A longtime Arlington County Board member shakes up Virginia politics by announcing plans to step away. Uncertainty clouds the future for the chief of one of Maryland's treasured public school systems. And the field of candidates narrows in D.C.'s special elections looming in the spring.
America’s environmental debates are often cast as a tug-of-war between “green” activists and corporate interests. But Mark Tercek, a former investment banker who is president and CEO of the the Nature Conservancy, says these camps actually have overlapping interests and that it’s smart business to invest in nature. We look at how capitalism and environmentalism can align on everything from climate change to the sustainability of our food supply.
- Mark Tercek President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy; Author, "Nature's Fortune" (Basic Books, 2013)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. For a lot of people clean air and safe drinking water are priceless things but the well-being of our natural resources isn't something that typically factors into the bottom lines of corporate America.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHowever, Mark Tercek says that businesses would be well-served if they started looking at things as simple as planting trees and protecting marshes as investments rather than barriers to making money. Tercek himself made the jump to his life as an environmentalist from his former career as investment banker at Goldman-Sachs.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd he argues that big business is a necessary partner in the modern fight to preserve our natural resources. He joins us in studio to explore the win-win cases for nature that he believes everyone can get behind and how to move past the divisiveness that defines so many of today's environmental debates.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMark Tercek is president and CEO of the Nature Conversancy and co-author with Jonathan Adams of "Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing Nature." Mark Tercek, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. MARK TERCEKIt's nice to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIIt's an environmental conversation you can join too by calling 800-433-8850. Do you think that companies, corporations will buy into the idea of conserving nature as making economic sense? Why or why not? 800-433-8850, you can send a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIMark for a lot of people the world nature conjures up images of untouched forests, pristine lakes, but you're big on the idea that nature can be something else, capital. You make the argument that putting a dollar value on nature, although controversial, quoting you here "provides an important rationale for supporting the environment." Why do you think it's so important for people to begin looking at nature as investment? You use water conservation as one example.
TERCEKYes, look environmentalists like me love nature. We protect, we think we should protect nature because it's the right thing to do, it's the morally correct thing to do. We want to leave for our children and our grandchildren a natural world as healthy as the one we have. That's sufficient motivation for us, kind of the folks in the choir, the true believers.
TERCEKBut we need more people on our side. one of the problems talking about nature that way is it sounds to some people almost like a luxury good. And then people think well we'll protecting nature to the well-off or in tough economic times we can't, we don't resources for protecting nature. In fact, I think that's precisely wrong.
TERCEKIf you think about nature as infrastructure, green infrastructure if you will, it's really the fundamental underpinning of human well-being and it's vulnerable people, poor people who depend on nature most of all. You're mentioning water is a great example. everybody needs clean healthy water. If we can invest in nature to protect that supply that's a good deal.
NNAMDIMany environmentalists derive their passion for nature from their upbringing, hiking in the mountains, fishing trips to the lake. But you grew up in inner city Cleveland, didn't become passionate about nature until well into your adult life. What really drew you to nature so much so that you now fight to protect it?
TERCEKYes, I really feel very fortunate Kojo. I grew up in the city of Cleveland, it was a great place to grow up. It was sort of a scrappy working class neighborhood.
NNAMDIYou were delivering newspapers?
TERCEKYes, I spent plenty of time outside but it was delivering papers, shoveling snow, playing basketball at the playground. As adults, my wife, Amy and I, I think in part to compensate for the fact that, especially me, I didn't grow up outdoors a lot, we made a real effort to take our kids outdoors. We have five children.
NNAMDIFive children, yes?
TERCEKYes, and I guess I'm a bit of a geek as I started spending more time outdoors I started reading more nature books and environmental books and got to know guides and, you know, I think my conversion would be true of anyone. I think there's an inner environmentalist in everyone but as a parent, as parents Amy and I became very interested in how to protect the environment and as a business person I was always one of those business people who think by and large business can be a force for good.
TERCEKNot always but often and so I got interested in combining my role as business person and as somebody, a late convert to the environmental cause. Could I bring those worlds together and so far, so good.
NNAMDIOur guest is Mark Tercek. He is president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and co-author of "Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature." We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. What does it mean to you to be an environmentalist? You can also send us email to email@example.com. Same question to you, Mark, what would you say it means to be an environmentalist?
TERCEKWell, it can mean a lot of things. I mean, first and foremost, I think it means people who respect the value of nature and respect nature for nature's sake and want to do everything we can to protect it. The good news is we've got a great group of hardcore supporters, the passionate people who work for environmental non-profits or who volunteer for them or who financially support them.
TERCEKThese are great people. One of the most fun parts of my job is traveling around the country and meeting the Nature Conservancy supporters but the same would be true for all of the other very worthy environmental non-profits.
TERCEKSo we've got great folks on our side but we need more environmental supporters. So that's why I make the arguments I do in my book. If we can emphasize not just the morale reasons to protect nature but the practical reasons I think we can get more people on our side, more financial resources on our side and I think we can have a better dialogue between environmentalists and the rest of society.
