Earthwatch Institute Sends Volunteers on Conservation Missions
In 1971, we opened our doors to scientists of all disciplines and nationalities who needed support to understand the conditions of life on Earth. We studied rocks and stars, plants and animals, ancient peoples and their ruins, their relationships and interdependencies. Earthwatch is the world's largest environmental volunteer nonprofit that engages everyday people in real science research and education. Our primary goal: to build a sustainable future.
Today it would be called social venture capital. In the beginning, it was all about mission.All the funds came from intrepid volunteers-TreeHuggers like you, students and their teachers, professionals of every stripe and the rugged retirees-each wanting to learn for themselves how nature actually works, where we came from, and where we might be going. Together we discovered that life is sustained by a multitude of fragile and improbable interdependencies, interrupted by climate and human endeavor, not always to the best result. We also learned that education is the biggest environmental problem.
Scientist Peter Kershaw works with Earthwatch volunteers to study the permafrost on the Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge project. Photo credit: Peter Kershaw.
Beginning with four expeditions, Earthwatch now sends out roughly 4,000 volunteers every year (half the annual deployments of the U.S. Peace Corps), having funded 1,350 research projects (about 4,000 expedition teams) in 120 countries with 90,000 volunteers since the first expedition. Roughly one-third of Earthwatch's funds today still come in the form of U.S. tax-deductible contributions from volunteers (who pay for their own way on expeditions) -- TreeHuggers united. The remaining two-thirds come from foundations who want to change the way people view the world and corporations who want and need to change the way they do business.
The difference between then and now is both subtle and profound. You can still call Earthwatch if you want to join a scientist at some remote frontier, but our mission has changed-and the volunteers have, too. More than 40 countries send volunteers to support conservation projects through Earthwatch. Many do not speak fluent English; rather they are the called, and we are the callers. Their mission has changed from the pursuit of the unknown to an ethical investment of time and talent, and for some, a moral imperative.
Scientist Charles Higham works with Earthwatch volunteers on the Origins of Angkor project in Thailand. Photo credit: Earthbound3.
This season's search for knowledge is coupled with a calling for return volunteers to redeploy their knowledge in some civic action leading to sustainability, however defined. Our Principal Investigators-scientists who lead our projects around the world-are no longer just interdisciplinary scholars, but rather deeply engaged in the science of sustainability. They know the systems they work to understand must be preserved at all costs, and that all systems-physical, natural, and human-are inextricably bound in a quest for stability so that we may endure. We conserve biodiversity and cultural diversity for the same reasons. We preserve water, oceans, and natural resources in the face of certain climate change because we know there is no other choice but to learn how to cooperate with Nature. --Brian RosboroughFounder Chairman of Earthwatch Institute, Brian Rosborough has been a pioneer in the environmental field. He serves on civic and educational boards in fields of interest. He has advised or designed projects for Ossabaw Island Foundation, Tulane University, the Rocky Mountain Institute, Cape Cod National Seashore, International Development Enterprises, the UN ICT Task Force, and MIT Media Lab. He is a former trustee of Princeton University, Mount Holyoke College, and Deerfield Academy. Prior to forming Earthwatch, Rosborough was an investment banker in New York and served as First Lieutenant on a U.S. destroyer in southeast Asia. He lives in Concord, MA, a mile from Walden's Pond, with his wife Lucy Carlborg, a former book publisher, their two children, Annabelle and Davis, and other wildlife.