What People Are Saying About Peter Kareiva’s Move

July 27, 2015

Peter Kareiva addressing trustees for the Nature Conservancy California program in 2010. Image credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC

The Nature Conservancy announced Monday that Chief Scientist Peter Kareiva is stepping down from that role to become director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA. He will remain at the Conservancy as senior science advisor to TNC President and CEO Mark Tercek as well as chair the Conservancy’s Science Cabinet, a group created to provide high-level science aimed at the global challenges conservation now faces.

We solicited thoughts from eight luminaries in conservation and environmentalism on Kareiva’s legacy as TNC chief scientist — for the organization and for conservation:

Cristián Samper

“Peter is one of the most innovative and provocative thinkers in conservation today. You can always count on Peter to have a new perspective on a complex issue, and he brings people together to debate ideas and come up with solutions for conservation. He has had a huge impact at TNC and the world is better as a result of his work.”

Mike Sweeney

“The challenge of saving life on Earth has always demanded bold, out-of-the box thinkers. You will never find Peter Kareiva in a box. In fact he may burn the box. And thank goodness — the cause is too important. In fact our lives depend on it. That is the notion that drives Peter. In turn he has driven the conservation movement to embrace the urgency and responsibility of fresh thinking. He understands that conservation in the 21st century isn’t about hope or finger-pointing. Instead, he asks us to face reality and come up with the ideas that will change it. That’s what UCLA can expect from this excellent addition to the community.”

Virginia Matzek

Virginia Matzek, assistant professor, environmental sciences and studies, Stanford University.

“What conservation desperately needs is more people who can connect conservation research to conservation practice, the way Peter does. He has always been comfortable going back and forth between the ivory tower and the front lines of conservation. At TNC Peter elevated the science profile of a great conservation organization, and now I look forward to seeing him raise the conservation profile of a great university.”

Mary Ruckelshaus

“Peter Kareiva’s mark on conservation is indelible. He elevates all of us working in the field by demanding proof about what works, seeking clear-eyed understanding in rigorous analysis of data rather than comfort in lore. Most of all, he is building the next generation of conservation science leaders by showing us the value of charting paths forward with visionaries outside the choir.”

David Skelly

David Skelly, director, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, Frank R. Oastler Professor of Ecology, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.


“I know of no one in the field of conservation who has had a career as diverse or as unambiguously successful as Peter Kareiva. Whether he has been developing the next generation of ecological theory, navigating the many challenges of managing threatened salmon stocks, or reimagining the role of science at the world’s largest environmental NGO, Peter has consistently set the standard for his peers. In each of these contexts he has challenged the status quo and in each he has fundamentally altered our understanding of the world and our role within it. This is a remarkable legacy for any person and yet his new position will enable him to leverage these experiences to influence a new generation of change agents who he no doubt hopes and believes will outdo his own efforts.”

Michael Shellenberger

“Nobody has done more to bring conservation into the 21st century than Peter Kareiva. Over the next century the human population will grow from today’s seven billion to 9 billion or more people — all of whom will demand more food, energy, water and other resources. Meeting the intertwined demands for development and nature conservation requires taking human demands for economic development seriously. Through good science, blunt talk, and paradigm shifting ideas, Peter has helped conservationists to see the opportunity inside the threat. What Peter calls ‘development by design’ is more than landscape planning. It’s a way of working with governments, and cooperating with corporations, to identify and realize win-win opportunities. Peter’s work has helped persuade conservationists in rich countries that they can and must work with poor nations to not only protect more wild nature but also accelerate existing positive trends including urbanization, agricultural intensification, and moving away from wood fuel and wild meat. We are all eager to see what Peter does next.”

Phillip S. Levin

“What I admire most about PK is his ability to make what was in fact so difficult look easy. He is among the most individualistic, creative, and independent conservation scientists ever. He reminds me of a chess master in that he can almost see the future; he knows that reaching a conservation goal requires many ‘moves,’ and he sees all the moves before most of us see see even one. He is unique in that he is flexible and intransigent. He is open to new ideas and shifts where the evidence takes him. But when the evidence overwhelmingly supports a research track or conservation action he is unwavering in his ability to move forward.  As a mentor, he is, most of all, honest and generous. He tells it like it is, and I continue to benefit from his insight.”

Simon A. Levin

Simon A. Levin, George M. Moffett Professor of Biology, Princeton University.

“Few scientists have so effectively bridged the gap between conservation theory and practice as Peter Kareiva. Based on a brilliant academic career, Kareiva turned his expertise to the application of basic science to conservation practice, and to the translation of conservation science and practice for a wider audience through his textbook with Michelle Marvier. Having made terrific impact at the National Marine Fisheries Service and The Nature Conservancy, it is appropriate now that he return to his academic roots, where he can influence and inspire the next generation.”

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1 comment

  1. I find these 100% glowing review’s of Peter Kareiva’s tenure at TNC – disingenuous. Just because his view’s are provocative and “burn the box”, does not make them laudable, or true. And, please be clear, these are not scientific views, nor are they “backed by science”. Kareiva cites one discredited article in Mother Jones Magazine to disparage those who work for actual nature conservation. His “paradigm challenging” views are personal opinions about the directions nature conservation should go, and who to align with in getting there… pro-development, for-profit, “smart” growth” industries, or actual conservationists who have been on the front lines bringing nature conservation into the 21st Century. The ideas Kareiva champions are also not new, revolutionary, or “fresh”… they are the same old ideas that the multiple-use advocates (championed by the users) have been been promoting for decades. I fear that under Kareiva TNC has sold out to these user industries who don’t actually care a whit about nature conservation. Kareiva did his best to make the case that nature doesn’t really matter (and even if it did, conservationists are flawed people). To truthfully reveal “What People Are Saying About Peter Kareiva…”, I would hope that the views of some conservation scientists who have firsthand knowledge of nature conservation in the 21st Century would be included here… people like Michael Soulé, Kierán Suckling, John Wiens, Tom Butler, Lisi Krall. The people responding here so far claim that Peter Kareiva “brings people together to debate ideas”, so let’s have a debate, not a whitewash.