Mark Tercek ’79, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), spoke last Wednesday in Brooks-Rogers Hall as part of the College’s yearlong Confronting Climate Change initiative. The event was also sponsored by the Center for Environmental Studies.
Following his graduation from the College, Tercek spent several years in Japan before earning an MBA from Harvard. In 1984, he got a job at Goldman Sachs, where he worked for 24 years, eventually becoming the firm’s managing director. During his time at Goldman Sachs, Tercek also became involved in running the company’s environmental policies and leading its Environmental Markets Group, a role that allowed him to make the transition from the finance world to the conservancy one. He became president of TNC in 2008.
Tercek began his lecture by giving the audience a brief overview of the history of TNC, which began as a land trust in New York State in 1951 and has since grown to be a global organization, with more than 4000 employees and offices in more than 60 countries around the world. In describing TNC’s evolution over the years, Tercek said, “We grew as a pragmatic, nonpartisan, problem-solving, local organization.” The organization’s pragmatic approach and its presence across America, in all 50 states, red and blue, initially made TNC hesitant about tackling the issue of climate change. Tercek said he pushed TNC to go “revving up on climate” anyway, believing that it had to be the first priority.
In taking such a stand, however, Tercek was not trying to be controversial. His whole approach revolves around just the opposite tack. While Tercek believes in pushing for curbing climate change, he and TNC have also sought to do so in ways that allow them to work with people with different viewpoints, rather than against them, with the aim of creating “less partisan fighting and more pragmatic problem-solving.” The organization’s overarching goal on climate change is simple: to “get on with reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” and over the past few years, TNC has taken steps to do that. In particular, Tercek described the organization’s efforts to protect ecosystems that act as carbon sinks, work that Tercek said could be crucial in reducing CO2 levels, operating renewable energy sources and piloting a 50-state initiative to make sure the offices in all states are working against climate change. Tercek said this was easier in some states than others, but that by focusing on a “consensus-oriented dialogue” and targeting specific aspects of the climate change problem to specific states, the initiative was able to succeed.
After Tercek described the work of his own organization, he turned to the subject of climate change activity at the College, once again taking up ideas of pragmatism and countering divisiveness.
“There’s been a lot of people on campus saying that the College should do everything it can to reduce climate change,” he said, “I agree with that.”
But he was less clear-cut about his stance on divestment. Tercek will be joining the Board of Trustees as a new board member this fall, but, as he has not yet joined, he said he could not speak for the College as to why it chose not to divest. He was, however, very supportive of the College’s recently announced Confronting Climate Change initiative, and seemed to suggest that these changes — green investment, reducing emissions, hosting lectures and discussions — would actually be much more effective in addressing climate change than divestment.
If students thought otherwise, his response was simple: “Fair enough — you can keep at it.” But he did say that he would urge people to work together, adding that although ideological strife is common these days, it can be overcome when people make an effort.
In the last part of his lecture, Tercek stressed the things that students could do to address climate change, urging them to be active in politics and also, to think about how they can work for their environment in the professions they will have after graduation. In so many economic sectors, he said, “change is afoot — and that’s where the youth can come in … the business world is an enormous place for Williams grads to make a difference.”
After Tercek concluded his remarks, he spent about half an hour answering questions from the audience. He spoke on topics that ranged from his opinion on hydroelectric power to how it is that climate change can be a unifying issue. The issue of divestment was raised again during the question session, and Tercek, while addressing the issue more broadly, reiterated that he could not speak for the College.