IUCN, the Future, and Winston Churchill

My first interaction with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was in the early 1980’s. I was working for the Bermudian Government to establish their national park system, and I needed help. As part of my research I attend the World National Parks Congress in Bali, Indonesia, where I co-chaired a breakout session. Viet and I had focused on the business-nature nexus during his time in Montana, and I was fortunate to be able to make a presentation in Vietnam to IUCN about that same topic. IUCN had asked that I dwell on how to get businesses really involved in natural resource conservation, specifically in a major archipelago water quality project near Hanoi.

IUCN had invited other NGOs to participate. We had a wide variety of groups representing varied interests. Viet, however, was the only private sector attendee.

The focus of my presentation was to ask the group to think in a different manner about businesses, and to use their strong suit, their understanding of nature and natural processes, in their relationships with businesses. In many or most of the NGOs I’m associated with, they have made the transition from a donor-beneficiary relationship with business to one that both sides consider a business partnership. I tried to encourage the group to think about what they, as students of nature, could offer businesses. One example I used focused on the nature of nature to expand, and the universal interest of business in expanding. All businesses want to expand. 2,500 years ago the ancient Greeks showed us that nature abhors a vacuum. Nature wants to expand. Although the Greeks identified a concept that initially was all about physics, it has a modern day use that implies expanding and occupying new areas. Are there principles and practices that nature uses to expand? Could any of those techniques or actions apply to businesses?

My presentation turned to what some call the “undiscovered country” – the future. The future is unknown and uncertain for all of us. Nature will adjust to the future no matter what happens. Humans, too, have shown remarkable skills at surviving into the future by adjusting. I mentioned the adjustments humans made at the beginning of the last Ice Age and at the end of the last Ice Age. What has to be done now with imminent Climate Change? I asked the group to think about what the businesses of the future look like. I proposed that they would look more like nature – opportunistic, optimistic, ever-alert, both cooperative and competitive, and flexible. Perhaps these ideas, these ways, these approaches would be of value to a business one is closely associated with?

The question and answer portion of the presentation had two main themes – time and progress. “It takes too long to get things done!” “We do not make progress as quickly as we want!” When I suggested that plans needed to be made for the long term, even over a generation, I realized that most of the people in the room had not yet lived 30 years, and this was perhaps unacceptable to them. I changed course and used the word “champion” several times, indicating that there must be a champion who will continually push, push, push towards a goal. One person can make a difference, even in a nation of 93 million people.

One of the attendees appeared quite clearly to me to be a champion. She has been trying to enact the equivalent of the USA Clean Water Act in Vietnam. My position with EPA, and our recent focus on that Act, helped me address this issue. One idea we discussed was the conservation district model, in existence for more than 80 years in the USA. In my opinion, anything that lasts 80 years must be working. Conservation districts are focused on soil and water conservation, use local people, and get conservation on the ground. Perhaps local water conservation districts could help with the water quality project? I volunteered to provide more details.

Being young means things move quickly. Think of information, smart phones, sports, and social media. The nexus of people and nature is a very, very difficult, complicated, and complex place. Solutions cannot move as quickly as one wishes. Sometimes that is disheartening to those of us that want changes now. I have cared for nature my entire career. At times I have not seen the progress I wanted, nor the timeframes I proposed, nor the accomplishments pile quickly. I used the thoughts of Winston Churchill quite often. He said never give up, never, never, never. Our love of nature and interest in seeing cooperation between nature and people is a noble calling. We must never give up.

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