Letter from the CEO

In chaos theory, the “butterfly effect” is described as a “sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.” More simply stated, small causes can have large effects. 

Concepts like this drive ACES’ work to make the world a better place because each of ACES 125,000 annual environmental science education contacts with kids and adults can have a big impact on society. 

While ACES provides ecological literacy programs for all ages, we focus more on early childhood education. Why? Because in the first seven years of life, the brain’s neural pathways get connected through experience at a rate of 1,000 new neural connections every second and these connection rates slow dramatically as we age. 

While genes certainly play a critical role, new science on early childhood brain development suggests that most of us are born with similar brain capabilities (sorry to those who thought they were born gifted). That means the Declaration of Independence is literally correct when it says, “All men (and women) are created equal.” 

But at birth, differentiation begins: In a more enriched environment where a child gets engaging relationships, hands-on experiences and more contact early in life, this results in better emotional, cognitive and executive functions. ACES is connecting neurons by connecting young people to the natural world both inside and outside the classroom. 

Kids with early childhood education are five times more likely to graduate high school and three times more likely to graduate college. Our science education programs support that brain growth. And that is the starting point down the road to something even more critical— ecological literacy. 

Ecological literacy has never been more important in our country’s history. In this unique time, our federal leadership is taking no action to address climate change. They plan to dramatically reduce environmental regulations that protect our air, water, and food, and they believe that the use of more fossil fuels is the solution to energy independence. 

Politics aside, this direction reflects a lack of basic ecological literacy: no connection with nature (usually occurring in elementary school); no understanding of human dependence on ecosystem services (concepts learned in middle school); and no knowledge of even rudimentary environmental economics—where, in this case, short term economic gains will be offset by longer term external human health and mitigation costs (principles explored in high school and college). 

At ACES, we believe it doesn’t matter whether you are liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, being ecologically literate transcends these labels and leads to the understanding that in a world of 7.5 billion people (and growing), we all must be conservationists. 

The vast majority of conservationists don’t even self-identify as such. But, if you would rather that bulldozers not raze the woods, desert, or beach you love, then you are probably a conservationist. 

If you would rather that the tiger, mountain gorilla or polar bear not go extinct, then you are probably a conservationist. 

If you like the idea that some places should be truly wild and free, then you are probably a conservationist. 

And, if you want clean air, clean water, clean food, a stable climate—these transcend our differences and our politics—for you and your children, then you are a conservationist. 

This report gives you an overview of our education and conservation work in sustainable agriculture, forest health, land restoration, climate change, ecology, and environmental science. 

We know that when it comes to environmental science education, small causes lead to big effects that improve and protect our world. 

We’re creating those causes every day, affecting a few million neural pathways at a time. 

I hope you’ll join our effort.

Chris R. Lane
Chief Executive Officer 


Letter originally published in ACES 2017 Annual Report. To view the ACES 2017 Annual Report, click here