NNAMDIWell, let's get to the business at hand and that is the business of nature and business. They may seem like odd bedfellows but in this book you note several situations where what made the best business sense also helped out the environment. one such occurrence being a meeting with Latin American soda bottling kingpin Carlos Salazar, what did he learn from you and you from him?
TERCEKYou know, it's a great question. I really like the way you put it. what did he learn from me and vice versa? One of the real benefits of environmentalists partnering with business leaders is we both learn. And in case after case that's been my experience.
TERCEKSo at the Nature Conservancy we kind of think gosh it's a no-brainer for a beverage company like Coca-Cola FEMSA to want to protect water sheds, right? of course they need fresh water, why wouldn't they want to do that? but when we spoke with the executives at FEMSA including Mr. Salazar, we better understood what business people need to act on that kind of rationale.
TERCEKSo it's not sufficient for him, the notion of just protecting a water shed in some vague general way. He's a business person, he has to make investments that earn high rates of return and so he wants to know with precision what forest should I protect?
TERCEKShould we plant new trees or should we protect a standing forest? What kind of investments by FEMSA will result in what kind of savings or advantages or returns in keeping water supply healthy? So that business person's kind of precision and emphasis on no-nonsense facts and figures really helps a science-based environmental organization like the Nature Conservancy to make our work happen in the most powerful way. It's a great relationship.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. here now is Sharif in Vienna, Va. Sharif, you're on the air go ahead please.
SHARIFYes, sir. I've been listening in on the discussion and I've studied environmental policy as a civil engineer student at UVA and I agree with many points that I've heard and I actually, I am very much for environmental laws and environmental policy.
SHARIFI just believe it's a difficult argument to make for people that just nature and conserving nature is enough of a reason to enact some of the policies that we've done. And that maybe it's our responsibility as environmentally conscious people to draw more parallels between conservation and environmental policy. And the costs and the benefits associated with those policies.
NNAMDIYou feel that making the relationship between nature and the economy or whether it's the private economy or the public economy is what's important?
SHARIFYes, sir and even person, on the personal level, understanding where water comes from and where our wastewater goes, you know, all to the same place, all to the river and I think making those essentials points to people can appeal to them more and give them more of a reason to support environmentalism.
NNAMDISo you agree with the notion that we can and should see nature as an investment, Sharif?
SHARIFI do, I really do think that nature can be an investment and I think that belief is true to many people and it should stay with them. and for others we need to try and convince them of that and draw more of those parallels that we were talking about earlier.
NNAMDIWell, here's Mark Tercek.
TERCEKWell, Sharif, I think you're spot-on. We need more people providing more rationale to take care of nature and thinking of nature as an investment opportunity, it won't necessarily address every environmental challenge. I don't make that bold of a claim.
TERCEKWe need a variety of strategies but it's very interesting to me and in the book "Nature's Fortunate" I tell example after example of how viewing nature as an investment opportunity really does produce these kinds of win-wins.
TERCEKEarly in the book I tell the story of the Quito water fund. It happens a few years ago in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. They were about to build a new filtration plant. Expensive, grey infrastructure if you will, man-made infrastructure, and our local team said, you know, you can save some money.
TERCEKInstead of building that plant and equipment to clean water that's become dirty, keep the water clean in the first place. and so instead we invested money upstream, changing farming and ranching practices in a way that would work for the upstream communities and that was a lower cost way to secure the clean water that the city of Ecuador needed.
TERCEKBut there were many co-benefits, that's where environmentalists get excited. It happens that that upstream water shed is also the condor bio-reserve for Ecuador. So we would've wanted to protect it as environmentalists for just, you know, its own sake. But imagine if we'd gone to Quito and argued that the city should take funds, more and more funds to protect this habitat.
TERCEKI think that would have been a tough sell. Instead we help people understand that they could invest money and protecting that watershed, secure the clean water they need at a lower cost and the environmental gains are a fringe benefit if you will. That worked so well we now have 25 water funds like that across Latin America.
TERCEKEach one's a little bit different but always downstream users of water are paying for upstream conservation of nature in order to secure clean water and in order to save money but we're getting a lot of environmental gains along the way.
TERCEKAnother thing is happening, the people paying into those funds are becoming environmentalists, kind of like I was a late convert as an adult. As you pay more attention to nature and all the things nature does for you, it's easy to generate more supporters.
NNAMDISharif, thank you for your call. You write that you were particularly inspired by Adakio (sp?) Paul, a native of the South Pacific island of Pompeii. What was it about him and what he did that you were so moved by?
TERCEKIt's a great story. Adakio Paul has passed away sadly, but he was a member of the fishing community. They had very abundant fisheries. He then moved away for a considerable time. When he returned the first thing he did when he got home, he tells the story, is to get his boat and go out there and go fishing and low and behold there were no fish.
