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Elizabeth Kolbert Draws Hundreds to SCCF McCarthy Lecture

February 20, 2024
mccarthy lecture 2024 elizabeth kolbert

On Feb. 15, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and climate change thought leader Elizabeth Kolbert joined SCCF for our annual Paul McCarthy Memorial Lecture.

Kolbert sat down with SCCF CEO James Evans at the Sanibel Community House before a crowd of approximately 200 to have an interview-driven discussion surrounding climate change, coastal resilience, water quality, and the future of conservation.

“We were truly honored to bring Elizabeth Kolbert’s worldview to our islands. As one of the foremost communicators on climate and biodiversity, she provided some eye-opening insights on the challenges ahead of us,” said Evans. “She also validated the enduring purpose of our mission and gave credit to our amazing legacy of community support.”

Building off topics Kolbert has explored in her award-winning books Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, and Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, Evans asked Kolbert thought-provoking questions such as if species on the brink of extinction are worth trying to conserve, what a human-and-nature balanced world would look like, and what gives her hope for the future of conservation.

Citing the example of how eagle populations bounced back after being nearly wiped out before DDT was banned in the early 1970s, Kolbert said she supports extreme conservation efforts including captive breeding, even if it seems like species won’t make it.

“We have a lot of uncertainty about which creatures are going to bounce back and be able to thrive again,” she said.

She advocated for ways to structure development in ways that also preserve existing habitat, and applauded SCCF for the projects the organization has been able to get off the ground, the number of people it continues to engage, and the amount of land it has conserved.

Kolbert spent some time water with several SCCF staff and board members before her talk to explore the ecology of Pine Island Sound and learn about SCCF’s work.

When faced with the question “what does a balanced world look like to you?”, Kolbert said, “it looks very different.” A balanced world, she said, is one where “we leave a lot more resources for other species.”

Following several sobering comments about where Southwest Florida and its wildlife could be headed if sea level rise and emissions trends continue, Kolbert said she still has hope for the future because of how many people are committed to tackling these issues.

“Many more people than when I started out writing about these issues 20 years ago are very passionate, very committed. The fact that so many people are in this room this afternoon, the fact that the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation exists — these are all testaments to people’s commitment,” Kolbert said. “And I see more and more… young people who come up to me and say ‘I want to devote my life to this issue,’ and that gives me hope.”

During an audience Q&A, Kolbert commended Sanibel’s awareness of climate change and said the island could work toward a net-zero emissions way of life, but that one of the island’s biggest challenges is the amount of people continually coming onto the island. She also stressed the importance of localized conservation education and science communication.

“The audience was really engaged and, in the true spirit of the McCarthy Memorial Lecture
Series, Elizabeth gave us a lot to think about as we move forward,” Evans said.

The evening was concluded with a book signing, thanks to MacIntosh Books.

A former SCCF trustee, Paul McCarthy was the founder of Captiva Cruises, which remains the
premier eco-heritage tour company focusing on the environment and cultural history of
Southwest Florida.
His namesake lecture series is generously underwritten by the Boler Family Foundation.


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