- Issue: Winter 2015
In Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si´ (On Care for Our Common Home), he writes, “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently…since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”
I reflected on the world our children will inherit during a 4,400-mile cross-country road trip I took recently with my youngest son. We climbed down into the Grand Canyon and saw 2 billion years of geological history exposed by the force of the Colorado River. We wandered in the shadows of giant sequoias in Yosemite. The two of us sat silent in a legendary grove of bristlecone pines older than the pyramids of Egypt. We motored down historic Route 66 and took in some of the finest examples of Americana this country has to offer. Everywhere, the arc of time was impossible to ignore.
One of the best parts of heading up WWF is getting invited to speak at my children’s schools. I’ll never forget asking my daughter’s 4th grade class, “Why is it that, of all the world’s continents, Africa still has people and large mammals living side by side?” One of her classmates answered, “Isn’t it because that’s the part of the world where life began?” While not the most technical explanation, her instincts hit the mark: she understood that people and nature have evolved together from the very beginning.
When I visited my oldest son’s 7th grade science class, his teacher asked for advice about discussing climate change. He whispered that some of his students were having nightmares about their future—something he had never seen in 25 years of teaching. So we talked about teaching students to persevere and to focus on creating solutions in the face of great obstacles. None of us want our children to have nightmares, about climate change or anything else. But the future indeed belongs to them and they, along with their parents, will play a disproportionate role in shaping the world they’ll inherit.
My hope—and my belief—is that our children will approach that responsibility with more optimism than fear. Today’s kids have a fairly straightforward sense of the finite limits of the planet and the challenges that confront us. They also have less attachment than we do to our current behavior, and frankly less attachment to institutions that need to change if we are to solve some of our biggest problems.
In this issue, we tell stories about how conservation links one generation to the next. We profile Bill Reilly, past president of WWF and former administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency. And over the past 40 years, Bill has nurtured more than a few future environmental leaders. He met with Pope Francis when the encyclical was released, and shared with me a photo of his daughter Megan and his granddaughter Catarina being blessed by the pontiff. Three generations of Reillys with the greenest pope in history.
We sit down with WWF Board member Marshall Field and his wife, Jamee, who have long put conservation at the center of their philanthropic portfolio. Marshall’s passions trend global, while Jamee’s work leans local. Their daughters Jamee, Abby, and Stephanie serve on WWF’s National Council and each carries on the family conservation legacy in her own way.
And there’s my conversation with the remarkably self-possessed Charlotte Mayer, who at 13 years old has started campaigns, and a small business, to convey why nature matters to us all. Determined, eloquent, and smart, she represents her generation well; it’s clear she’ll make a great difference in this world.
WWF held its 2015 annual global conference this past May in Norway’s stunning Lofoten Islands. On our last night together we gathered in a restaurant overlooking the chilly Vestfjorden and heard from 11-year-old Kaja Nyland, who has lived on the islands her whole life. She spoke eloquently about the beauty of this island chain where mountains and ocean meet. She described vast schools of cod that still provide wealth to her community and help feed her family. And she made clear her community’s fierce determination to keep oil production out of this precious place.
You could hear a pin drop as Kaja’s voice carried across the room.
Time compressed in our mind’s eye as we imagined what her future could look like, forever altered by the ravages of oil drilling and climate change. And it was instantly clear that out of all the voices we are listening to—from the pope to educators to lifelong conservationists—it is Kaja’s voice, and the voices of young people around the world, that matter most.
President and CEO