GRETCHEN DAILY: What would it take to protect nature while meeting human needs?

Gretchen Daily

What would it take to protect nature while meeting human needs?

A quote from Confucius strikes at the heart of harmonizing people and nature, humanity’s greatest challenge:

There are three pathways to wisdom.
The first is through contemplation, and that is the noblest.
The second is through imitation, and that is the easiest.
The third is through experience, and that is the bitterest.

Progress along the first pathway involves inventive minds increasingly focused on developing new approaches that realize multiple values from lands and waters—in a balanced way that sustains biodiversity and Earth’s life-support systems.

Opening up the second, the easiest, path actually requires something very hard: heroic action, conducted with vision, compassion and risk. In any revolution, there are many, many heroes. We need to enable latent heroes to act, locally and globally, in creating real-world demonstrations of new approaches. These should be bold enough that they don’t all succeed, but all should be designed to yield a success story that is compelling, replicable and scalable.

There’s not enough luck in the universe to avoid all of life’s bitterness, but with heroic action we can averting the worst and open a much brighter future.


Historically, civilizations have met human needs at the expense of nature. But does the well-being of human and natural systems have to be an either-or proposition? GRETCHEN DAILY, Bing professor of environmental science at Stanford University and co-founder of the Natural Capital Project, thinks not.

In research spanning countryside biogeography to policy and finance mechanisms for ecosystem services, Daily is working to show how recognition of the economic value of nature can set the stage for mutually beneficial coexistence.

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