What Is the Future of Nature?

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Published on May 3rd, 2013  |  Discuss This Article  

Collecting water samples on the Penobscot River near Indian Island, Maine.

Wayne Klockner is state director and vice president of The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. With over 30 years at The Nature Conservancy, he has worked in Maryland, Delaware, New York, the Conservancy’s World Office and Indonesia prior to moving to Massachusetts thirteen years ago.

What is the Future of Nature?

It’s not an easy question to answer. By 2050, the Earth’s population is expected to exceed 9 billion, and our climate is changing at a rate even faster than anticipated.

How can we continue to meet the needs of nature and people? How will we feed, and provide energy and clean water for 9 billion people in a time of super storms, droughts, and rising sea levels? And how can we meet those needs while protecting the richness and resilience of nature on which all life depends?

Those are daunting questions, with complicated answers.

When I think about the Future of Nature, however, I am optimistic, not scared. I am hopeful when I see people working to find real solutions to these problems.

I reached out to three of the Conservancy’s top scientists to hear their thoughts on the Future of Nature, specifically the future of food, energy, and water. These issues are significant because we encounter them every day, no matter where we live.

At The Nature Conservancy, we’re taking a science-based, practical, and cost-effective approach to enhance nature’s resilience and thus better cope with the effects of climate change. Take a look.


The Future of Food

David Cleary is responsible for the Conservancy’s global agriculture strategy. He believes that the Future of Nature is to grow more food while using fewer resources. With our growing population, the need to increase agricultural output can’t be avoided, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t sacrifice biodiversity.

He cites The Nature Conservancy’s work in the Cerrado, Brazil, as an example of how we can increase agricultural output, while decreasing deforestation. The Cerrado is the world’s most biologically rich savanna and contains over 10,000 species of plants.

The Nature Conservancy is working with farmers, local NGOs, agribusiness companies, and governmental institutions to combine sustainable ranching and farming with the protection of land. In addition to the protection of natural habitats, soil and water quality has improved, as has profitability. For more information on the project, listen to David’s interview with Dan Rather.

The Future of Energy

The Future of Nature is valuing nature’s benefits, according to Joe Fargione, science director of North America at The Nature Conservancy. When something is free or cheap – like energy – it loses its worth, and is often only appreciated when it becomes scarce. In the future, society will learn how to value and pay for these benefits.

The Nature Conservancy, along with World Wildlife Foundation and Stanford University, are founding partners of The Natural Capital Project, which helps governments and industry incorporate the value of nature’s benefits into their development and conservation plans. For instance, Pennsylvania’s Working Woodlands is a model forest conservation program integrating private land protection, certified forest management, and carbon offset payments for the restoration and management of high quality ecological and economic values to priority forest landscapes.

The Future of Water

For Brian Richter, Director of Global Freshwater Strategies at The Nature Conservancy, the Future of Nature is finding ways for farmers to grow more food with less water. Agriculture accounts for more than 90% of water consumed globally, mostly through irrigation.

The Conservancy’s work in the Lower Flint River Basin, Georgia has become a prototype for new techniques for increased irrigation efficiency.  Years of chronic drought combined with agricultural, community and industrial water use has left this river system at risk, but with new technology, the river could be saved.

These new ideas are changing the way farmers grow the products we need. The work done in the Flint River Basin can be applied in other parts of the country and the world, saving billions of gallons of water a year.

With that, I say The Future of Nature is hopeful and full of potential. But it will take more collaborative partnerships and creative thinking, like the examples above, to ensure that the Future of Nature is secure.

What do you think the Future of Nature is? Bleak? Hopeful? Tell us on Twitter @Nature_NE using #futureofnature.

Craving more thoughts on the Future of Nature? Join us for a three-part lecture series in Boston this spring featuring these Conservancy leaders other environmental leaders from across the nation. Our second event, The Future of Energy, is May 13, 2013.

[Image: Collecting water samples on the Penobscot River near Indian Island, Maine. Image source: Amy Vitale]

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