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Let’s Lower the Temperature of Political Infighting (pun intended)
Here’s how you can do your part this Thanksgiving.
It’s almost Thanksgiving here in the US, traditionally a time to pause, reflect on what we’re grateful for and express our appreciation.
I’d like to thank the readers of The Instigator for all of your engagement with us. You keep us on our toes, regularly challenge our positions, and always help us improve. You give positive feedback too, which we appreciate. That was our experience following our last issue, in which we suggested folks cross divides by focusing on practical climate solutions. We were delighted by your positive response. It reinforced our view that people are looking for ways to get things done and that pragmatism is our best bet for moving forward.
I’m also grateful for last week’s midterm elections results in the US. The outcomes demonstrated voters’ desire for problems solved, not arguments won.
But perhaps what we liked most over the past week was hearing how Instigator readers are practicing what we preach. You’re working to lessen divisive and unproductive partisanship by focusing instead on addressing environmental challenges in practical and inclusive ways.
So we hope you’ll indulge us while we share another timely opportunity to keep the momentum going — addressing the biodiversity challenge.
Let’s Support Biodiversity – Something Almost Everyone Favors
Our readers know that ecosystems are being degraded at alarming speeds, resulting in more extinctions and a frightening loss of biodiversity. This pattern is only going to accelerate unless humankind takes dramatic action. And we have the perfect opportunity to do so.
Next month, the UN-led global conference to address this issue — The Convention on Biological Diversity (the biodiversity equivalent of the climate meeting that just concluded in Egypt) — takes place in Montreal. (If you want some background on why biodiversity matters, how to protect it, and how to pay for it, see our prior thoughts here).
Many of our readers will be at the biodiversity convention and in a position to directly influence the participating governments, NGOs, and private sector players. Godspeed. But the rest of us can also use the biodiversity challenge as a way to bridge divides and get more positive, inclusive, and non-partisan dialog underway.
Almost no one opposes protecting nature. This is as good an opportunity as any other for talking with one another and overcoming our differences. Why not test it out? Maybe even over Thanksgiving dinner. It’s almost certainly less provocative than some of the usual debates that arise.
I tried to do something just like this when I was at TNC. And it worked.
My colleagues and I were very ambitious about increasing TNC's capacity to get more done. We wanted to take on more projects to protect nature, we wanted them to be bigger, and we wanted to introduce new innovations to scale our impact. But to do so, we needed more supporters, more political clout, and much more capital.
Our existing supporters were united by their love of nature and determination to leave a strong natural world for future generations. But converting others to the cause was more challenging. They were not ready to volunteer more resources on that rationale alone.
I had been an investment banker for many years before joining TNC. So it’s not surprising that I viewed the challenge from a banker's perspective.
What did I do? You guessed it. I argued that protecting nature was a superb investment opportunity. (I got a lot of help developing these views from our great team). Put aside philanthropic thinking for a minute, I suggested. Protecting nature makes great business sense. We can invest in nature to mitigate and adapt to climate change, protect water supply and water quantity, sustain and improve outdoor recreation opportunities. All of these actions produce great co-benefits too – like bolstering biodiversity. It was easy to demonstrate that investments in so-called "natural capital" yield very high financial returns. It turns out that investments in “green infrastructure” often outperform ones in man-made "gray infrastructure.”
I co-wrote a book — Nature’s Fortune — laying out this argument, backed up with compelling evidence. I was delighted by how well it was received. And I've been pleased to see this entire approach continue to make steady progress since that time.
These kinds of win-win strategies do more than achieve specific outcomes; they also help "lower the temperature" in today's heated political discussions.
I remember one week in particular where I gave two speeches to two very different but equally skeptical audiences. One was a group of Fortune 100 CEOs at an investment conference at the Ritz Carlton in LaGuna Niguel, California; the other was a group of treehuggers at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. Both seemed like tough audiences – arms crossed, faces stern – unlikely to be receptive to my arguments. But as I put forth a forward-looking, pragmatic, inclusive approach, they seemed to get on board. I remember thinking at the time that it's not always as difficult to find common ground as pundits tell us.
If I Can Do It, You Can Too
How might you begin bringing people together around shared environmental interests such as biodiversity?
Try focusing on outcomes most people want.
Environmental challenges qualify. Most parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles want young people and future generations to experience nature fully and reap the benefits of ecosystems that are intact. Most people would like to protect opportunities for outdoor recreation. Most folks, of course, favor protecting themselves from storms and sea level rise in cost-effective ways. Everybody knows we need abundant and healthy sources of water.
In the spirit of finding common ground, try to avoid blaming others for how we got here.
I am not totally naive of course. Bad actors must be challenged and even punished. There is a time and place for focusing on who is at fault, and even important areas of disagreement. But if we stay stuck in that place, we will still be arguing while ecosystems continue to deteriorate.
So I’m suggesting that we have some conversations that cast blame aside. That look forward, focus on solutions, seek ideas where agreement is likely to be found.
So here’s my homework assignment for you. Try to initiate a conversation along these lines over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Overachiever? Got you covered. For extra credit, take it one step further. Get engaged in some community dialog and use these same principles. For example, show up at public utility commission meetings (usually very few citizens do, but utility reps are always there), and push for them to take full advantage of the new IRA bill’s support for renewable energy. Or, show up at your school board meetings and push for electric school buses. And so on. There are many such opportunities. Please send in your suggestions.
I expect you’ll find that it's a good feeling to brainstorm with fellow citizens on how to make progress. It works best when both sides are committed to listening as carefully as they can, asking questions, and looking for opportunities for agreement. You can build from there.
Many people — including me — lament that our political system seems broken these days and act like there is little we can do about it. I think that's wrong. We can do plenty. Moreover, doing so can be very fulfilling. Conservation groups bring together diverse groups of supporters from across the 50 states and even the world to accomplish their goals. These folks not only got a lot done; they also seemed to me to be some of the happiest and most positive people I knew. Why? Because they roll up their sleeves, work hard (alongside their diverse peers) addressing big challenges, and worry less about themselves. We can all do this. Let's gets to work.
Have a great Thanksgiving!