The U.S. city of Louisville, Kentucky isn’t known as a hotbed of environmental action and innovation, but that could change as it has recently become home to a first-of-its-kind collaboration between environmentalists, city leaders and public health professionals. The Green Heart Project, funded in part by the United States National Institutes of Health, will plant trees in neighborhoods throughout the city and monitor how they affect residents’ health. It’s a boundary-pushing medical trial — a controlled study of nature as a medical intervention.

Green Heart is just one project in one city, but it represents a new way of thinking about the role of conservation in solving human problems. It is part of an emerging model for cross-sector collaboration that aims to create a world ready for the sustainability challenges ahead.

Is this world possible? Here, we present a new science-based view that says “Yes” — but it will require new forms of collaboration across traditionally disconnected sectors, and on a near unprecedented scale.

Many assume that economic interests and environmental interests are in conflict. But new research makes the case that this perception of development vs. conservation is not just unnecessary but actively counterproductive to both ends. Achieving a sustainable future will be dependent on our ability to secure both thriving human communities and abundant and healthy natural ecosystems.

The Nature Conservancy partnered with the University of Minnesota, CIRES at the University of Colorado Boulder, and 11 other organizations to ask whether it is possible to achieve a future where the needs of both people and nature are advanced. Can we actually meet people’s needs for food, water and energy while doing more to protect nature?

A False Choice

To answer this question, we compared what the world will look like in 2050 if economic and human development progress in a “business-as-usual” fashion and what it would look like if instead we join forces to implement a “sustainable” path with a series of fair-minded and technologically viable solutions to the challenges that lie ahead.

Read more at the Nature Conservancy