TERCEKAnd he began to understand that while he was away the local communities and the local government had kind of relaxed the rules that had prevented fishing during the spawning season and in the spawning areas. And so Adakio all by himself in the book, we tell the story as he tells it, he got a bottle of whiskey and a shotgun and we went out to the spawning and anybody who came near the fish spawning area, you know, he'd shoot at them.
NNAMDIA warning shot over the bow?
TERCEKYou know, low and behold after a period of, we call these no-take zones or fish factories, by protecting the spawning area and giving the area some time to recover the fish came back, folks caught on that there was wisdom here. Set one area aside, protect it for, you know, the production of fish, the fish will spill out of that no-take zone and be available for fishing elsewhere.
TERCEKSo Adakio, before he passed away, was honored for his environmental leadership. It's really a great and simple story of how if you think of nature, again as an asset, an asset in this case that produces new fish, protect that and you'll reap rewards over time.
NNAMDIBack to the phones again. Here is Russ, in Washington D.C. Russ, you're on the air, go ahead please.
RUSSThank you very much. I've heard about some idealistic situations. I want to talk about the real world specifically when we have multiple endangered species. How do we identify what is worth saving -- in other words, we have limited resources for research, etcetera. What is worth saving and what do we decide to discard to the wastebasket?
NNAMDIWell, I know that is not the focus of Mark Tercek's book. It is how business and society thrive by investing in nature. But you may want to offer some thoughts to Ross.
TERCEKWell, sure enough there are a lot of touch choices to make when it comes to protecting nature and conservation. And probably the hardest part of my job leading the nature conservancy is deciding where we'll allocate our limited resources. But broadly speaking, we think protecting habitat at scale is the best way to protect buyout of our city. You know, generally speaking species need safe places to live and procreate. And so how can you protect nature at scale?
TERCEKIn the book I argue, therefore, if you can harness these investment themes, that's a way to really take protecting nature beyond philanthropically-sponsored work to a whole new level. Because you can harness market power capitalism. And I don't actually think it's idealistic. I think in many, many circumstances, not every circumstance, but in many circumstances there are opportunities to protect nature within an investment orientation and achieve great protection of habitat, and therefore protect biodiversity itself.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. Ross, thank you very much for your call. If you've called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you haven't called yet but would like to, the number's 800-433-8850. Why do you think some conservationists have viewed the Nature Conservancy's cooperation with, oh, Dow, as an unholy alliance, 800-433-8850? Or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and co-author of the book "Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature." You can call us at 800-433-8850. In 2008 you took over as president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy. One of the biggest events in your time so far, the conservancy has been the partnership you entered into with Dow, the second largest chemical manufacturer in the world in 2011. How did this get started?
TERCEKYep, I tell this story in the book, Kojo. Dow Chemical's CEO is a gentleman by the name of Andrew Liveris. I think he's a really smart CEO. On the one hand he manages his company quarter to quarter in a rigorous way like a business person has to but he also take the long view. And therefore, he and his colleagues pay a lot of attention to environmental issues and challenges. And he heard me speak about natural capital just like I am today, this idea of treating nature as an investment opportunity.
TERCEKAnd so Andrew challenged me. He said, Mark, if you're right about that then that must apply to Dow too. Why don't we do a project together, take TNC scientists, Dow engineers and figure out to what degree does Dow depend on nature? What's the value of that natural capital Dow depends on? And if that natural capital is vulnerable, what should Dow do about it?
TERCEKAnd so I think this makes a lot of sense. This is the kind of thing we should explore. Now when we first announced the partnership, a lot of environmentalists said, Mark, now you've gone too far. Why on earth would you ever work with Dow Chemical? Are you aware of their environmental history? Are you aware of their environmental footprint? But of course my answer was, of course, exactly. If we can show a company like Dow that it makes business sense to take better care of nature, that's really going to be powerful.
TERCEKThen another interesting thing happened in this project in the beginning days. I kind of thought -- I'll admit this now, it's almost embarrassing -- I kind of thought of this project that it would be mighty -- the mighty nature conservancy, kind of coming down off the mountaintop, showing Dow the path forward on this more enlightened basis. But the truth is, we learned at least as much from Dow and Dow learns from us. And this, to me, is really exciting.
TERCEKWhen we announced the Dow partnership, some people said, you know these ideas you're going to be exploring, they're not even new ideas. And it's true. As ideas, they're not new. Academics have been writing about natural capital for a long time. What's new and exciting is having environmental scientists speak with engineers of a company like Dow. These engineers, they're the people who make infrastructure investment decisions. And if we can help them understand what we understand and have them make an investment in nature, green infrastructure as opposed to manmade or gray infrastructure, and if that proves to be money saving or value enhancing, that's something that can really scale up.
TERCEKSo that's what we're trying to do. I think it makes a lot of sense. I wouldn't say it's without risk so we disclose everything we do along the way. Soon, we are going to be submitting papers to science journals, peer reviewed journals, authored -- co-authored by TNC scientists and Dow engineers. Because if these ideas are as good as I hope they'll be, we want them to be imitated. And on the other hand, if we're missing something or we make some mistakes, we'll want to know that too. We just want to get this done as best we can and then have the word spread.
