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In “The Fundamental Role of Large-Scale Trust Building in Natural Resource Management”, Karni Marcus discussed how it is possible to influence the motivations of people, particularly in large groups, to protect the environment. The essay can best be discussed in contrasting the leadership of two diametrically opposed approaches to resource and people management.

As an elected official in one of the most diverse counties in Washington State, Ron Sims, who had a background in the sciences, leveraged his public office to draw people into a conversation about the potential long-term impact on the ecologically sensitive Puget Sound as well as the global impact. He reached out to scientists, government leaders, the constituents, and others, to begin discussing the course of action that needed to be taken immediately to mitigate the impact on the climate (including reducing greenhouse gas emission for transportation) and deal with the impact of sea level rise of up to 3 feet in the Puget Sound. He built consensus and crowd-sourced ideas to help develop 4 strategies. His optimism in the face of dire consequences of inaction, and notably his future-looking strategy, helped drive a positive message that engaged people in the resolution.  He took efforts to build community trust and educate his constituents to the impact they collectively had on the environment. Although not all of the initiatives were successful, the area, and notably Seattle, have become leaders in sustainable city development in the United States.

At the opposite extreme, Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, divided and conquered his region to make his company, its shareholders, and especially himself, an enormous profit despite significant environmental damage. Massey extracted the wealth of the coal region at the lowest possible cost in mountaintop removal as directed by its CEO, with the rubber stamped approval of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. Blankenship used fear and intimidation to break up labor unions, overwork his employees, and use tactics to alienate his workers from each other.  Blankenship’s only goal was to increase production and profit at any expense, which included the environment and human life. The company had several publicized accidents and destroyed the community and the local environment.

These two approaches resulted in radically different outcomes. Don Blankenship is currently serving time in federal prison–the only CEO to be arrested for his poor decisions in running a company–and his company was sold to a competitor, possibly to avoid financial liability of the enormous damage that was wrought by Massey. Ron Sims successfully steered his county, along with many others, toward proactive engagement in adapting to climate change. He was appointed by Obama at the Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, where he served for two years. The impact of one person can have significant results in building or destroy community action.

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