Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends...

Speech by Sophie Foundation Board, Chair Gunhild Ørstavik. Sophie Prize Ceremony June 12th 2008.
Thursday 12 June 2008

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends

We are gathered here today to celebrate Gretchen C. Daily, winner of the Sophie Prize 2008.

Professor Daily, from Stanford University is a world pioneer in the field of sustainable development and conservation of biological diversity. As a scientist, she has shown that there are different ways to value nature, and that there are also valid economic arguments for conserving species, eco-systems and services they provide. Gretchen Daily has produced several books and a multitude of scientific papers and articles. She has been rewarded with numerous distinctions and positions of honor from her professional peers. And still more important, as the nominator Professor Norman Myers emphasises, “she is an exceptionally courageous individual, preferring to practice interdisciplinary science rather than sticking with the professional security of her traditional field, Conservation Biology. She ventures into areas as diverse as population, poverty, agriculture, energy, health, economics, consumerism, carrying capacity, climate change, and North/South relations, all within the framework of Sustainable Development--plus the policy measures required in response.”

Many people in Scandinavia first learned to know Gretchen Daily through the television series The Planet. We met a refreshingly open minded scientist with remarkable communication skills. In a direct language she explained how humanity at unprecedented speed is wiping out species and eco- systems globally. She warned that the current conservation efforts are totally inadequate and that there is a possibility that less than 10 % of the life forms we know today will survive.

The mass extinction may soon bring us down to the lowest diversity of species on Earth since the end of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. Daily discusses the possible effects these changes have, and will have, on our Planet.

Professor Johan Galtung once said that by atomising entities, one looses the mountainess of the mountain, and the oceanness of the ocean. Gretchen Daily’s approach is a holistic one. She shows how the global problems of poverty and environmental degradation are interconnected with a mutually reinforcing effect.

As we destroy more and more of the natural control and protection that functional eco-systems provide, we become increasingly vulnerable. Even though the effects of loss of bio-diversity have not yet created major disasters in the rich world, terrible effects are unfolding in developing countries. Only last month the world witnessed the devastating force of the cyclone that possibly caused as many as 100 000 immediate deaths in Burma. Mangrove forests have long been considered as "bio-guards" for coastal settlements. In Burma the extensive destruction of the mangroves left coastal areas exposed and exacerbated the tragedy.

Gretchen Daily moves beyond describing the problems and their root causes. She shows an amazing ability to translate scientific findings into practical recommendations for action. She suggests a wide range of concrete solutions to be implemented on different levels, from the local farm to international governance. We learn how local communities can be rewarded for nature conservation, stewardship of natural resources, how natural capital approaches can secure pure drinking water and flood control, build sustainable eco-tourism and protect cultural heritage.

Daily works on a global scale, developing tools for mapping ecosystem services and incorporating these into decision-making processes. She chairs the Natural Capital project which aims is to align economic incentives with conservation in sites around the world where biodiversity is under threat. She works in many countries, such as China, Colombia, Tanzania and in the United States. She co-operates with groups from across society, including economists, lawyers, businesses and government agencies. With her scientific basis, personal strength and spirit she has contributed with new insights into the value of eco-systems. Much of her work aims to show how the economic profit dimension can be an incentive and included in political decisions.

The book, The new Economy of Nature which Daily wrote with Katherine Ellison, not only exposes the environment’s role in fostering social and economic advance, it is also telling an exiting story in an unpretentious and artistic language. Never over our heads, as it takes us along, provide each and one of us with a role to play and challenges us to act. The topic is a serious and urgent one, and Daily never minimizes the catastrophe that humanity is about to create. Nevertheless, she is refreshingly optimistic when she shows us why and how environmental conservation pays off. Gretchen Daily gives us hope. And that hope is a strong call for action.

I recently heard someone say that we can not look at the history as an army on a forward course. It moves backwards and sideways, - however sometimes all it takes is one person or a small group of people to get it back on track. As the Sophie foundation it is our task to identify and promote such individuals so that they can fuel our hope and inspire us to act.

The motto of the 10th anniversary of the Sophie Foundation in 2007 was ”From know how - to do now!” This year’s laureate unites these two aspects, knowledge and action.

Gretchen C. Daily’s brilliant scientific achievements, her radical thinking, bold engagement and pragmatic approach and finally her outstanding ability to communicate with a diverse audience make her an excellent Sophie Prize laureate.

Through her personal commitment, she brings us closer to a more sustainable world.

It is scientists like her who gives us the understanding of what it takes to change the world and the tools and courage to do so!