In 2007, a group of bicyclist bloggers on an “energy tour” of the Big Sky State peddled into Choteau, Montana. The rabble of college students had already toured some 500 miles and seen sites including an oil refinery and a 90-turbine wind farm. Tired and dirty, they rested while waiting for the latest member of their crew to join them. The newcomer was Bill Stanley, director of the Global Climate Change Initiative at The Nature Conservancy.

Stanley’s wife suggested that the journey might be an ideal working vacation, and he jumped at the chance. “I don’t often get the opportunity to see how ordinary people view climate change issues in their communities,” he says. Before he donned his bike helmet and spandex and hit the road, Plenty spoke with Stanley about carbon dioxide caps, developing a public-access climate change website, and motivating people to take action.

Why did The Nature Conservancy (TNC) wade into the climate crisis?

Science has driven us to get involved, not politics. John Wiens, our chief scientist at TNC, says that climate change is the biggest threat to our mission. We began to address climate change in 1995. From 1995 to 2004, TNC focused almost entirely on forest preservation. Statistics show that around 20 percent of the greenhouse gases released every year are due to deforestation. This became our focus because it was an area where we were well-disposed to make difference. Then, in 2004, we started to weigh-in for emissions constraints and we began to target certain states and certain policy-makers.

How does TNC’s strong relationship with land owners and land managers around the world influence your strategic approach to climate change?

There is a risk of developing elitism within any large NGO, and it is a challenge to maintain strong grassroots connections. TNC has cultivated local relationships around the globe, and that makes it easier for us to tell the human story of climate change. We have access to many different voices in many parts of the world, which helps us set priorities that will have the greatest impact globally.

Do you see an opportunity for an unprecedented level of cooperation between private and public entities?

Absolutely. It is starting to happen, and to deal with climate change that cooperation needs to increase exponentially. To give you one example, we are involved in developing projects to reduce CO2 emissions from deforestation through a program called the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance. This alliance has brought together organizations ranging from British Petroleum, to CARE, to the governments and local communities in China and elsewhere that are benefiting from the program. It is a start, but needs to be multiplied thousands of times over.

When it comes to climate change, what are the primary goals of TNC?

First, we want to mobilize government action. We are advocating for mandatory CO2 caps in the US, and for an international climate agreement that includes all major emitters. TNC was born in the US and we feel strongly that we need to get our own house in order. 

Second, we are using science to reveal how much CO2 is being pulled out of the atmosphere by forests so that we can better justify the need to decrease deforestation. Statistics show that if we could halt deforestation by 2050 the world would be 15 percent closer to CO2 stabilization.

Third, we are conducting climate change impact assessments all over the world. We are also testing ways of managing our conservation programs through resilient conservation design. Many landscapes will not survive climate change. So, we’re looking for intact wildlife corridors and higher elevations where plants and animals can move.

How do you motivate people to take action?

I find it effective to talk about the impacts of climate change on those activities that many people enjoy—camping, hiking, fishing, skiing, and watching wildlife. A key tactic for reaching the average person is to make information on climate change impacts highly accessible. Right now, TNC is developing a website where citizens can punch in their zip code and receive up-to-date climate data for their area. One goal is to make climate change a local concern. TNC is on the cutting edge. We don’t want to keep this information to ourselves. We want to share these resources with everyone.

Story by Gabriel Furshong. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007

Seeds of change
Bill Stanley says The Nature Conservancy aims to make climate change a local concern.