Over the past seven decades, The Pew Charitable Trusts has committed to rigorous, nonpartisan research and civic engagement to help improve policy with one goal in mind: making life better for us all. That is not a goal that can be accomplished with a short sprint to the finish line. Evidence-based research takes time, planning, testing, and thorough evaluation. And it requires, perhaps most of all, a willingness to change direction when the facts lead to an unexpected conclusion. But, as Tom Dillon, who leads Pew’s conservation work, notes in this issue of Trust, there are times when “we need to act fast and act big.”
Today we are in those times. There is no shortage of challenges to address—societal, economic, and environmental—and these challenges require more than incremental change; they require big ideas that lead to big results. Take, for example, the crucial issue of how to ensure the long-term health of our planet. There is growing scientific consensus that protecting 30% of the Earth’s land and ocean by 2030 would have a significant benefit. But no one community, country, or organization can do that alone—a great challenge like this requires great partnerships. To that end, we’re pleased to join with The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and ZOMALAB on a new initiative called Enduring Earth.
Enduring Earth will secure large-scale, long-term funding to protect up to eight critical ecosystems around the globe over the next five years—and as many as 20 by the end of this decade, covering 1.5 billion acres. The effort will use a model with a proven record of success called project finance for permanence (PFP) and aims to raise $2 billion within the first five years, with $600 million of that from philanthropic contributions and the rest from governments. PFPs tie sustained funding to measurable goals, including specific social, environmental, and policy milestones. Five PFP projects have been completed around the world, and one that’s in development seeks to build upon the nearly 16% of the Northwest Territories in Canada that Indigenous communities have already protected and deliver accountable progress toward the Canadian government’s conservation pledges.
The leadership of Indigenous communities most affected by the protected areas will be central to these efforts. These leaders’ knowledge built over generations and their commitment to their lands and waters not only inspires this work but guides it. You’ll learn more about this effort and its big—and enduring—impact in this issue.
Estuaries—a mosaic of wetlands, marshes, coastal grasslands, and offshore habitats—make up a small fraction of the Earth’s waters but play a critical role in preserving our environment. In 1972, Congress created the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, or NERR, which is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and states along the coasts and Great Lakes. Pew has been working to expand both the size and the impact of the NERR network since 2018. As Pew’s Tom Wheatley notes in this issue, “Estuarine reserves are incredibly valuable from an economic standpoint, as a barometer of climate change, and as an educational tool.”
More than 200 species of birds and 120 species of fish live, feed, and reproduce in Connecticut’s estuaries. To help protect this valuable ecosystem, 52,000 acres along Connecticut’s southeastern shore recently became the nation’s 30th NERR. This new reserve is expected to bring big results, including a better understanding of climate change and the economic value of estuaries, and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion for underserved communities along the shoreline. You’ll find the full story of Connecticut’s new NERR in the following pages.
Democracy, of course, is itself a big idea—that citizens determine their own governance by voting. But it is an idea under stress as people who make their voices heard through the ballot box are stressed as well from the pandemic, economic uncertainty, and widespread dissatisfaction with politics as usual. As the Pew Research Center discovered in a 2021 survey of advanced economies, public skepticism about the competence and fairness of democratic governments is not limited to the United States. In eight of 17 publics, half or more of those polled said their political system needs major changes or a complete overhaul—and also said they have little or no confidence that the system can be changed effectively. Some of this dissatisfaction with democracy is tied directly to the pandemic. As the Center’s Richard Wike and Janell Fetterolf point out in Trust, “People who believe their country is doing a poor job dealing with the pandemic are consistently more likely to say they’re dissatisfied with the way their democracy is working.”
Criticizing representative democracy or even feeling less than enthusiastic about it is not the same as giving up on democracy. In fact, Wike and Fetterolf point out that many people want more democracy and a stronger role “in making decisions about the important issues that shape their lives.” That would certainly be a big and positive change as the pandemic recedes and the work of strengthening democracy around the world moves forward.
Not every big idea leads to a big result. But we can make progress on every significant challenge—from protecting the ocean and conserving critical ecosystems to improving government effectiveness and rebuilding public confidence in the democratic process—when we follow the facts, apply our best scientific knowledge, and work in partnership.
Susan K. Urahn, President and CEO