Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#149 / TNC



The Nature Conservancy (sometimes called TNC) is the "biggest environmental nongovernmental organization in the world ... responsible for protecting a hundred and nineteen million acres in thirty-five countries." So says a recent article in The New Yorker. The article (the entirety of which is available online only to subscribers, at least at the time I am writing this) notes that TNC is trying to shift its mission. The mission statement above, "saving the last great places on Earth," is apparently somewhat disfavored by the organization's current Executive Director. The article discusses the controversies in which TNC has become involved, as TNC's new leadership has taken issue with more "traditional" environmentalists. It is an article worth reading, particularly if you like to think about that "two worlds" metaphor. 

The main thrust of the The New Yorker article is to focus on the thinking of Mark Tercek, who now leads TNC. Tercek was previously a partner at Goldman Sachs, and took the top post at The Nature Conservancy in 2008. His salary at TNC is about $700,000 a year, which represents, apparently, 10% of his former annual salary at Goldman Sachs. Tercek describes himself as a "humble guy." He took the job because he wants to find "innovative possibilities for aligning economic forces with conservation." That means, specifically, spending a lot of time with Dow Chemical, Coca Cola, and the Rio Tinto mining group, which TNC now counts as "partners."

Tercek's approach to conservation is summed up by this observation: "Investing in nature is a great deal." The "traditional" approach of the conservation biologists, who now are at odds with TNC, is premised on another thought: "When you put a price on something you change your relationship to it. Mostly, you weaken the bond, making it contingent, even dispensable, if the terms are good enough." This observation is from Michael Sandel, a Harvard political philosopher.

I have no question that "investments in nature" are a "great deal" for those trying to make money, but the philosophical question, to me, remains preeminent. Is the Earth made for us, so we can make money, or so we can decide how best to dispose of its assets, based on our own, human priorities? Or, to the contrary, are we supposed actually to live within the limits and constraints of the Natural World into which we have been so privileged to have been born?

Keeping our "hands off" Nature, at least in the "last great places on Earth," is the kind of conservation in which I would like to invest.


Image Credit: 
http://esa.org/ipinams-emapi7/

4 comments:

  1. Jean BrocklebankMay 28, 2014 at 10:00 AM

    Hi Gary ~

    You asked "Is the Earth made for us, so we can make money, or so we can decide how best to dispose of its assets, based on our own, human priorities?"

    My answer is NO, the earth was not made for us, no matter what we decide to do with its resources.

    In answer to your question "...are we supposed actually to live within the limits and constraints of the Natural World into which we have been so privileged to have been born?" my answer is that we are not "supposed" to do anything, because "supposed" implies a creator who gives us instructions. That said, living within bio-geophysical limits and constraints is simply smart; not doing so is, well, dumb.

    I heartily agree with your closing thought ("Keeping our "hands off" Nature, at least in the 'last great places on Earth,' is the kind of conservation" in which you would like to invest.) -- and, as you might expect of me, I'll add that any part of the natural world not now developed qualifies as a "last great place on Earth." So be it :o]

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  2. The first question is a false dichotomy. We can both make money and decide how best to use natural resources at the same time. Why not?

    The second leading question assumes there exist insurmountable limits and constraints on (presumably) material goods. Wherever there exists material scarcity, there exists potential to reduce that scarcity using technology.

    The problem here is Gary doesn't believe in progress. He sees all human inventions as "unnatural" and therefore, by the power invested in him by the appeal to nature fallacy, bad. That kind of backwards thinking doesn't solve any problems.

    TNC sounds like they're out there solving problems.

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  4. I can't speak for Gary. I suspect however that his idea of progress is much like mine, that is living in the world such that others can live as well. "Progress as if Survival Matters," in the words of Friends of the Earth.

    After centuries of retrogression, progress would be a good idea.

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