Growing Returns

California’s budget is not about resistance. It’s about resilience.

The California legislature has passed a budget bill that gives me great hope for the state and for the nation. That’s because the budget was not only passed with bipartisan support – it also proves that conservation has broad political appeal.

California has rebuked the Trump administration on a number of issues including healthcare, immigration and the environment, leading many Americans to see California as the ultimate resistance state. But when I take a closer look at this budget, I think it has less to do with resistance, and everything to do with resilience.

Resilient people, communities, institutions and, yes, environment. Read More »

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Anthony Bourdain taught us the power of sharing a meal and leaving biases at the door

"What I aspire to is the grace with which he was able to meet people where they were and, at the same time, challenge preconceived notions."

I never knew Anthony Bourdain or even saw him in person. Yet, that he existed in the world – that I could turn on the TV or pick up something he'd written and get a dose of inspiration, or laughter, or learn something about food, life, relationships, or what it means to be authentic – was such a gift.

His 1999 New Yorker essay “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” and subsequent book, Kitchen Confidential, were full of bombast, bad-ass adventure and raw truth-telling. That made him fun to read, and later to watch. But if that is all it was, I doubt I’d find his death so devastatingly sad.

It was his passion for his craft, his love of people, and, ultimately, his talent for being able to suspend his own (strong) biases and beliefs in order to bring people together, that resonates deeply with me as I think about the work I lead for Environmental Defense Fund.

Bridging cultural divides

Bourdain often said that Parts Unknown, the “food show” that made him a global celebrity, wasn’t ever really about food. It was about people. It was about sitting down with them and learning who they were. It was about sharing ideas, asking questions, and opening up their world and their worldviews to the rest of us.

He embraced the dichotomy of the world being a really big place and a small planet all at the same time. Read More »

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Venture capitalists find rising market in rural America via data-loving farmers

Technology investors are discovering a new and largely untapped market: farmers in heartland America eager to fly drones, employ robots and crunch big data to boost their business.

In 2017, tech startups in the agriculture sphere raised $670 million to develop software management, big data analytics, automated equipment and other cutting-edge tools that help farmers grow crops with scientific precision, AgFunder reported. Agriculture is one of the last major sectors to experience the digital revolution and it’s a market ripe for growth.

New technology allows farmers to manage their fields down to the square foot – tracking plant health, soil moisture and estimated profit in real-time. That requires advanced software, sensors and state-of-the-art imaging technology.

A farmer flies a drone to aerially inspect crop health.

Precision agriculture could account for 80 percent of civilian drone use by 2020.

To meet such needs, investors raised more money for ag tech startups in 2017 than during the previous two years combined. Read More »

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Golf course offers pro tips for planting milkweed to help monarchs

Meadow Club in northern California is among the first golf courses to participate in a program engaging the golf community in conservation efforts for the beloved monarch butterfly.

Environmental Defense Fund and Audubon International staff visit the Meadow Club to see habitat restoration efforts underway on the course.

Monarchs in the Rough launched in January 2018 and has since enrolled more than 250 courses committed to planting milkweed and wildflower habitat, which the monarch needs to breed and feed.

The population of monarch butterflies has declined by more than 90 percent in the last two decades, and other pollinators have declined at similarly alarming rates. To change this trajectory, staff from Environmental Defense Fund and Audubon International decided to team up with a seemingly unlikely ally – golf courses.

Occupying approximately 2.5 million acres in the U.S. alone, golf courses are an untapped potential for habitat restoration, if managed appropriately. That’s where Monarchs in the Rough comes in, offering scientific expertise and technical support to help golf course superintendents and personnel grow habitat in out-of-play areas.

MonarchsintheRough.org provides an interactive map of participating courses and case studies highlighting restoration efforts.

But many golf course staff, including those at Meadow Club, are already well equipped with knowledge and experience from previous conservation efforts, and can offer lessons learned for other golf courses and individuals looking for milkweed planting tips. Read More »

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3 urgent areas for Zinke to focus beyond departmental reorganization

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week invited members of the conservation community to meet with him to discuss a number of his department’s near-term priorities.

