Martha Davis laughs when she explains how she was selected from among Earth Island Institute’s board members to become the current president. “I was the only one who said ‘yes,’” she says.
She’s joking, of course, but there is also a certain amount of truth to her statement. Among the qualities Davis brings to her presidency is her positive attitude, her endless enthusiasm for encouraging environmental leadership, and her belief that saying “yes” is critical to getting things done.
These traits have been instrumental to Davis’s success during her long history with environmentalism. As a youth, Davis spent her summers in the Sierra, and was the first youth member with full voting privileges on the Marin County Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Commission. “The experience gave me an appreciation for the importance of land preservation as well as the truism that there are many sides to a dispute,” she recalls.
After high school, Davis earned a degree from Stanford in human biology with a focus on environmental policy. She then completed a Masters degree at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her education afforded her a unique slant on environmental issues, always viewing the problems from both a humanist’s and an environmentalist’s perspective. “My goal in college was to become an environmental mediator. I eventually shifted my mediation skills to environmental advocacy,” Davis says.
These skills served Davis well when she became the executive director of the Mono Lake Committee. The lake, located in the eastern Sierras, was being depleted to provide water to Los Angeles county. Davis’s work to protect the lake’s vital bird habitat from destruction ultimately gained her an honorary PhD in public policy from Kennedy College.
Davis’s new job also started her long connection with Earth Island Institute: EII’s Executive Director Dave Phillips was responsible for hiring Davis, whom he chose because she was “a dedicated and tenacious conservationist.” Phillips says, “She achieved stunning victories for Mono Lake. Without a doubt, she helped re-shape water policy in the American west.”
Earth Island founder David Brower was also dedicated to the struggle to save Mono Lake. Davis wasn’t on the job long before she first met Brower, who made frequent visits to the staff and volunteers of the Mono Lake Committee.
“Brower had a magical way of keeping everyone encouraged,” Davis says.
That ability to inspire continues through the Brower Youth Awards, and Davis is excited by Earth Island Institute’s pivotal role in promoting the next generation of environmental activists.
In her current stint as the Manager of Strategic Policy Development for the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Davis’s deep involvement with environmental issues often lead to her feeling swamped by depressing news. She remains encouraged, however, by what young people are accomplishing.
“I think that over the next five years, we’re going to see a whole new generation of environmental activists emerge. With environmental issues at the forefront of the news these days, young people are growing up with a strong focus on finding solutions. The Brower Youth Awards program is a great way to keep these amazing young leaders motivated.”
Davis cautions, however, that we shouldn’t think of youth as the planet’s only hope for survival. She believes it is everyone’s responsibility to take a more proactive role in environmental protection.
“Climate change is the most pressing issue we have to deal with now,” Davis observes. “If we don’t take action, we’re going to lose a lot of beautiful things that make this planet such a wonderful place to live. It’s happening on our watch, and our children will inherit the consequences of what we do or don’t do.”
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