NNAMDIIt's a five-year program. It's been around for about two years thus far. You were saying that you're going to be publishing reports soon. Any other results that you can point to so far?
TERCEKYeah, yeah, we have results. We're off to a very good start. For example, one of our notions going into the project was the first place we're working with Dow is in Texas on the Gulf, Freeport, Texas where their biggest facility is. And so we reasoned, boy they must be concerned about weather risks, extreme weather, floods, rising sea level, etcetera. And so we had this notion that investing in coastal marshes would provide more resilient, more robust protection than seawalls.
TERCEKSo our team went down there and said, what are you guys going to do about extreme weather risk? And they said, well we'll build seawalls. And guess what? These Dow engineers know everything there is to know about seawalls, A to Z, what they cost, what they'll do, what they won't do. And then we said, well we've got a better idea we think. Instead of seawalls you should invest in coastal marshes. And the Dow guys said, why? And we said, well we'll save your money, the protection will be even better.
TERCEKAnd so then the Dow engineers said, show us the data. And that's where our learning began because we didn't really have data at that time as robust enough to really satisfy what the Dow engineers needed. So that's one thing we're working on right now. It's -- I guess we haven't proven yet whether the coastal ecosystem trumps the seawall, but that work is being done which is exciting.
TERCEKBut then another great thing happened and this would never have happened if we hadn't begun the conversation. That's why you have to have these collaborations. While working together on other stuff we came to understand that because that plant is being expanded Dow would need to expand and invest in scrubbers, Scrubbers in the chimneys to deal with local air pollution issues. Then one of the guys on our team, one of our scientists had a good idea. She said, you know, I think local tree planting might address those local pollution issues just as well as scrubbers.
TERCEKSo now we're in dialogue with the EPA, Dow engineers, TNC scientists to see whether local tree planting, reforestation can better address the local pollution challenges they need to address than scrubbers. It's hard for anybody to get excited about scrubbers, let's face it. But having Dow plant lots of new trees will be good for the environment, good for community relations, a beautiful addition to the local ecosystem and probably a lower cost way to address these pollution needs.
NNAMDIAre you still getting pushback from environmentalists who are not just doubtful but scornful of the head of the Nature Conservancy buddying up with a chemical company?
TERCEKWell, about our critics. I always say we love our critics and we respect them. They're passionate. They want what we want. And they keep us on our toes. And, you know, this business is complicated. I was an investment banker for 24 years. In hindsight it seemed so easy. We basically did the same thing over and over again. That's why it's a good business. You get a little bit of experience under your belt and you can really crank the deals out.
TERCEKIn our business at the Nature Conservancy we're mostly doing things that have never been done before. So I think it's important for us to be humble, not to pretend we have all the answers. We don't. To be open to critics, to try to understand where they're coming from. That will likely allow us to do our job better. So that's the spirit in which we go forward.
NNAMDIHere is Scott in Annandale, Va. Scott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SCOTTThank you very much for taking the call. I just wanted to ask your guest to comment on -- you sort of touched on it just now -- but to comment on how you handle the kind of ideological purity arguments. One of the things that is so challenging in the environmental debates that happen regarding even things as basic as recycling, but certainly the large scale project you're talking about is this idea that, as you said earlier, it's a moral imperative to protect the environment.
SCOTTBut that argument doesn't carry very far with people that aren't already predisposed to it. There are a lot of people in the environmental movement that don't even want to engage on the more tactical discussion. How do you do this in a way that benefits everybody rather than just reinforces the moral purity of it? How do you moderate that discussion? How do you engage that with people that are coming solely from the other side of the equation, not the business side but the moral purity side.
NNAMDII'd like to...
SCOTTAnd I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIOkay, Scott. I'll read this email to Scott's question. It came from Kip who provides an answer of sorts. "We will never win the conserve nature fight unless we understand how to engage everyone. This is not us against them. We are them. We all use energy, water and green space. I tell everyone who talks about where to spend their charitable dollars that the Nature Conservancy is the smartest, most realistic choice with results that help everyone." I guess I should've left out...
TERCEKI like that.
NNAMDI...I guess I should've left out the commercial here.
TERCEKNo, no, that was good.
TERCEKListen, I think the email's great and the question's great. So, look, first thing I would say is I really do respect all of the environmental organizations I know well. They are all truly -- the people I know -- and I know most of the orgs very well right now -- they're passionate about our cause and they're doing their best to achieve our mission. And it's tough work and, you know, I sort of say God bless all of these people. I do think sometimes though our passion, speaking broadly about environmentalists, can get in the way of progress.
TERCEKSometimes we become so zealous we portray folks who are not on our side or don't see things the way we do as evil. And, you know, there are some bad actors out there for sure, but more often there are people who just have different objectives in mind, different first priorities. And we need to better understand where those folks are coming from. And then to establish how much we have in common.
