Book Review - Nature's Fortune by Mark Tercek

By Mark R. Tercek, Jonathan S. Adams

In the introduction to Nature's Fortune, author Mark Tercek cites the book which started him on his path to becoming first an environmentalist at Goldman Sachs, then in 2008, the CEO of The Nature Conservancy and ultimately led to the publishing of this book:

"I read The New Economy of Nature: The Quest to Make Conservation Profitable, the 2002 book by Stanford University's Gretchen Daily, a professor of environmental science. The book explained the workings of ecosystems and how they delivered goods and services to people. This scientific explanation of nature delivering value began to build my appreciation for nature and prompted me to reflect on opportunities and price tags"

A few pages on, he describes how the two perspectives - environmentalism and business - can mesh to protect nature:

"Environmentalists generally believe in nature's inherent value. That idea is the bedrock of the environmental movement. However, environmentalists cannot persuade everyone to think along the same lines. Focusing only on the innate wonders of nature risks alienating potential supporters and limits the environmental community's ability to reach a broader audience and to mine sources of new ideas. The "Isn't nature wonderful?" argument can leave the impression that nature offers solely aesthetic benefits, or worse, that nature is a luxury only rich people or rich countries can afford. We need to get business, government , and individuals to understand nature is not only wonderful, it is also economically valuable. Indeed, nature is the fundamental underpinning of human well-being...One way [to promote nature conservation ] is to connect nature to what concerns people most - how to make lives better, protect health, create jobs, and strengthen the economy...In many places around the world people believe they have more pressing concerns than conserving nature, and those concerns will take precedence unless they better understand what nature provides."

So the concept he originally discovered in Gretchen Daily's book - "ecosystem services" - and how an intact ecosystem and its services can benefit both people and businesses is the central thesis of this book. He goes on to discuss case studies where, lo and behold, environmentalists and businesses work together to conserve nature

Morro Bay, California
One illustrative case study is described in the Chapter 4: "The New Fishing". This chapter focuses on the community of Morro Bay, CA and begins as follows:

"Fish are an excellent example of nature's value. The fishing industry drives coastal economies worldwide and provides the main source of protein for 1 billion people. Yet more than 80 percent of fisheries operate at or beyond sustainable limits."

This introduction is followed by the mention of Elinor Ostrom, the first and only woman  to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. Ostrom won for her studies of how people who share resources such as fish, timber, or pastureland manage them for the good of all. She found that when communities band together, trust one another, and have clear property rights, they can innovate andovercome shortsighted self-interest, and instead manage forests and fisheries for future generations.

"The kind of collaboration Ostrom documented is also saving fisheries on California's Central Coast. In this region, the environmental community had been making little progress toward more sustainable fishing practices. Rather than giving up, some environmentalists joined with the fishing community to create innovative solutions that produce both profits and benefits for nature."

"Not long ago, the idea that diehard environmentalists and flinty, weathered fisherman would find common ground seemed unlikely, even absurd...But new thinking about the value of nature spawns new alliances, and in Morro Bay, California, and many other places, the tide has turned. When both sides are willing to drop old assumptions and experiment with new methods, results can be dramatic."

This chapter discusses the wrongheaded assumptions that led to overfishing around the globe, and also the specifics of the Morro Bay problems and the innovative solutions (e.g. "catch shares") . It is an interesting case study, and it amply illustrates the dropping of old assumptions and the experimenting with new methods and the dramatic results that ensued. A very, very important change in attitude is mentioned on the last page of the chapter - it mentions "a community of fisherman taking responsibility for their shared resources for the first time, rather than simply exploiting it to the fullest extent possible" What an incredibly important shift in attitude!!! And it works out in everybody's and nature's best interests!

I highly recommend this book to all people interested in both nature conservation and business not to mention people with an interest in how to make lives better, protect health, create jobs, and strengthen the economy. This book discusses what seems to me to be The Great Innovation in nature conservation and in business and represents a model for both 21st century environmentalism and business: "innovative solutions that produce both profits and benefits for nature.


  1. I just read another article about the endangerment of our global bee population. Our food industry, perhaps the largest industry worldwide, is dependent on bees to pollinate our crops. It is past time for business and environmentalists to come together to seek answers to these and other looming problems.


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