Many of my colleagues are concerned about the future of conservation in America. The funding to do this noble, unselfish work is at risk. We wonder if Americans value conservation enough to continue to pay for it. This anxiety comes at a time when threats to fish, wildlife and their habitats are mounting and we feel conservation is needed more than ever.
This week NBC and Esquire released a fascinating survey showing where 2,410 Americans, and presumably the rest of us, stand on a range of issues. Based upon the survey results it seems there is a majority of voters that represent a distinct group. The New American Center is the term used to describe 56% of registered voters today. Interestingly a third of these folks consider themselves independent while another third call themselves liberal and another third conservative. Yet, when asked specific questions it turns out this majority, the Center, have common values streaked with blue and red.
What does this survey have to do with leadership in conservation? Perhaps this survey can help us ask questions and understand how conservation can survive in a changing America. Some of the results have a clear connection to those of us concerned about conservation. For example, the Center favored a smaller government that spends money fairly and wisely. Most of the Center recycles because they want to do something to help the environment. The Center is more likely to spend its free time on weekends watching movies and shopping for fun. Tax the carbon-emitting industries to reduce pollution? The Center says “yes” but drill more at home too.
Smaller government. More people. Increased energy production. Less habitat. Yet unspoiled lands and waters teeming with wildlife. No problem, right?
We are in the midst of high expectations that demand change. In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, the authors suggest leadership for change demands inspiration and perspiration. I believe they’re right. There is no doubt conserving America’s wild things and places is going to be hard work. And garnering support for funding will require more than data. I believe a path to success will require we:
1. work hard at being aware and respectful of the value, attitudes and beliefs of the Center;
2. use that knowledge to build relationships with them; and
3. inspire them with stories that help them connect the environment they value with people like us working to protect it.
We’re working in uncertain times. Leadership is required from every person in the conservation community. Each of us should be aware of how the public values nature and our work. We should use that knowledge to help them realize their connection to both. If we do these things well, I believe future surveys will show the Center supports publicly funded conservation.
I’m curious. Do you believe taxpayers in the future will support conservation funding even if they don’t have a physical connection with nature?