Larry Selzer

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					Larry Selzer Manomet Associates Event July 16, 2009
Seems hard to believe that it was 27 years ago when I arrived here in Manomet, and it‟s been 21 since I left. I used to love summer evenings like this - back then the other interns and I would sit right up on the bluff, make popcorn and watch the drug boats, just before the police would arrive, dump their bales of marijuana overboard - it was called square grouper in those days. But what an accomplishment – 40 years! I hardly know anyone that old. Four decades of delivering exceptional science and promoting the close link between human well-being and the health and sustainability of the planet. It‟s really a remarkable record of success, and as I was thinking about what to say tonight, I began to wonder how it all got started. What was the environment like back in 1969 that caused Betty and others to launch this bold venture? So I did a little homework to see what was going: Richard Nixon becomes president of the United States and the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catches fire and burns for weeks.


Governor Ronald Reagan‟s plans for the destruction of disruptive elements on California college campuses through „psychological warfare‟ is revealed, and Monty Python debuts on TV. Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to step on the Moon just as the last episode of Star Trek is aired on NBC. And the Supreme Court rules that students have the right to express opinions at odds with the government and the rock group Iron Butterfly scores a hit with the 17-minute tune Ina-Gadda-da-Vida, which I understand John Biderman will perform in its entirety later this evening. It seems to me that launching MBO from that primordial soup took a great deal of vision and courage, and an understanding that the great environmental challenges of that time demanded a new approach - one that drew its strength from collecting data in the field and marked its achievements by how that data was used to change the behaviors of our public, private and nonprofit institutions. 40 years later, that approach rings as true as ever. From energy to climate, habitat to health, the world needs better science in order to make better decisions, and I am excited about the future of Manomet and all those who will benefit from your work. Now, before I get any further, I want to tell you about my time here at Manomet, and how I came to be here in the first place. I didn‟t come because of eminent biologists like E. O. Wilson. And I didn‟t come because of world


class ornithologists like Roger Tory Peterson. The fact is, I came here because of Marlin Perkins. You all remember Marlin Perkins, don‟t you? He was the host of Mutual of Omaha‟s Wild Kingdom, which came on at 6:00 every Sunday night. It was the only show that my father would ever watch, so it was a big deal to sit down with him on Sunday and watch. Now the real hero of the show wasn‟t Marlin at all, but his burly sidekick Jim. And if you ever watched the show, you‟ll remember that at some point in every show there was a scene like this: Jim is riding in a jeep across the African Savannah doing about 50 mph, crashing through the brush trying to get next to the stampeding wildebeest. And just as the jeep pulls alongside, Jim leaps out of the vehicle and grabs the animal by the horns and wrestles it to the ground… Just then, the camera would cut back to the studio, and there would be Marlin Perkins, impeccably dressed in his charcoal gray suit with his mustache as white as snow, and he would look into the camera and with all earnestness say, “It‟s times like these that your family needs insurance!” And my father would burst out laughing. That was all it took – I was hooked. I wanted to be just like Jim. I wanted to be a field biologist. So when I entered my senior year in college, I began applying for positions. I typed up my resume, got the Conservation Directory from the library, and


sent off 85 letters to organizations around the country. Well, one by one the replies came back, and unfortunately a distinct pattern began to emerge. Using my own scientific metric, weighted average vehemence, I began arranging them on my wall – with the “NOs” on the bottom, the “Hell Nos” on the top and the “Don‟t call us, we‟ll call yous” in the middle. What a disaster! But then, fortune smiled on me when, and I put this one in the category of “Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while”, a wonderful man and family friend named Noble Proctor, told me I should apply for an internship at the Manomet Bird Observatory. So I did and on the appointed day, I arrived for my interview with Trevor Lloyd Evans and Tina – at the time I thought that was four different people. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I arrived. First of all, I was wearing a coat and tie…and things went downhill from there. After a bit of small talk, the interview began, and the questions came fast and furious: Trevor: Can you explain the downward trend in Gray Cheeked Thrush populations? Tina: Are you grumpy at 4:30 in the morning?



Why don‟t all male Prairie Warblers sing on their nesting territory?


