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.