TERCEKWhen I meet a really excited or upset critic these days, what I try to do is kind of lower the temperature in the room. The first thing I ask is, what do you want? What are your goals? And it usually turns out that our critics' goals are very much like our goals. We have the same objectives in mind. We may disagree about tactics but having the conversation in that way I think is an important first step.
TERCEKThe other thing I think we've got to get over is this, you know, evil versus good. We need more of these conversations. That's why I described my Dow project the way I did. We're learning as much from Dow and Dow's learning from us but we couldn't have that learning or that progress or make -- get the work done if we didn't roll up our sleeves and work together. So I think there's a lot of room and opportunity for that going forward. And, you know, at the Nature Conservancy we'll do everything we can to be a champion of that approach to protecting nature.
NNAMDII think Joanna in Silver Spring, Md. has something to say about that. Joanna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOANNAHi. I am here. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes we are -- yes we can.
JOANNAOkay. In the hopes of lowering, you know, the emotional temperature here, what would you say to the people who are fracking over in the Marcella Shale and people who did mountaintop removal and streams are gone forever now. There's air particulates. I mean, what are you going to do about something like that? There are bad actors out there.
TERCEKYeah, I'm glad you asked. There definitely are bad actors. And in those -- and to protect ourselves from bad actors we need a strong government. And so in the book I make this argument very clearly. As important and as attractive as the voluntary initiatives we have going on right now with the private sector -- and I'm a big believer and champion of those -- even more important is a very engaged wise government that enacts the policy we need and takes the steps we need to protect our environment from bad actors. So that trumps this private sector voluntary stuff.
TERCEKAnd so for those -- I think with regard to mountaintop removal mining, we've had bad law and we've had bad enforcement of law. Fracking I think is a little bit different. Fracking I think right now, if you watch the debate between pro and con on fracking, I think you see some mistakes being made in my humble opinion. I think you see some folks who I understand they're passionate about wanting to protect nature. I'm for that too. But I think sometimes they go too far and portray the folks who they disagree with as evil.
TERCEKSometimes they even use bad science. I mean, the fracking thing's complicated. On the one hand, we know there are a number of very important environmental risks that need to be addressed. And I don't want to sell that short. That's comes -- that includes protecting aquifers. It includes dealing with the water that's been used after it's been used for fracking. It includes methane leakage. It's includes habitat fragmentation. It includes disruption to the communities where the fracking will take place. We need very, very good regulator policy and it needs to be well executed to deal with all those threats.
TERCEKBut on the other hand, one has to also acknowledge in my view that there are some real benefits from natural gas. First of all, it's a low-cost domestically available energy source that has economic benefit and it has security benefits potentially for the United States Furthermore, so long as methane leakage doesn't overwhelm this equation, it's cleaner. If you switch from coal to natural gas-fired electricity that's not as clean as we ultimately need to be, but it reduces our greenhouse gas emissions.
TERCEKSo I think it's a little bit awkward for environmentalists to sit on the sidelines and just say no to fracking. Fracking's already happening. Now that doesn't mean it should happen everywhere, but it's broadly happening. So I think environmentalists have to say, how, how can this occur in a way where we do have the regulatory policy that we need to protect the environment. So in my view we need a little more know -- a little less know and more how. And we need less vilification and more collaborative working together to see how we can go forward on a basis that is safe but also achieves the economic, the environmental and the security benefits available from natural gas.
NNAMDIDoes that lower the temperature for you, Joanna?
JOANNAWell, yeah, but let me -- let's just go back a second here. You -- would you say then it would be fair that they would -- the clean water bill back where it would be -- it would pertain to fracking the water?
TERCEKYou know, you can't -- I don't think you can address this one on a generalized basis. There are places where I believe, if you have the right regulatory policy in place and the right enforcement, you can have safe fracking. And there are other places where fracking shouldn't be permitted. And science needs to guide that decision-making process, in my view.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Joanna. Before we get off of fracking, allow me to go to Steve in McLane, Va. Steve, your turn.
STEVEHey, Kojo, how are you?
STEVEI'm more from the whisky and shotgun side of the argument, especially when it comes to the fracking piece. Science aside, the way fracking is being sold to the culture, to the public at large is really the first level at issue. We can get into the science of whether or not fracking is going to contaminate groundwater, etcetera, etcetera or how many Dow chemicals are going down whole in the fracking process?
STEVEI think your guest has kind of very carefully parsed his answers and -- which unfortunately I find a little bit disconcerting because the science around the fracking is pretty well defined. And it can be done a lot more safely than it's being done now, but because it's cheap and because it's something that's easy, the gas producers don't want to do that. We know it creates jobs. How long it creates jobs we don't know.
STEVEI think the Nature Conservancy needs to take a broader stance on the overall political issues that are around it because if fracking is going to be so great for the United States, why are the L&G facilities being built down in the Gulf? Because we can export a thermal unit of this gas offshore to other countries for three to four times what it's selling for here in the United States. So the real economic benefit isn't necessarily in jobs and in energy security. It's simply in commerce.
