Director’s almanac: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
This month I’m back from the Natural Capital Project’s annual symposium. A whole crew of IonE folks make the trek to Stanford University each year to give talks, meet collaborators, host workshops, and network with ecosystem service practitioners from around the world. I did too.
At the symposium, The Nature Conservancy’s Mark Tercek reminded attendees that great science is essential to getting natural capital on the books in every country and company around the world. When we put our best science about natural capital up against other considerations (like profit and cost), it won’t sway every decision – but it will more often than not.
My part of the symposium was a panel (with leaders from Stanford, the University of Washington, TNC, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) that addressed the role of academic scientists in real-world decision-making – something that has been on my mind a lot lately. I talked about how important it is for scientists to find common ground with the public so that we can earn and keep a space at the table of decision-making, about taking responsibility for finding solutions in our research, and about moving faster, to better match the pace of real-world decisions. All of these things are alive at IonE, and we have plans to grow and expand in each of these areas.
The IonE community has impact in the world, and in recent weeks some of our people and projects were recognized for their transformative work. We learned, for example, that this summer, IonE Associate and Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology prof Laura Dee will receive the Ecological Society of America’s Innovation in Sustainability Science Award – for a paper she led that asked “To What Extent Can Ecosystem Services Motivate Protecting Biodiversity?”
As the ecosystem services approach I mention above takes root, Laura and her co-authors studied its relationship with preserving biodiversity. They found that a focus on ecosystem services won’t always do a good job of conserving species diversity in an ecosystem, so that additional species will need attention. As Laura said: “The framework we developed balances the currents costs of protecting species with the future risk of losing ecosystem services. In this way, we can determine the optimal number of species to protect.”
Meanwhile, Ellen Anderson, director of IonE’s Energy Transition Lab, was named a “critical collaborator” for 2018 by Environmental Initiative. In the nomination letter we wrote for Ellen, Fresh Energy’s Michael Noble offered this perspective: “No single public sector leader has had more influence on Minnesota’s success as a clean energy leader than Ellen Anderson.” Wow.
And just a couple of weeks ago, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, also known as IPBES, released four landmark reports – years in the making – assessing the global state of biodiversity. These reports were a collaboration among 550 scholars, including IonE affiliates Jeannine Cavender-Bares (CBS), Forest Isbell (CBS), Laura Dee (CFANS), Lee Frelich (CFANS), Susan Galatowitsch (CFANS0, and Kate Brauman (IonE), among other University of Minnesota contributors. (Kate was making waves at the Natural Capital Symposium too: From the podium, Mark Tercek called out her work to put the best numbers we can on the social and ecological value of clean water.)
This recognition – and other current events in the world – have me thinking about my own motivations, my reason to get out of bed each morning. Different parts of the IonE community have different reasons, but I decided recently that I get up in service to the 10 percent of biodiversity that experts think could be go extinct due to climate change in the next several decades. Ten percent is a relatively conservative estimate, and if our estimates of global biodiversity are right, it amounts to 900,000 species! (And that doesn’t count declines in ecosystem health or other change in biodiversity.)
If we are going to craft effective strategies for stemming that loss, we need to know who those species are, why they are sensitive and what corrective actions can be taken. The answers to those questions lie in smarter habitat management, new ideas like managed relocation, and building an economy that incentivizes the natural capital that houses the life on earth. Being in service to those 900,000 is not just about aesthetics and a moral duty to other creatures. It’s about sustaining the life on earth that sustains ourselves. I think that’s a good reason to put my feet on the floor each morning.
What’s your reason?
P.S. I hope you’ll join me at a Minnesota Public Radio event on the evening of April 26 in St. Paul. MPR’s Climate Cast, hosted by Paul Huttner, will host a live event called “Climate Heroes.” I’ll share the stage with Minnesota climate legend Mark Seeley and US Water Alliance’s Radhika Fox. I can’t wait.