Mark Tercek is the president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy and author of Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive By Investing in Nature. You can follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTercek and find more of his writing on The Huffington Post.
Sometimes global conservation challenges seem so overwhelming that we don’t even know where to begin. Problems that span the globe, like climate change or ocean conservation, would seem to require solutions at the same scale. The difficulty of crafting such solutions, to say nothing about implementing them in ways that matter to individuals and communities, can sometimes paralyze even the most dedicated among us.
That’s why Solution Search — a global contest developed by Rare and designed to find successful innovation in conservation — is so important. The goal of Solution Search is to reward innovative, community-based conservation successes; foster replication of proven methods; accelerate discourse and networking; and bring media and public attention to important conservation issues.
In 2011, the first Solution Search sought innovative ideas to advance sustainable fisheries. The contest inspired more than 100 entries from 48 countries. The prize ultimately went to doctoral student Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Wildlife Conservation Society zoologist Tim McClanahan, who successfully tested the idea of weaving fish traps with larger gaps, allowing smaller unwanted fish to escape. Johnson and McClanahan together applied to Solution Search and won the $20,000 grand prize. More importantly, it gave them a global stage upon which to share their work.
While overfishing is a key problem with consequences for millions of people, climate change affects everyone on the planet. Hence the urgent need to find and replicate effective approaches to climate adaptation.
Now, The Nature Conservancy is joining with Rare to launch another Solution Search, this time to find the best ideas for coping with our changing climate. The contest focuses on identifying proven and replicable solutions that use nature to help people and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. Against a backdrop of stronger hurricanes, bigger floods, heat and drought, innovators in communities around the world are exploring solutions to help people and communities thrive in the face of worsening extremes of climate.
Addressing the causes of climate change will require global action to reduce carbon emissions by changing how we produce and consume energy. But climate adaptation, like choosing which fish trap to use, is usually a local issue, and one well suited to small scale innovation and experimentation.
The most visible efforts at adaptation — sea walls, levees and other even more sophisticated efforts to guard against rising seas — involve massive, government-funded construction projects. Such gray infrastructure is not the only way. Oyster reefs, salt marshes and other forms of green infrastructure must also be part of the solution. Communities around the world are beginning to understand that investing in nature can bring substantial returns for both the economy and the environment.
There are many ways nature itself can help us adapt to climate change. Finding the ones that work best in particular circumstances means trying many approaches in many places. Solution Search is thus a perfect fit. By bringing together science, local knowledge and innovative ideas, we can develop new ways to enable nature to help us secure our food, water and safety.
Through July 19, applicants can submit their entries and view other submissions on the Solution Search web site. You can also nominate someone else. Ten finalists will then be selected by a panel of esteemed judges, including snowboarder and climate activist Jeremy Jones; The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert; Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; investor and philanthropist Jeremy Grantham; and Naoko Ishii, head of the Global Environment Facility. The finalists will be announced in September on the contest website.
Then, we will need your help. Beginning September 6, you will be able to vote for the solution you think is most likely to help people and nature adapt to climate change. The winner will receive $20,000 to help replicate their solution around the world.
[Image: Coastal destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy storm surge along the New Jersey Shore. Image source: Bridget Besaw]