STEVEAnd again, not fighting anything on that front, but I'd like to hear your guest talk about how his organization should be addressing those factors. Not just down the whole science, not just the clean water act, etcetera but what should the Nature Conservancy be doing in terms of calling truth or BS on the arguments that these potential infringers on the environment are using in the public. And I'll take my answer off the air.
TERCEKGood question. What the Nature Conservancy is doing is we think we can use our science and our regulatory advisory capacity, if you will, to fight for really well designed, really well enforced regulatory policy so that when fracking does occur it occurs in the safest way from an environmental perspective. Fracking is occurring, and that's the first point I would make. It's too late to simply be against fracking in total because it's happening.
TERCEKBut I think there's a wide variation between safe and good fracking -- and it sounds like the questioner agrees there's a better way to do it and a worse way to do it. We're obviously for the better way and we think we are in a good position to make that happen. We're doing everything we can to make that happen.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Let's talk public policy. The president ruled out a climate change plan last week. Said he's going to use executive powers to force power companies to cut down greenhouse gas emissions, among other things. On first blush, what did you make of the approach he outlined?
TERCEKWe're proud of President Obama. In the book, I'm very clear. Climate change is the toughest challenge we face. And we need to reduce greenhouse gases as fast as we can. The longer we wait, the more difficult and expensive it will be to do that and the greater the negative consequences to the environment. And again, this makes economic sense. The president was very clear. It's not a matter of protect the environment or hurt the -- and therefore hurt the economy. It's both and. These things can go hand in hand.
TERCEKAnd it's also one of these, you know, pay me now or pay me later things. if we continue to dump carbon pollution into the atmosphere on a global basis, we will have floods, storms, droughts, extreme weather challenges. We're going to have more and more challenges that are going to cost real money. So we need to get on with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama -- these are tough political times but he outlined one way to do that on a realistic basis. So we're supporting him.
NNAMDIThere's some who immediately declare the president's plan as a war on coal. How do you see it and why do you feel environmental issues are often depicted this way, a war on, well, just insert something here.
TERCEKYes. It's really regrettable I think. We're all in this together. We all live on one planet. We all -- I think most people want the same things. We want a healthy planet. We want good healthy ecosystems for our families, our children and grandchildren. We also want a strong economy so people can make economic progress. We want to see people lifted out of poverty around the world. And so we've got to -- I think it would be in everybody's best interest to diminish this war talk and rather get on with collaborative problem solving.
TERCEKTo be sure, there are people who live in coal-producing communities who will be hurt as the U.S. transitions from a more coal-oriented economy to a cleaner economy. And so as -- our society and government will have to make provisions to help those people make that transition. But President Obama's initiative wasn't designed to hurt those people. That's what war implies. President Obama's initiative was designed to protect our environment and ultimately strengthen our economy.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with mark Tercek. He is president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and co-author of the book "Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature." The number is 800-433-8850 or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Why do you think some conservationists have viewed the Nature Conservancy's cooperation with Dow as an unholy alliance? What do you think it means to be an environmentalist? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Mark Tercek. He is president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and co-author of the book "Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature." In January of this year you wrote a piece for Huffington Post on the debate over genetically modified organisms or GMOs. What is your stance on the way that debate has unfolded?
TERCEKWell, the point I tried to make in that piece is, can we calm down -- we've talked about this a little bit today -- can we calm down and rationally talk about pros and cons of different approaches in environmental issues? Perhaps no other issue gets people as emotionally excited as genetically modified organisms. And there was a real brouhaha unfolding in connecting with Mark Linus, an environmental writer who converted, he said.
TERCEKHe had been against GMOs and then he spent time with the science. And he concluded -- he's not a scientist and it doesn’t' mean he's right, but he concluded after a career of being anti-GMO, he was wrong and that there should be more work done because GMOs could be a powerful tool in a climate-stressed world to feed the poor. One could imagine drought-resistant seeds or flood-resistant seeds or protein-enhanced plants in the developing world could be very valuable.
TERCEKIn my piece I didn't say yes or no. We don't know enough yet but let the science unfold and let's have science guide that discussion rather than histrionics, sentiment, ideology, religious zealotry. That was the point I was trying to make. It was received in a very mixed fashion.
NNAMDIWell, a few months ago -- since we're on the subject of food, I wanted to follow up by asking -- you're a vegan. You believe that world meat consumption is too high, yet you do not advocate for a boycott of meat as the most effective strategy for helping the environment. Why is that?
TERCEKYeah, people are surprised. I'm a long time vegetarian and now I'm a vegan so people say, gosh Mark, why don't you have the Nature Conservancy be an advocate for anti-meat diets? I mean, personally I do think people would live healthier lives if they reduced their intake of meat products, etcetera. But, you know, the environmentalists have to be careful. People don't want to be told by an environmentalist what they should or shouldn't do.
TERCEKAnd so I view food choices like these more as a matter of, you know, personal preference. Sometimes there's culture, sometimes there's religion. I'm not shy about why I do what I do and I'm happy that there's a lot of attention on this topic. In the food area though, we're doing a lot as environmentalists. This is kind of interesting.
