There’s a reason we call it global climate change. It’s happening everywhere, and all of Earth’s inhabitants are in it together.
This basic reality informs The Nature Conservancy’s approach to climate change. We seek solutions that not only make our world more resilient but are adaptable to a tapestry of environmental, social and economic settings planet-wide. More often than not, nature itself shows us these solutions.
A connection to nature is a hallmark of our climate-change initiatives. Shared expertise within the Conservancy makes our work even more effective.
Global Perspectives, Local Connections
Our global, nature-based approach is more than a philosophy; it’s a working network of ideas, strategies and actions involving scientists, planners and communities from La Push, Washington, to Liangshan, China.
Here in Washington state, our coastlines, estuaries, forests and mountains pose a microcosm of climate-change challenges facing regions worldwide. Rising sea levels impact our coastal communities and farms. Hotter temperatures increase wildfire risk in our forests and shift harvest times for farmers. Diminished forests mean warmer, siltier rivers, reduced natural water storage and excess carbon in the atmosphere. As with so many places in the world, Washington’s cultural and economic identity is closely linked to these threatened resources. It’s more urgent than ever to protect them.
The strategies that guide our projects worldwide — nature-based solutions, community partnerships — guide us here in Washington. And in some cases, strategies that are solving problems across the country and in distant continents start right in our state.
Guided By Nature
The best of those strategies center on letting nature take the lead. They balance “gray,” human-built infrastructure with natural “green” infrastructure that provides powerful protections courtesy of nature. We are keenly aware that if we protect nature, nature can protect us.
Forests are a great example. In Eastern Washington’s dry forests, tools such as thinning and controlled burning help restore the landscape while strengthening resilience to droughts and wildfires. But until recently, guidelines for restoring broad, dry forest landscapes were not well defined, explains Ryan Haugo, TNC Oregon's director of conservation. “Here in the Pacific Northwest, we developed an approach to assess restoration needs across vast forest landscapes. That approach now also guides efforts as far afield as the central Appalachians.”
We’ve led the way in shoreline protection, too. As sea level rises and more frequent storms erode shorelines, coastal communities and developments are more vulnerable than ever. We see this in Washington, and we see it worldwide.
Natural “green structures,” such as marshes and coral reefs, slow approaching waves and accumulate sediment to ensure resilient coasts. When those natural defenses are compromised, we help nature rebuild.
At Port Susan Bay in Puget Sound, we removed dikes that had starved a portion of tidal marsh of sediment and fresh water for decades. In the area we helped restore, nature quickly began adding new sediment, and now it is accumulating fast enough to protect the ecosystem and its wildlife as sea levels rise. Resiliency is on the rebound.
From Washington to the World
A Coastal Defense App developed to guide restoration in Port Susan Bay has since “blossomed,” says Zach Ferdana, the global coastal resilience lead in Washington. The app is now used in nearly 20 states and has even gone global. Recently, the Conservancy used the app to help design a near-shore coral reef on the Caribbean island of Grenada. Now nature is building the reef, protecting the shoreline from storms and rising seas.
From Port Susan Bay to Eastern Washington’s forests, our statewide work informs, and is informed by, The Nature Conservancy’s global expertise. Such connections and innovative solutions give us a uniquely effective role in adapting our entire world to climate change.