Can you handle a 4 wheel drive Army truck?

On and on it went, the onslaught unceasing, until finally, mercifully, it ended. And miracle of miracles, I was in! And that‟s when my real education about field science began. For example, I learned the critical importance of good project design…”Larry, you stand over here for six hours and write down everything you hear”. And I learned that perseverance is essential…”Larry, you stand over here for six hours every day for the next 5 weeks.” But I also learned something else, and frankly, it ran counter to my relatively immature understanding of the role of science in how decisions were made about natural resources and conservation. You see, I spent most of my time here working on marine issues related to commercial fishing and the proposed offshore leasing of the outer continental shelf for oil and gas exploration. It meant a fair amount of time out at sea collecting data on marine mammal, seabird and sea turtle populations, and then coming back and analyzing the data to see which areas were the most important for them.


Then, armed with reams of data and one-of-a kind maps, I watched repeatedly as decisions about fishing quotas and mineral extraction were made almost in spite of the science. The two big heavyweights - politics and money – would fight it out and inevitably, one or the other would rule the day. What I realized, was that science alone wasn‟t enough. I also realized that I didn‟t know anything about politics or money – but if that‟s how the game was played, I wanted in – and that‟s how I ended up at Business School. I wanted to learn the language of money so that I would be in a better position to try and influence decisions about natural resource use and conservation. What mattered was outcomes, and I was being left out of the game. Now another key piece is reinstating science to its rightful place in society. Just as the presence of good science can inform and guide the best of decisions, the absence of science – as we have seen over the past 8 years – yields remarkably short-sighted policies and unsustainable practices. You see, in the years following World War II, scientists in America enjoyed great cultural authority and access to the corridors of power. But that has changed. Since the mid-twentieth century, science has become much less cool, scientists have ceased to be role models, and kids aren‟t rushing home anymore to fire rockets from their backyards. Too many influential people throughout our society don‟t see the centrality of science in their lives, and too many scientists don‟t know how to explain it to

them. They are separated by what British novelist C. P. Snow called a “gulf of mutual incomprehension”. Nearly a decade into the 21st century, we have strong reason to worry that the serious appreciation of science could become confined to a small group of already dedicated elites, when it should be, must be, a value we all share. A 2008 analysis by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that if you tune in for five hours‟ worth of cable news, you will catch only 1 minute‟s coverage of science and technology – compared with 10 minutes of celebrity and entertainment, 12 minutes of accidents and disasters, and 26 minutes of crime. As a result, 80 percent of Americans can‟t read the New York Times science section and only half of the adult population knows the earth orbits the sun once per year. From energy independence and habitat loss to pervasive poverty and persistent chemicals to climate change and invasive species, we have some very difficult decisions to make and we need science to be front and center, playing a determining role. We are living through the economic equivalent of „No Science‟ as the global meltdown continues to unfold, and the stakes are so much higher when it comes to things like fresh water or food.


It reminds me of Woody Allen when he said "More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly." More than ever before, the world needs Manomet and its brand of engaged scientists – people who study the things that matter and then make a difference with the knowledge they gain. My own optimism is buoyed greatly by your efforts. The work you are doing to evaluate impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems here in Massachusetts will help the state wildlife agency make better decisions about what to save and what to let go. And the Wings of Rice program seems to me to hold great promise in positively affecting millions of acres of critical habitat for shorebirds and water birds. And the Northern Forest Investment Zone, a new concept that may help forestland owners keep their land as forests, is in part based on your work on Natural Capital. These, and so many other programs, keep Manomet at the forefront of conservation, and give the rest of us hope that we too can make a difference. A friend recently said to me, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up”, and to me, that captures the spirit here at Manomet as well as anything I have heard.


