out postcards of people of varying races enjoying nature and one in particular of a baby taking a bath in which the caption read, “She depends on you. You depend on clean water.” In a few months, they ran the public opinion poll again, but this time ~60%+ were in favor of conserving state lands. The connection was made between preserving resources and clean water for everyone. The other connection made was that nature is fun. This dynamic shift in representation and thus popularity needs to happen around the country to promote inclusion and ensure longevity for the environmental movement and human health.

Corporations and governments are becoming keen to the fact that investing in the environment is investing in an economic future as well. Corporate environmental reputation is meaning more to the consumer, the world economy is realizing it must take into consideration environmental factors, and governments are seeing the environment is an important economic asset.

Companies that take into consideration real cost and reputation have started to make more money than their less environmentally-aware peers. PUMA recently reported their debt to the planet, based on all the negative externalities that come out of production, and have publicly stated that they will manage that debt until it reaches zero. Their sales have since seen an increase.

International business is taking into account the natural world. DOW funded 2 recent studies: one that quantifies how much forests lessen ozone, thus lessening human health threats, and saving money. The other study found out where additional coastal habitat would offer a buffer zone that would lessen economic risk for coastal cities. The Bloomberg trade sees environmental data as a function of economic risk. A study by Paulson showed how doing nothing to combat climate change is economically risky.

Governments around the world are realizing their preserved national treasures are for more than just their beautification value.  Latin American Water Funds is a dedicated public and private coalition that protects forested wetlands and watersheds in order to provide clean water. An economic analysis proved the recovery and restoration of oyster beds in the Gulf of Mexico pays for itself in 10 years. In Mongolian government, the manager of Development is also the manager of Environment, showing the importance of dependence and integration within the two systems.

By refreshing our image with new populations of support and revising our approach in order to quantify the importance of natural resources, we can renew how environmentalists are seen and how our habitat is valued in future millennia.


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