A Perfect World VI: Fuller

A Perfect World VI

Kathryn Fuller

Kathryn Fuller became president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1989. She previously served as that organization’s executive vice president, general counsel, and director of public policy and wildlife trade monitoring programs. Her tenure at WWF has been characterized by innovative conservation methods, and she is credited with having doubled the membership and tripled the revenues of the organization. Before joining WWF in 1983, Fuller practiced law with the U.S. Department of Justice, where she headed the Wildlife and Marine Resources Sections of the Land and Natural Resources Division.

"The notion in this painting is that we have one planet with its thin layer of atmosphere, which we need. Then we have deserts, tundra, wetlands, river systems, and so forth. This is Australia with the forests of northern Queensland. Here you have boreal forests and pack ice across the Bering Strait. Now, I’ll add different plant and animals and people around the sides: a butterfly here and another further up, to suggest the inter-relatedness and migratory nature of these animals. They have to move. Then, maybe with the notion of the living planet, I’ll connect them in ways that suggest that we need functioning, unbroken linkages. The basic systems intact."- Kathryn Fuller, CEO, WWF
Credit: Fuller, © Trione, Andrews McMeel Publishing, [ copyright 2002, reprinted with picture by permission]

I want to see measurable progress in achieving conservation protection in several key eco-regions: the Bering Sea, the remnants of tall grass prairie, the Everglades, the great swamps, the Congo forests, the Amazon forests, and so forth. We don’t want to focus just on species numbers or species diversity, but really on distinctive ecological regions.

It’s important to declare new parks, manage endangered species, and convince multinationals not to pursue certain kinds of resource exploitation. And then there are the overarching threats: human population growth is at the top of the list, along with human consumption patterns.

So while our direct goal may not be to address human population pressure, nonetheless we have to do it. If the goal is to make the world a living planet for future generations, as we say, the necessary corollary to that is for people to live in a sustainable way. We cannot be consuming resources at the rate we do. We have to find better models to shape markets. This is real, and everyone should care about it.

A lot of what we do is premised on involving location populations. Unless the people who live in and around important populations of wildlife have a direct stake in the conservation of those animals, we won’t succeed. One step might be to reopen a wildlife park for use by the local communities during a specified period. Then the communities see that their economic and social prosperity is linked to the park, and they become the most dedicated conservationists of the park. Or we find out that a local community has problems with rhinos raiding crops. Well, they can dig a ditch around the garden, put boards across it that people can walk across but rhinos won’t. The real-world consequence of a modest, low-tech solution like that might be that the rhino population grows from, say, forty animals to over four hundred. So understanding the needs of the people is critical.

Another critical thing is the role of women as stewards of natural resources, and seeing women become full participants in community decision making. Women do most of the world’s farming and most of the world’s work. In rural areas women are most involved with the land and wildlife day to day. They’re also typically willing to make sound decisions for the future because more than men, women take a long view. They really are looking out for their children and grandchildren. But so far women haven’t had the tools, the education, the social status, and so forth.

So we’re promoting a number of things: women’s education, open civil societies, more equal distribution of the world’s resources. And those larger agendas are more achievable if women play a more central role.

As I get older I have increasingly keen appreciation for how important it is to celebrate when things are going well. I see so many people whose circumstances are much more difficult than mine, so I’m enormously grateful that I have what by any measure would be a pretty good deal in life.

The World Wildlife Fund has been a successful organization in terms of conservation achievements in its thirty-five year history. But, while we may be winning some battles, by any objective measure we’re losing the war. I believe in resilience of the planet and the resilience of the human spirit, but it’s hard not to be discouraged when you look at any number of indicators: human population growth, carbon emissions, fisheries depletion, forest depletion, water scarcity, water quality, erosion, contamination from organic chemicals, and so forth.

It’s a challenge to persuade people that not only are these issues real and important, but they’re also not hopeless. We all can make a difference. If people don’t understand that we’re all just pieces of the puzzle, then we won’t succeed.

Author Profile: Debra Trione began work on "A Perfect World" in 1997 after serving on the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. During the 1980s she worked at Harvard University Press and as an editor at Harvard Medical School.

Related Web Pages

A Perfect World I: Tyson
A Perfect World II: Richardson
A Perfect World III: Goldin
A Perfect World IV: Venter
A Perfect World V: Hendricks
A Perfect World VI: Fuller
A Perfect World : Booksite
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