TERCEKIf you think between the period of today and 2050, somehow the world will have to about double food production, but they'll have to do that without expanding agricultural's footprint. And they'll have to do that without agriculture using more fertilizer and water. So we call this the need to sustainably intensify agricultural production. And that we're very focused on. And we're trying to focus on that again in a very collaborative way with small farmers as well as with big players in the ag sector, scientists and the government as partners.
NNAMDIHere now is Mora in Washington, D.C. Mora, your turn.
MORAHi. Thank you so much for taking my call. My name's Mora and I was a recent graduate in 2011. And I'm interested in the Nature Conservancy, especially like your western policy associate position that just came on. So I was wondering if you have advice for people interested in working for you?
TERCEKI do think it's a good time for young people to pay attention to environmental-related careers. There's no question, we have some very severe environmental challenges on the horizon. And business and government and local communities are all going to have to deal with that. So we're going to need people to help us guide through that process. And I think the best people will be folks who are not afraid of science. You don't have to be a scientist, but you do need to understand the basics, have good communication skills and know how to collaborate.
TERCEKAgain, I think going forward if we're going to have any success, we're going to have to get way past this good versus evil and rather have people who can understand where other folks are coming from, have the skill to put themselves in another person's shoes and to try and find these win-win approaches. That's, I think, the key to unlocking progress there.
NNAMDIAnd Mora, thank you for your call. Question along the same line about young people from David in Washington, D.C. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDThank you, Kojo. Thank you. Your guest is great and your show is great. I think the greatest opportunity you have as an organization going forward is education, investing in young kids, school-aged children. Looking ahead, what are you guys doing? Do you have a plan to be an influence, education as it is being dispensed in this country?
TERCEKWe think about young people a lot. It's very interesting. If you were to come to a Nature Conservancy event, especially one where our strongest supporters were there, you would see a not very diverse and older group. And so, you know, we're not stupid. We say, hum, who are our supporters in the future going to be? And then things get kind of interesting. My scientist advised me that my kids today, if they're sort of statistically representative, they spend less than one-third the time outdoors that I did as a kid.
TERCEKYou know, modern lifestyles, computers, urban living. Kids are indoors more. And most of our great supporters in the past had great experiences in the outdoors as young people. So what can the Nature Conservancy do about that? We have one program that we call LEAF, Leaders for Environmental Action of the Future. We take city kids -- mostly city kids, high schools kids and put them in our projects out in the great outdoors for the summer -- summer internship jobs.
TERCEKOftentimes these kids have never been out of the city. They arrive sort of clueless. And then two months later they look, okay, I've been a longtime conservationist. But now -- here's what gets interesting. We now have 500 graduates of that program -- more than 500. These are high school kids who are new to nature. More than one-third of them have gone on to major in the sciences in college, Whereas the national average is less than 5 percent.
TERCEKSo we think we've stumbled into something here that's very powerful. We can produce the scientists we need, the environmentalists we need in the future if we create thoughtful opportunities for young people to be outdoors today. So the Nature Conservancy is thinking hard about how best to do that, who to partner with. And my advice -- always my advice to parents who ask me what they can do to get their kids to care more about nature, the answer is an obvious and easy one. Go outside. Go on a hike. Go to a park.
TERCEKAgain, I think there's an inner environmentalist in everyone. We just have to help that environmentalist be realized.
NNAMDIDavid, thank you for your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. How do you feel about the tone of the discussion regarding relations between corporations and nature? Are companies like Monsanto and Dow inherently bad for nature, 800-433-8850? We got an email from Robin in Tacoma Park. "I have no problem with common terminology like ecosystem services or co-benefits of nature. But this investment language concerns me. The benefits of nature are held in common. We all breath air, drink water, etcetera.
NNAMDICapital is held by private individuals or corporations. Investments in a capitalist system produce returns that are privately distributed only to the investors. Your language suggests that an investor who grows or preserves an upstream forest can expect to collect from downstream water users in order to gain return on investment. What constrains this abuse in your work? What keeps the natural commons held in common and now actually privatized into natural capital?"
NNAMDIOf course this business of the commons is a constant source of debate. A few months ago we spoke to the environment and advocate and chef Barton Seaver. He does research at Harvard on the way we interact with the environment through food. And I asked him what he thought of Garret Hardin's 1968 idea of the tragedy of the commons, the idea that if humans are left unfettered and act rationally, they will act only out of their own self interest and eventually degrade the environment. Here's what he had to say.
BARTON SEAVERI think that's come to largely describe and sort of present the scope of how modern environmentalism is sold, and that is it is a measurement of how we have impacted ecosystems, usually to their detriment. And unfortunately it's a guilt-ridden story. It's a story of bad human bad. And by making the story simply about how we impact ecosystems, we deny ourselves the opportunity to talk about how we are impacted by ecosystems.
