Animals such as these gorillas, in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, often are on the front lines of the battle against overpopulation
Conservation International’s Jill Sigal
Endangered habitats: A canoe for transporting victims of flooding in Santa Marta, Colombia...
.... and butterflies at a beach in Venezuela
Picture an organization devoted to the environment, and the standard image is an eco-friendly place filled with free-spirited folks and lots of talk about “going green” and saving the Earth. Most environmentally conscious movements, of course, have begun with little more than those ideals. But Conservation International, one of the largest and most powerful forces when it comes to changing the world via environmental welfare, is not just thinking globally—it has the power to act globally, working at every level, from economy to infrastructure to science and policy, to help ensure a healthy planet.
Policy is the purview of CI’s newly minted vice president of US government policy, Jill Sigal, a passionate, fiercely intelligent (and super-connected) former George W. Bush administration official. Part of Sigal’s job is to steer members of Congress toward key issues, outlining alarming statistics predicated on a booming population veering dramatically out of control. (It took a scant 12 years for the world’s population to grow from 6 billion to 7 billion, a milestone passed in late October.) “The direct connection between international conservation and America’s national and economic security interests haven’t necessarily been highlighted,” says Sigal. “If we can raise awareness, we are more apt to make a difference.” Sigal, along with a dedicated team of board members that includes Walmart chairman Rob Walton; chairman, CEO, and president of Northrop Grumman Wes Bush; and actor Harrison Ford, speaks often and with enthusiasm about the depletion of ecosystems. “Protecting natural capital is not an option, it’s a necessity,” says Sigal.
Saving the Earth One Ecosystem at a Time
The world’s resources are shrinking at an alarming rate as the population grows, a rate that Sigal and CI monitor with tenacity. In a world of countless ecosystems, all of them fragile, any damage can have a snowball effect. Failure to protect and sustainably care for oceans, rainforests, and food sources places a strain and burden on future generations, and nature’s ability (or, worst-case scenario, inability) to maintain and support humanity will place enormous stress on the world’s nations.
“The simple fact is that people need nature to survive—for fresh water, for a reliable food supply, for medicines. Right now we are experiencing an unprecedented drawdown of critical natural resources, and this drawdown will accelerate as the world’s population continues to grow,” says Sigal.
As she is quick to point out, this is a national security issue, as competition for natural resources can lead to instability, conflict, and mass migration, even forcing desperate people into radicalism. “When Somali fishermen turned to piracy as a result of overfishing and the subsequent depletion of fish stocks, this resulted in the capture of an American fisherman and increased US military presence in the area to safeguard international sea lanes off the Horn of Africa,” says Sigal.
Additionally, Sigal says, CI “has increased its strategic engagement with Congress, the administration, and other stakeholders since the beginning of the year,” embarking on educational campaigns and meetings with key people up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. And it adheres to a collaborative methodology of successful outreach; without people on the ground to enforce protections to stop illegal logging, for example, staggering deforestation could continue, and jobs, revenue, and nature will all feel the impact. At the end of the day, the conservation movement is much more about the healing of these sizable riffs rather than spouting the benefits of environmental responsibility or promoting individual lifestyle modifications.
When she is not walking the halls of Congress and dutifully sharing CI’s message, Sigal, an avid outdoorswoman, can often be found, fittingly enough, basking in the natural resources she works so ardently to protect. “I hike, rock-climb, white-water raft, and ski,” says Sigal. “The survival of these ecosystems is essential, and we have an obligation to our children, to their children, to do something.”