But there is so much more to do, and we need to accelerate the pace of change. Let me give you an example. As a nation, we are poised to invest nearly a trillion dollars in our critical infrastructure. And it‟s not just about roads and bridges. It‟s also about schools, and the electrical grid, and environmental and technological innovation. It‟s about establishing a world-class industrial and economic platform for a nation that is speeding toward second-class status on a range of important fronts. It‟s about whether we‟re serious about remaining a great nation. In many ways, we don‟t act like it. Here‟s a staggering statistic: According to the Education Trust, the U. S. is the only industrialized country in which young people are less likely than their parents to graduate from high school. America has become self-destructively shortsighted in recent decades and that has kept us from acknowledging the awful long-term consequences of underinvesting in our infrastructure. But the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that was passed earlier this year is aimed at turning this around. The problem is that none of the money – remember, it is nearly a trillion dollars - is aimed at protecting our green infrastructure – our forests and wetlands and riparian corridors – those land that provide us with clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and carbon sinks to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


In just one example, the stimulus bill directs some $3 billion nationally toward innovative water quality measures and none of it is aimed at protecting forests which do more to protect water quality than any other land use. This is unacceptable. Back in 1969, Jack Kent Cooke, owner of a professional hockey team, fined each of his player $100 for NOT arguing with the referee. Well, it‟s time we started arguing. But first, we must become more aware. It reminds me of the time Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal, they lay down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend. Holmes said: “Watson, look up and tell me what you see”. Watson said: “I see a fantastic panorama of countless stars”. And Holmes said: “And what does that tell you?” Watson pondered a moment, and then, not wanting to disappoint his intellectually superior companion, said: Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. And meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.”

“Why? – What does it tell you Holmes?” Holmes was silent for a moment then spoke: “Someone has stolen our tent.” Like Watson, we tend not to notice our critical infrastructure. That is, until we have a problem. As a country, we didn‟t acknowledge that our bridges were crumbling until one fell into the Mississippi River. And we didn‟t worry about the loss of 90% of the wetlands along the Louisiana coast until New Orleans was nearly wiped out. And we didn‟t seem to care that our electrical grid was terribly outdated until the entire northeast was blacked out for four days. Yes, we need new energy, clean water, and reinvestment in our transportation system. And yes, we need to create jobs and restore the economy‟s strength. But we also need to invest in our own life support system – the critical green infrastructure that keeps us alive. Let‟s focus for a minute on one key part of this green infrastructure – something The Conservation Fund is keenly focused on – and that is our nation‟s private forests. Each year across the country we lose nearly 1.5 million acres of working forest, and the forests that remain are increasingly degraded by accelerated levels of fragmentation.


From the remote backwoods to groves near small towns, forests are shrinking: 35 acres here, 500 there. The decline is so incremental it masks a crisis. You wake up one morning and the forest you took for granted down the road has bulldozers tearing up the trees. 13 million acres lost since 1992. 23 million acres gone by 2050. The pace of the losses is staggering. And yet, a majority of our nation‟s drinking water comes from these forests, and there is no scenario for meeting our nation‟s climate change goals that includes losing nearly 40 million acres of working forests. These forests are just as much a part of our nation‟s infrastructure as our roads and sewers and fiber optic lines, and there will be severe consequences when they are gone. Just look at Atlanta, the fastest growing human settlement in history. Atlanta has paved over most of its forests where all the groundwater recharge occurred and now wonders how it came within 90 days last year of running out of water. The Governor‟s response was to hold a prayer breakfast on the steps of the Capitol – you can‟t make this stuff up… 20 years ago, Atlanta could have protected its forests for less than $1,000 an acre. Today, the City is making plans to tear up some of the outer edge shopping malls and restore forests at a cost of more than $500,000 an acre.


Or what about in the Chesapeake Bay where we lose 100 acres of forest each day and wonder why we have some of the highest rates of asthma in the country. Forests are not just for supplying fiber to the mills, and they are not just for wildlife habitat or recreation. Forests are part of our life support system, and we must begin to reposition our green infrastructure from an amenity, something that is nice to have, to a necessity, something we must have. We need to incorporate the language of energy independence, climate change and water security into our discussions of biodiversity and habitat conservation. We need to make the science matter so that when we do invest in our infrastructure, we invest in a sustainable future. Americans have already accepted the fact that we need to invest mightily. A recent national poll showed that 94% of Americans are concerned about our nation‟s infrastructure. Fully 84% of the public wants more money spent by the federal government – and 83% wants more spent by state governments. This isn‟t soft support either. It stretches from Maine to Montana, from California to Connecticut. Democrats by 87% and Republicans by 74% are prepared to put skin in the game. And here‟s the kicker: 81% of Americans are personally prepared to pay 1% more in taxes for the cause. We need to make sure that the environment is included in the mix.