NNAMDIDo you agree with Barton Seaver that it's a problem that the prevailing language and the environmental movement is so one way, so kind of negative?
TERCEKWell, let me see. I think a couple of things. First of all, in answer to Garret Hardin's claim about the tragedy of the commons...
TERCEK...you know, Elinor Ostrom -- she passed away -- she's an economist -- she passed away a couple of years ago -- she won the Nobel Prize for challenging Garrett Hardin's tragedy of the commons. And I talk about this in the book, so I hope the caller will -- or the person who wrote in will get a copy of my book and check this part out.
TERCEKBut Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize for challenging that tragedy of the commons notion because she said properly incentivized and informed communities can ban together and protect resources they care about. My Adakio Paul story would be an example of that. He was the initial leader but people came to understand, no don't degrade the commons and hurt the entire community, instead come together and protect it for that kind of win-win outcome. And it turns out there's a lot of evidence, thanks to Dr. Ostrom's work, to make that case clear. I address that in the book.
TERCEKI think the person who wrote in made another really good point that I should have emphasized myself. In most cases the government will trump private sector players. So if you think about infrastructure, roads and highways, school systems, all the things that society depends on, the government is the investor there. And so in the book in a lot of the examples in the book, it's the government who is making the investments in nature, if you will, In those natural assets. So it still benefits society as a whole.
TERCEKWhat interesting though is there are opportunities for private players to do that as well. And that's also -- and I don't think there's a big conflict there. Here's where we are though in the environmental movement. We've got all these great environmental organizations today. The Nature Conservancy is one, but just one. There are many, many other great organizations. I respect them all. However, we're not really getting the job done.
TERCEKIf you think about all of the things that I would worry about, pretend you're the CEO of the Nature Conservancy. What would you like to see? What kind of data would you study? You'd say, well how are we doing protecting forests or coral reefs, or fisheries or biodiversity itself? Well, sadly all of those things are in decline. Or you might say, how are we doing protecting -- preventing bad stuff like greenhouse gas emissions? Well, we're setting records year after year.
TERCEKAnd our work's only going to get more difficult as we go forward in time. The world's population's growing, especially the global middleclass. I think that's good. People are coming out of poverty, but all those additional people will demand food, space, energy and water. And if that's not enough to give you a headache as an environmentalist, you've got to factor in climate change as well. So we face some really tough challenges. And to move forward I think we need more people on our side, we need more financial resources and we need a better dialogue between environmentalists and everybody else. And I think this investment thesis allows for all of the above.
NNAMDIHere is Mark in Burke, Va. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKYeah, thank you very much for taking my call. I find this conversation interesting. I got a couple of observations. I'm in politics on the Republican side and, you know, one of the fundamental problems I think the environmental community has is the choice that it made 30 some odd years ago when they got more engaged in politics as a whole and they chose a side.
MARKAnd at the time, for whatever reason, they aligned themselves with the Democratic Party. Because of the alignment and the continuing rhetoric that comes out of the environmental community, it makes it virtually impossible for there to be, you know, a working relationship with the opposing party. Simply because from pure politics it's almost no matter what a Republican does from a -- for the good of the environment...
NNAMDIMark, because we're running out of time, I'm going to ask this question more specifically. Because last month Mark Tercek said in an interview with Business Week that environmentalists can do better about their tone when you are asked point blank, why do you think many Americans don't like environmentalists. So where do you start that process and where does it fit in, that tone issue, when it comes to the issue that Mark is raising?
TERCEKWell, Mark raises a good point. It's -- environment should be a nonpartisan issue. It's -- we all depend on these great ecosystems. And, you know, in the book I tell the story, as a kid growing up in Cleveland at the time the Cuyahoga River caught on fire and all the plants in our backyard died and President Nixon was president. And out of that era under his leadership we passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. We formed the EPA. We passed the Endangered Species Act.
TERCEKSo in the history of American environmental legislative progress, a lot of it has happened under Republican leadership, and all of it has happened on a nonpartisan basis. And we need to get back to that. And, Kojo, to your question -- and we've eluded to this today -- I think sometimes environmentalists get so passionate, so zealous, they're well intended but we overdo it. We portray folks who don't agree with us as bad or evil. And that's just not very constructive.
TERCEKAgain, there are some evil bad people out there. So it's okay to portray them that way. But by and large, we've got more in common than we think. And we need to do a better job of starting at that point and then thinking how we can move forward collaboratively to address the challenges we face. That's what I really try to argue for in the book.
NNAMDIMark Tercek. He is president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy. He is co-author of the book "Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Can Thrive by Investing in Nature." Mark Tercek, thank you so much for joining us.
TERCEKThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo hears some of the "worn stories" behind the clothes we wear, and explores why clothing carries meaning far beyond fashion.
We explore the ripple effects of the U.S. scientific funding crunch with the president of Johns Hopkins University and leaders in the funding and biomedical research fields.
Kojo explores the creative business strategies fueling America's boom in fast-casual dining - and why food has become one of the engines for innovation in the American economy.