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I’m a huge believer in land conservation. I believe one of the best ways to protect our environment is to take wide swaths of land permanently out of circulation. I was delighted to read an article Amy forwarded me from the New York Times today titled Deal Is Struck in Montana to Preserve Forest Areas.
The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land have put together a deal to pay $510 million to buy about 500 square miles of forest currently owned by Plum Creek Timber. Half of the money will come from private donations; the other half will come from a new tax-credit bond mechanism that was recently passed. I’m delighted our government is spending – via a tax-credit bond – $250 million on land conservation. I’d like to allocate 50% of my taxes next year to stuff like that.
I’ve been involved directly in some land conservation; we have a conservation easement on all of our land in Eldorado Canyon, I am a trustee for the Colorado Conservation Trust, I’m a huge fan (and beneficiary) of all the Boulder and Boulder County Open Space activity, and I’ve been involved in several very contentious land use issues. The political and economical dynamics of public property rights, land use and development rights, and conservation are incredibly complicated and often extremely polarized.
It’s gets especially messy in areas that are fragmented (or "checkerboarded") like the land in Montana. In these situations, the amount of work to figure out how to get all the land in one contiguous area into an actual deal can be mindboggling. The Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Land are pros at this and it looks like they’ve pulled off something amazing this time around that will have long term benefits for a beautiful part of our country.
Heresy makes you think. Amy sent me an essay about heresy written by the great physicist and thinker Freeman Dyson titled Heretical Thoughts About Science and Society. Following is the setup to what is a phenomenal essay.
“The main subject of this piece is the problem of climate change. This is a contentious subject, involving politics and economics as well as science. The science is inextricably mixed up with politics. Everyone agrees that the climate is changing, but there are violently diverging opinions about the causes of change, about the consequences of change, and about possible remedies. I am promoting a heretical opinion, the first of three heresies that I will discuss in this piece.
My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.
There is no doubt that parts of the world are getting warmer, but the warming is not global. I am not saying that the warming does not cause problems. Obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it better. I am saying that the problems are grossly exaggerated. They take away money and attention from other problems that are more urgent and more important, such as poverty and infectious disease and public education and public health, and the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans, not to mention easy problems such as the timely construction of adequate dikes around the city of New Orleans. “
About halfway through Dyson’s essay, I came upon what I consider to be a simple yet brilliant paragraph.
“When I listen to the public debates about climate change, I am impressed by the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories. Many of the basic processes of planetary ecology are poorly understood. They must be better understood before we can reach an accurate diagnosis of the present condition of our planet. When we are trying to take care of a planet, just as when we are taking care of a human patient, diseases must be diagnosed before they can be cured. We need to observe and measure what is going on in the biosphere, rather than relying on computer models.”
I’m a huge environmentalist, but really struggle with all the popular / political stuff going on around climate change. I’ve studied it some but am not expert. I’m careful about expressing my opinion because much of it is simply opinion and reaction, rather than data driven conclusions. As a result, my personal focus on improving the environment has been around land conservation and intelligent land use and management. Interestingly, Dyson touches on some of this in his discussion of the dynamics surrounding the evolution of the biomass of the earth.
I mentioned this casually in a conservation with a colleague the other day and he pointed me to an article titled Walking to the shops ‘damages planet more than going by car.’ While a knee jerk reaction from a climate change believer would be “that’s total bullshit”, it was another intriguing set of thoughts from Chris Goodall (Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford West & Abington) about a different approach to thinking about the problem.
While it’s currently popular to “think green”, it’s always been less popular to put forward heretical thoughts. But the heretical thinkers are often the most innovative ones. Hopefully they get us to think.
My dad has gotten involved in a Dirty Coal plant issue in Texas. The environmental issues are directly linked to the health care issues and – as usual – he’s direct, articulate, and deeply engaging about the issue. Very cool Dad! I knew you’d eventually become an environmental activist.
The very first angel investment I made after I sold my first company was in a company called NetGenesis. Will Herman and I were the initial seed investors; I was chairman of the company for the first couple of years. Eric Richard was one of the co-founders and one of the technical brains behind the company. Eric stayed actively involved with company for much longer than I did – through the IPO and then the ultimate sale to SPSS.
I haven’t seen Eric much over the last eight or so years, but we email periodically. This morning, among other things, he pointed me to the first letter to the editor that he’s had published. It’s a letter in his local paper (the Sudbury Town Crier) titled: Nobody cares about 50 years from now. Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” had an impact on Eric and he writes eloquently about it. Regardless of whether or not you believe in “the crisis of global warming”, Eric’s thoughts and suggestions apply.
Now – that’s a mission statement. I’m on the board of the Colorado Conservation Trust and we had a board meeting last week. CCT is one of the best organized non-profits I’ve ever had the privilege to be involved with and is unambiguous about its goal. The mission statement says it all – “Conserve 2,000,000 Acres in the Next Decade – Let’s Get Going.”
I’ve lived in Colorado for 10 years. Part of the magic of this place is the mountains, the open space, and the wide stretches of undeveloped land. Boulder benefits greatly from the city and county’s forward thinking conservation attitude from many years ago, resulting in a magnificent city in an environmentally protected setting. None of this was by accident and I’ve tried to do my part in the last decade to help locally.
CCT broadens this view across the entire state. There are numerous environmental organizations in Colorado – some effective, some not. There is the typical conflict you’d expect from an area that is undergoing huge growth ranging from private property rights to zoning issues to wildlife protection. In addition to actively participating in conservation, CCT has taken a leadership role in understanding what is going on in conservation across the state. Recently, they released Colorado Conservation at a Crossroad – their first comprehensive report on conservation in Colorado
Since it was founded in 2000, CCT has contributed to the protection of more than 30,000 acres in Colorado. It’s raised $10 million from 30 foundations in and over 300 individuals. It’s leveraged the $10 million with an additional $24 million of public and private dollars. It does this with a staff and organization that is 100% underwritten by its board of directors – we cover 100% of CCT’s operating costs so that all of the money that is contributed can be directly deployed against land conservation programs.
If you live in or enjoy Colorado, you should be happy there are folks like Will Shafroth and his team at CCT working hard to help keep it special. We’re always looking for additional support of any kind and – as the end of the year rolls around and you consider any philanthropic giving – I’d encourage you to consider a gift CCT if you are conservation minded and enjoy Colorado. Remember – 100% of your money will go to land conservation – we (the board) has got the admin stuff covered. If you want to learn more or get involved, feel free to contact me.