Director's Letter

Spring 2018

Conservation and the Power of "And" versus "Or"


There's a false narrative that has infected environmental debates for decades. It boils down to two words: and versus or.

For too long, policymakers have thought they always had to choose: Care for the environment or boost the economy. Fight climate change or allow business to prosper. Sustain fisheries or help watermen.

Fortunately, that narrative is beginning to change. As we dig deeper into what nature has to give, a series of different stories emerge. By combining our creativity with the services nature offers when we see its real value, we're discovering the power of and.

If you live anywhere on the coast, one story may be unfolding a short drive from your home. Coastal wetlands decorate shorelines all around America. For centuries, landowners regarded wetlands as "unimproved" territories—or, more bluntly, a waste of space that could be better turned into farms. But in the last few decades, we've started to recognize their true worth. They shield us from hurricanes and storm surges, absorbing destructive energy. They filter out nutrients and toxic chemicals, keeping pollution out of the water. They provide critical habitat supporting most of our coastal fisheries. And they bury carbon more efficiently than even forests—so much that businesses and governments are looking to create markets for "blue carbon credits."

In our spring newsletter feature story, "Rethinking Carbon," you can meet some of the scientists who are changing the way we think about wetlands and the carbon they store. Dozens of scientists across the U.S. have joined SERC's new Coastal Carbon Research Coordination Network, because they've realized coastal wetlands are key to a healthier planet and a prosperous future.

It's happening in the ocean too. When underwater animals have a place to retreat from intense fishing, such as a marine reserve, it can revive struggling fisheries. Just this spring, marine biologists discovered that predators—many of them popular seafoods—get a boost inside marine reserves. And that abundance can spread to other parts of the ocean, sustaining the livelihoods of thousands who work on the water.

Of course, embracing the power of and does not mean we never have to make hard choices. The path to our best possible future will have some uphill climbs. We cannot always afford to take the cheapest, easiest or most convenient path in the short term.

But when we look at the world through the and lens, protecting nature becomes an investment that takes advantage of everything the environment has to offer. I've seen it pay off, in the way fisheries have bounced back in the Chesapeake when managed effectively, and the way seagrasses are recovering thanks to a "nutrient diet" that cuts pollution by conserving streamside forests and wetlands. The environment or the economy is a false choice. We can have both, if we have the creativity—and the courage—to change how we value the Earth.

-Anson"Tuck" Hines, director