New York City, more than a decade ago, showed us the way when they launched a plan to spend $1.4 billion to conserve agricultural and forested land in the Catskills that protected its drinking water supply, which meant they didn‟t have to spend $6 billion to build a new water treatment plant downstream. Similarly, in northern California The Conservation Fund borrowed $25 million from the Water Control Board to acquire some 40,000 acres of working forest because we convinced them that these lands actually served as an upstream water treatment plant. Interestingly, in addition to harvesting timber in order to restore the forest, we also have become the largest forest-based carbon offset provider in the country – generating more than $3 million in additional revenue. These are powerful examples of good science leading to better outcomes – outcomes that balance economic and environmental objectives and pave the way to a sustainable future. And yet, even if we are successful in repositioning the environment – our green infrastructure – from an amenity to a necessity, and even if we are able to restore science to its rightful place in society, there is another challenge I want to speak to you about tonight – and that is the health and well-being of our children, for they too are part of the critical infrastructure of our country. Over the past 30 years, children of the digital age have become increasingly alienated from the natural world with disturbing implications, not only for

their physical fitness, but also for their long-term mental and spiritual health, and of course, for the environment. Young people who grow up without spending time in nature are much less likely to be strong champions of the environment when they reach voting age. Twenty or thirty years from now, we will have a generation of leaders in our public, private and nonprofits institutions who will be asked to make policy and budgetary decisions about forests and wetlands who have never seen a forest, or waded a stream, or simply gotten their hands dirty in a garden. Young people today have access to an unprecedented array of media in their homes and in their bedrooms. While opening up a wealth of “virtual” experiences to the young, these technologies have made it easier and easier for children to spend less time outside. Wall Street calls this progress. But if that‟s true, then Ogden Nash was right when he said, “Progress may have been a good thing at one time, but it went on a little too long.” We need to seek a little more balance – to move toward what entrepreneur and economist Paul Hawken calls a „developing economy‟ rather than focusing solely on growth. A growing economy he says is getting bigger; a developing economy is getting better. Put another way, the market has its place, but the market needs to be kept in its place.


Recently, I passed a giant billboard from IKEA that read “Kids, go play inside!” What does it say about our priorities as a society when we choose to market clever furniture in place of clever kids? When we will drive miles out of our way to buy free range chicken but are too busy or too scared to encourage free range children? There is a dullness in our young people today because they have lost the spark that comes from interacting with the world around them. It is time we reclaimed the higher ground. But how do we get there from here? Martin Luther King said that the success of any social movement depends on its ability to “show a world where people will want to go.” But where is that? You and I may want to go to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge or the canyons of Zion National Park. But for a child in East Philadelphia, East St. Louis or East L. A., it may be someplace entirely different. In fact, it may be the abandoned lot next door -- New York City has over 47,000 vacant land parcels totaling thousands of acres. For decades, these have been considered liabilities, to be fenced off, avoided. What a waste. Where is the vision, the creativity in that?


Mark Twain said “you cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” I prefer Agatha Christie‟s outlook better. You see, she was married to one of the preeminent archaeologists of her time. Once when she was asked what‟s it like to be married to an archaeologist, she replied…”It‟s wonderful! The older I get, the more interested he is in me!” She was clever enough to see her age as an asset rather than a liability. And we need to be clever enough to recognize that New York City with its 47,000 abandoned lots has an amazing asset just waiting to be deployed. This brings up a central point in our efforts to reconnect children with nature. As we become more of an urban nation, and as the demographics of our country continue to change, reconnecting children with nature will be less about bringing kids to nature, and more about bringing nature to the kids. Taking an inner city kid from Washington, D. C. to Yellowstone is a bit like sending her to the moon for a week. It is too big a leap. We need to bring nature to these kids in a way that makes sense to them. Then, later, after they have developed a connection, a love for nature, we can make our way to Yellowstone. By the year 2050, 85% of Americans will live in cities. If we are to make nature relevant to these Americans, then we must recognize the value, not


