Ideas

Heather Tallis on ‘The Ponzi Scheme for Managing the Planet’

January 27, 2014

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Dr. Heather Tallis from Chicago Ideas Week on Vimeo.

Metaphors are powerful. While many of us have the sense (often vague, sometimes acute) that human beings are living unsustainably with regards to the Earth, that feeling often reflects less fact than our prejudices against consumption. But when a scientist describes how we manage natural resources as “a Ponzi scheme for managing the planet,” chances are we’ll sit up and listen.

Nature Conservancy lead scientist Heather Tallis made just that case last October at the Chicago Ideas Week. She argued that human society is conducting what amounts to a pyramid scheme — using borrowed capital and receiving returns too good to be true — for the way we produce and consume agriculture, fresh water supplies, energy, timber and fish, as well as the ways in which we protect ourselves from storms and floods.

“In every one of these cases, we are making incredibly risky investments that are not safe–and we pretend that they are,” Tallis told the audience. “And in each of these cases, we have an alternative in investing in nature that’s much less risky.”

Watch her talk in the video above or here, and let us know what you think of her argument in the comments below.

Bob Lalasz

Bob Lalasz is the director of science communications at The Nature Conservancy and the editor of the new Cool Green Science. A long-time editor and writer, he was previously the Conservancy's associate director of digital marketing. He now blogs here about the Conservancy's scientific research and on-the-ground work as well as larger conservation science and science communications issues. More from Bob

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2 comments

  1. Excellent presentation … succinct, impactful and forward looking. I liked the fact that she illustrates how it is cheaper to practice good conservation practices and partner with nature to keep our water clean than to clean it up later. She then continues the same theme with other natural conservation solutions to real challenges that cost less to implement than many current method the salt marsh barriers to protect coastal development. $$ talk and hopefully this message can reach more and more of those policy and decision makers who can change the way we do things.