Despite being joined at the hip, the environment and development communities don’t talk much. These Siamese twins — separated at birth — speak different languages.

While each community respects the other’s gig, they don’t play well together — no one wants to be second fiddle. Some even see the environment and development agendas as opposing forces.

Efforts on the ground can bear that out. When conservationists set up protected areas without considering the people living in them, they seem more interested in “lovable huggables” than struggling locals.

On the other side, people-centered development often treats environmental issues as luxuries that only the idle Northern rich can afford. But the “develop now and worry later” approach ignores how much our health, food, economy, and livelihoods are dependent on a healthy environment and well-managed natural resources.

Despite the bad news, some people get it. While a few projects may be partnerships of convenience, others truly integrate environment and development (I won’t go so far as to utter the hopeful words “sustainable development”).

Photo: David Hawxhurst

The Micro:
Jane Goodall Institute — We all know Jane, the queen of the huggables. But she understands the interdependence of environment and development, and she is putting her money where her chimps are through her community-based TACARE program in Central Africa. JGI is scaling up its Tanzania program that encourages conservation through education, family planning, health services, and sustainable livelihoods programs. Unlike many other efforts, JGI bothered to ask the people living near Gombe National Park what they wanted and needed.

The Macro:
A coalition of enviro and development NGOs just issued a report warning that climate change could make it impossible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. In London last week, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) rolled out “Up in Smoke,” which announces exactly where development will go if we can’t stop climate change. This coalition recognizes the tangible — and tactical — connections linking environment and development.

Despite my general pessimism, I’m encouraged by some env-dev collaborations out there. I’d love to hear your favorites — and, of course, examples of the two plowing blindly past each other.