With the answer staring us right in the face, The Nature Conservancy has committed to working with leaders to help them integrate nature and its benefits into the fabric of their own cities. In San Antonio, Texas, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, we’ve helped establish water funds that finance the protection of the local water supply. And along the Gulf Coast, we’re helping restore the Gulf of Mexico’s natural buffers (think oyster reefs, wetlands and seagrass) to blunt the impact of rising sea levels and storm surges.
Our efforts to work at a scale that makes a difference have also led to partnerships with Coca-Cola, to provide the science they need to ensure a zero water footprint, and Shell, to identify the impacts of development on natural resources. We count Dow Chemical among our partners, too—and given all we know about the power of nature, it’s not as crazy as it sounds. Currently, Dow is investigating reforestation as a way to combat air pollution in Freeport, Texas, home of their largest manufacturing site in the state. Instead of building new smokestack scrubbers, executives are looking at planting thousands of trees to meet federal air quality guidelines. A new thousand-acre forest would remove more than 200 tons of nitrous oxide from the air over the next 30 years, all at a lower cost than more traditional methods. And that dense canopy of trees would create new migration corridors for area wildlife, provide shade and help reduce temperatures, and improve water quality in the surrounding area. It’s a win all the way around.
Making sure our city and business leaders acknowledge and appreciate the value of our environment is the only way to achieve a vibrant natural world. It also ensures our cities can have the information they need to grow sustainably and that industry continues to make a positive contribution to our economy. We can make a tangible impact—we can protect our water supplies, reduce air pollution and keep our coastlines safe, but only if everyone is reading from the same playbook.
Laura Huffman is the director of The Nature Conservancy of Texas. A native of Austin, Huffman has a long and distinguished record of public service. She earned a master’s of public affairs from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s in political science with a minor in history from Texas A&M University. She makes her home in Austin, with husband Kent and their four children.
[Vegetation thrives between abandoned train tracks on New York's High Line. Photo credit: Flickr user Def.X via Creative Commons]