The TH Interview: Stephanie Meeks of The Nature Conservancy (Part Two)
It's not just any old organization that can set a goal like this: protect 10% of every ecosystem type on Earth by 2015, effectively doubling the headway of the conservation movement over the last century. But The Nature Conservancy can. Acting president and CEO Stephanie Meeks chats with TreeHugger Radio about this and other mind-boggling commitments. It's no wonder they own the URL "nature.org." ::TreeHugger Radio
(Full text below.)TH: The last two or three years have seen what you could call a new wave in green consciousness. What role do you see the Nature Conservancy wanting to have in all of this? Do you see blending in with this "environmentalism 2.0," or keeping to tried and true methods? What's the track here?
SM: It really has been a great period of time; and I give a lot of credit to Al Gore for making climate change much more evident and at the forefront of the consciousness of Americans. And I think Americans are coming back to thinking about what they value in this country and beyond, and the fact that our natural resources are so critical, both to our economy and also to our way of life. And really, they're essential to our well-being as humans.
We talk a lot at the Nature Conservancy about "ecosystem services," and the fact that the air we breathe and the water we drink are pure, and are kept in a wholesome state by nature when we take care of nature and leave those systems intact.
So, you ask what is the Nature Conservancy's approach—we believe we have the right approach in Conservation by Design, which we were talking about earlier. This means identifying the places that are the most critical and working to protect those, and over time working with others to make sure that at least 10% of these natural habitat types globally are protected and effectively conserved.
TH: What would you say are the biggest goals that the Nature Conservancy has on the table right now?
SM: Well, we have a number of goals. I did mention earlier our 2015 goal, which is to work with others to protect 10% of every major habitat type on Earth, which is essentially a doubling of that which is already conserved. So that's really quite an audacious goal, one that's going to stretch us as an organization, and will really stretch the conservation community and everybody that's involved in the protection of natural resources, if we are to be successful in that goal.
In order to fund our work we have launched a $1.6 billion campaign for the next three years. We are about $440 million on our way towards that goal. It was just launched last October, so that's quite significant for us.
On the policy front, we are actively working to support the Warner-Lieberman legislation. We believe that climate change is a very significant threat to biodiversity around the world, and believe that passing cap-and-trade legislation in the United States is critical to getting a binding cap-and-trade program globally in a post-Kyoto world.
TH: What are some of the victories that you think are most counterintuitive or innovative? The ones that came from occupying that neutral ground and bringing together what would appear to be, in some cases, odd bedfellows—business, conservation groups, and government—parties that might otherwise be at odds with each other?
SM: There's one example that I can think of, Jacob, that is in British Columbia. And the Nature Conservancy cannot take all the credit for this; there were a lot of organizations involved. But, it's a great example of what you were just describing. It's called The Great Bear Rainforest. And it's a very important forest habitat type, north of Vancouver.
It's a very complex situation and there are a number of First Nations who have title to a lot of this land, and there's intensive logging pressure; so there were a number of economic interests. And several organizations worked on this before the Nature Conservancy got involved, as I've described.
But the output was that with our involvement and the involvement of many other people, this place has effectively been saved. Of twenty three million acres, it may be five million that will be in permanent protected status, and then the balance of it is going to be sustainably managed (it's called ecosystem-based management).
This is a case of finding that balance that you were describing, of these economic interests and environmental interests, and saying that it is possible to do timber harvest, for example, in a way that is sustainably managed, so that you don't degrade the habitats for all the plants and animals that rely on it, and you can sustain the forest as an economic resource for the future as well.
TH: And in partnership with Planet Green and Penguin Classics there's a program called Billion Trees, which is a very interactive, very ambitious project. Can you explain a bit of the dynamics of this?
SM: The Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil is a place where the Nature Conservancy has been active for many, many years. This is a very important tropical forest habitat type. It is equally as important as the Amazon, but very much less known than the Amazon. And at the same time, it is even more imperiled than the Amazon Rainforest. The Atlantic Rainforest has only 7% of its native range intact. So, said the other way, 93% of it has been destroyed.
And it's located in a very populated part of Brazil. There are several million people that live in this area. There are 11 cities of over a million people, and about 70% of Brazil's population lives in the Atlantic Rainforest. And so, it's been heavily populated and heavily converted over time.
The Nature Conservancy, as part of its goal to effectively double the amount of protected area around the world, is also working in the Atlantic Rainforest to effectively double the amount of the Atlantic Rainforest. And so, as I said, about 7% exists today, and we hope to double that amount.
Now, the primary threat in this place has been deforestation, and so our strategy is to work with landowners—both civic and municipal, and state and private—on a reforestation campaign. We're calling it the Billion Trees campaign. As you said, we're working with Discovery to have a special Earth Day promotion around the Plant a Billion Trees campaign.
There's actually a website that we're launching called plantabillion.org, and we would encourage people to go and visit the website and think about making a donation, and helping to plant a tree, or several trees, as a testament to your commitment to the Earth on Earth Day.