Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Now Is the Right Moment for Building Inclusive, Diverse, and Non-Partisan Support for Nature

Covid-19 poses an enormous challenge to health and humanity that must be fully addressed as soon as possible, and with all necessary resources. But the crisis also provides the opportunity to build more inclusive support for nature. We should seize it.

Change is underway because of Covid. First, governments around the world will continue with ambitious stimulus programs. As I addressed in a previous blog, environmentalists can push for these programs to include investments in nature (i.e., “green infrastructure”) by emphasizing the very useful services that nature delivers. Second, people now know that if we don’t respect science, the consequences are terrible. Third, more and more people want to get past polarization and divisiveness. They want to find common ground and support smart, common sense ways to move forward.

For example: governments now know that they need to invest in reducing flood risk from sea level rise and storms. They need to start building this kind of infrastructure ASAP, considering the speed with which rising sea levels are forcing waterfront communities to relocate. Though gray infrastructure like sea walls might seem like the right mitigation move here, analysis shows that coastal ecosystems will often perform better and cost less than man-made alternatives. And it’s easy to convey the benefits of these great win-win opportunities to people who aren’t well-versed in enviro-speak.

Here we can use the following facts to bring new people over to the side of nature:

  • Reducing flood risk will hugely reduce the scary financial risk all homeowners in coastal zones now face.
  • Restoring local ecosystems creates good and lasting local jobs — right now, just when we need them.
  • Investing in nature like this is not “government spending.” Rather, it’s smart “government investing.” It reduces risk. It saves money. It’s even “fiscally conservative.” And it provides a very high return on investment.
  • This kind of localized improvement can be carefully targeted to hugely benefit at-risk and under-resourced neighborhoods, mitigating the kinds of climate-related damage and health risks that hurt vulnerable communities.
  • Developing coastal areas is beneficial both for people (think outdoor enthusiasts who love fishing, hiking, biking, you name it) and nature (e.g. birds and fish, whose habitats and breeding areas would improve).
  • And so on.

None of these arguments are partisan ones. Nor do they divide urban and rural constituents, or appeal to any one income bracket. Red, blue, and purple states all need programs like these. None of this is especially wonky or difficult to explain — it’s mostly common sense.

If enviros energetically reach out to these different groups of people now and strongly emphasize that we are seeking these kinds of tangible, near term, and badly needed outcomes, we can start to change the broadly held view that environmentalists are out-of-touch with mainstream voters. Indeed, if we listen hard and incorporate diverse groups’ priorities into environmental proposals, we can move toward building the majority political coalition we need.

Turning from green infrastructure to the climate challenge, we need to acknowledge that it hasn’t been easy to broaden support for strong regulatory policy. But again — the example of Covid should help. Everyone can now see, on a massive scale, what happens when we ignore scientists’ warnings. Covid is a widespread disaster that, in many ways, could and should have been avoided. Let’s not allow that to happen with climate.

I am not naive. I know that crossing partisan and other divides can be very difficult, especially in today’s polarized political and socio-economic climate. But today’s challenges give us a good opportunity to do so. And remember — we don’t necessarily need to worry about folks or organizations who are determined to oppose us. We don’t need to win everyone over. We just need a strong majority coalition.

I’m optimistic that we can grow support for nature right now. The programs we propose make sense, and the costs of failing to act are huge, and growing more apparent. Common-sense people get it. They are also tired of the blaming, fighting, obfuscating, and demagoguing that’s underway. We can’t stop all of the divisive noise, but we can show how to rise above it. We can lead a better path forward, build an inclusive case for more people to support nature, and make real progress now before it’s too late.

The above blog is the fifth in a series on investing in nature. It was originally published on LinkedIn. Read the first four blogs in this series: Nature Needs Investment Bankers (March 3, 2020); Raising the Capital to Protect and Restore a Forest (March 10, 2020); Environmentalists, Prepare Now for Opportunities in Fiscal Stimulus Programs (April 10, 2020); How to Support the Environment When You’re Stuck Inside During the Pandemic (April 16, 2020).

@MarkTercek is an advisor to companies, start-ups, institutional investors and NGOs on environmental strategies, organizational management, and impact investing. He is the former CEO of The Nature Conservancy (July 2008 — June 2019) and former Partner and Managing Director for Goldman Sachs (1984–2008). He believes that business can be a force for good and strives to help organizations realize benefits for both the environment and their bottom line.

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