Among these priorities was a “grand pivot” that Secretary Zinke described as a shift from focusing on energy dominance and shrinking monuments to a focus on conservation. When outlining his specific conservation priorities, Secretary Zinke spoke mostly in broad strokes about the reorganization of his department and infrastructure backlogs.

Some of his ideas on the reorganization had merit and we’d be willing to work with his agency to ensure that it is staffed to meet the needs of near and long-term conservation challenges.

While departmental organization and infrastructure needs are both worthy of administrative attention, I’m concerned that these priorities could detract from three urgent environmental and public health needs.

Read More »

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Less talk, more action: It’s time to get serious about floodplain management

I was recently cleaning out old files and came across notes from a presentation I made after the Great Midwest Flood of 1993. It was on the state of the nation’s floodplain management, a topic even more relevant today.

Many no longer recall the Great Midwest Flood despite its record-breaking precipitation, flooding and $13 billion price tag. Sure, 1993 seems like a long time ago, but I believe the reason the flood has left most people’s memory is because, over the last 25 years, the nation has experienced one devastating, record-breaking flood after another. Our memories are diluted by the frequency of such events.

Sadly, many of the lessons I shared in my presentation back then remain true today.

It’s time we stop talking and get serious about improving our nation’s floodplain management by putting these lessons into action.

Photo credit: Association of State Floodplain Managers via FloodStorageEricJohnson (license)

Read More »

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Farmers join international climate talks prepared to take action

Nearly one year ago, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. In the absence of federal government leadership, the agriculture sector is making its voice heard in the international climate change discussions taking place this week at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.

Farmers are on the front lines of a changing climate and increasingly extreme weather. They know that climate-smart agriculture is critical to ensuring their operations continue for generations to come. That’s why they’re pulling up a chair to take a seat at the global climate table. Read More »

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What the world can learn from Louisiana about living with climate change

Louisiana is emerging as a global leader in how to sustainably plan for the future in the face of increased storms, coastal erosion and rising seas. By combining nature-based solutions with traditional flood protection measures, Louisiana is a proving ground for living with climate change.

The lessons Louisiana can teach are not new, but they build upon those first taught by the Dutch. The Netherlands has taught the world innumerable lessons in flood protection – but historically, the Dutch have been primarily focused on building walls to keep water out, rather than finding more sustainable ways to protect coastal communities.

That is until recently, when the Dutch began embracing a more nature-based approach of “living with water,” similar to what is happening in Louisiana.

We can change the way we face coastal flooding challenges if we blend coastal restoration, protection and community resiliency measures. Louisiana’s multiple-lines-of-defense approach is a model for other coastal places, including the Netherlands, that are planning their futures in the face of climate change. Read More »

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Raise a glass (of tequila!) to celebrate this endangered bat’s recovery

When the lesser long-nosed bat was first listed as an endangered species 30 years ago, there were fewer than 1,000 bats in existence. Today, the bat’s population has grown to an estimated 200,000 bats living in 75 roosts across the southwestern United States and Mexico.

A lesser long-nosed bat feeding on an Agave blossom at night in Tucson, Arizona.

The lesser long-nosed bat is one of only three nectar-feeding bat species in the U.S. – uniquely providing valuable ecosystem services through bat pollination and the dispersal of fruit seeds, including for agave plants used in tequila production.

The relationship between bats and tequila may seem obscure at first, but the bat-plant association is so strong that the disappearance of one would threaten the survival of the other.

BATS Magazine

The lesser long-nosed bat is the first bat species to be removed from the endangered species list due to successful recovery. How the bat bounced back is not your typical conservation success story. Read More »

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In a race against time, officials collaborate to speed up coastal restoration. Here’s how.

Louisiana is in the midst of a catastrophic land loss crisis. The state has already lost over 2,000 square miles of land, and it could lose as much as 4,000 square miles more if nothing is done to restore the coast.

As these wetlands disappear into the Gulf of Mexico, so do the natural protections that shield New Orleans and other coastal communities from rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms.

It’s a dilemma that’s playing out in coastal communities across the United States and around the world.

So it came as welcome news when state and federal regulators this month agreed to shave nearly two years off the five-year permitting process for a diversion project that will allow the mighty Mississippi River to do its natural business of building much-needed land.

It’s an acknowledgment that we’ve no time to lose in preparing for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Read More »

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