only of our national forests and wildlife refuges, but also of our neighborhood parks, wooded cul-de-sacs, and abandoned lots that have yet to be restored. For too long, we in the environmental movement have defined nature in terms of wildness, far away and pristine. And the result is that nature has become a foreign country that we get to visit only once in a while. That will never do. Nature must be nearby, accessible. It must be returned to our day care centers, our schools and our communities. We need to rethink our priorities and remake our culture – a tall order indeed. But, Daniel Burnham said “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men‟s blood”. Restoring our connection to our natural world is no little plan, and we have little time to waste. Consider this, there are 20 million diabetics in this country today; there will be 40 million in 2015; and, if we don‟t change course, 80 million in the year 2050! Already, we spend $1.5 trillion each year on health care with 95% of that spent on direct medical service – and only 5% allocated to preventing disease and promoting health and a healthy lifestyle. The implications for the country are severe – from a health perspective, to the impact on local, state and national budgets, to corporate competitiveness, to the future of our magnificent land and water legacy. Sick people are less

productive at work and do not recreate much outdoors. We need to rethink our approach to wellness and health – nature as the 1st prescription rather than the last. We know that patients in rooms with tree views have shorter hospitalizations and that children with ADHD who have access to natural areas are calmer and require less medication. And we know that the presence of trees outside apartment buildings in a public housing project in inner-city Chicago predicted better coping skills, less crime and less violence. And finally, we know that among children who play in paved over playgrounds, the leaders tend to be the most physically mature; while among children who play on green playgrounds, the leaders tend to be the most creative. Remember, these are the future leaders of our country. With all the complexity in the world today, from global warming, to free trade and immigration, to ethnic and religious intolerance, do we really believe we can lead based on strength alone? All Americans care about these issues. They may come to the table for different reasons, but they want a seat at the table. And we need to set a place for them. Poor people, people of color, people with disabilities, and others who have the least access to natural settings, and who may need it the most. As a nation, we will be paid back many times over.

My favorite lapel button says simply “The meek are getting ready.” Now I‟m not sure if the meek will inherit the earth, but I am sure young people will. And you need to help them get ready. Conclusion: Now, I‟d like to leave you with a few final thoughts. As I travel across all 50 states of this great country, too often I witness a culture of confrontation, rather than collaboration. Too often I am reminded of John Gardner‟s phrase “The war of the parts against the whole”. Over fears of liability, we post „No Running‟ signs in county parks. Over fears that our children may encounter a sociopath, we encourage sedentary, anti-social behavior by allowing our kids to spend hours in front of an electronic screen. And over fears of nature itself, we quarantine kids under virtual house arrest, thereby ensuring that they too will fear the very thing they need the most. For tens of thousands of years, kids went outside and played in nature, and we are reversing that in a matter of decades. The area beyond which children are free to roam has shrunk by 89% in the past 20 years. It simply doesn‟t add up.


We need a Children‟s Bill of Rights that is explicit about the freedom to explore and improvise, about the right to experience nature in a meaningful way. If the world of our future, with all its complexity, will demand people who are able to understand and adapt, who have creativity and compassion, can we afford anything less? In the Declaration of Independence, it says: “We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. With all we know about the benefits of nature to children‟s health, cognitive ability and socialization, shouldn‟t access to nature be an unalienable right? Christopher Reeve, the actor, had on the wall of his room when he was in rehab a picture of the space shuttle blasting off, autographed by every astronaut then at NASA. On top of the picture it said “We found nothing is impossible”. And Reeve said, “That should be our motto. Not a Democratic motto, not a Republican motto, but an American motto. Because it‟s not something one party can do alone. It‟s something we as a nation must do together. So many of our dreams at first seem impossible. Then they seem improbable. And then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”


Whole and healthy children, vibrant communities and vast intact landscapes it is time we began to speak of these things as if they are not only possible, but inevitable. THANK YOU