White's previously-attained goals have been ambitious. His vision for the future of the conservation movement is, if anything, even more so. He hopes to chang the very nature of institutions which promote change, and the way they perceive of and interact with the world. Some pieces of the toolkit Don brings to bear on this task are listed here:
CREATING AND MANAGING CULTURAL ICONS Don believes that the only way to create lasting change is to actually shift the culture at the level of individual personal worldviews. Rather than looking only to legislation, litigation, and incremental education, he has specialized in the creation of stable cultural icons which can leverage the strength of conservation causes by the powerful hold then have on our perception.
Among the icons he has been instrumental in inserting into the popular culture are "Greenpeace", "dolphin-safe tuna" and the "Flipper Seal of Approval", "driftnets" which "stripmine the seas", self-aware computer-using dolphins, asian dolphin drive-kills, nuclear waste "death ships", an "invasion of the Soviet Union" and the careers of inconic individuals like Sam LaBudde and Keith Highley, to mention a few. He has also created specialized applications of trademark and contract law to control and evolve icons in the real world of corporations, laws, and treaties.
CREATING NEW TOOLS FOR THE MOVEMENT A movement is only as effective as the tools it uses. Don has created whole new types of conservation entity, demonstrated the feasibility of nonstandard alliances, innovated new funding models, and has invented and overseen technological breakthroughs which range from new fishing techniques, through adaptation of DNA science to treaty, through robo-observers and underwater dolphin touchscreen computers, the use of national "action groups" online, new ways of managing fisheries with contract law, and new media products and strategies.
TAKING ON 'IMPOSSIBLE' MISSIONS There are often conservation crises which seem so rooted in tradition, so intractable in complexity, or so large in scope that they are considered by the conventional wisdom to be "impossible to address" by entities smaller than Nations.
These are the issues which may yield to White's new toolkit, and the ones he prefers to spend time on. From the world's largest and most destructive fishery, to a gridlocked Whaling Commission, to generations-old Asian wildlife kills, to the Kuwait oil fires to the tantalizing mystery of dolphin intelligence, White's programs have not only gotten results, they have in many cases broken the deadlock to entirely resolve the situation. There are many more such "impossible" missions facing the conservation movement today, and White is working to pull together new funding sources and visionary movement leaders to attempt nothing less than to completelysolve them.
CREATING NEEDED ENTITIES In many cases, a necessary piece of the puzzle is missing. Something which needs to be done to resolve a situation may not be done by the existing players. Don feels that the conservation movement should not be limited by the entities now existing, but should be aggressive at analyzing the situation and creating new entities as needed. Examples of this approach have included Greenpeace USA, EarthTrust Taiwan, The Flipper Foundation (a totally new class of 509 (a) 3 entity), The DNA Coalition for Wildlife, the DriftNetwork, the Dolphin Action Group, Earthtrust Kuwait Documentary Team, Earthtrust New Zealand, Project Delphis, a new Harvard institute for conservation genetics, and being a founding board member of Species Survival Network, among others.
Don believes that several new classes of conservation-aiding entity must be explored and established in the coming decade, and that these will be the only real players by 2010.
SUPPLYING LONG-TERM STRATEGY in a field where 6 months is sometimes considered a long way off, Don has been one of the only conservationists to actually implement projects with multi-decade stepwise schedules and to actually see them through. Although he has achieved brilliantly when backed into a corner or newly brought into an existing crisis, he ultimately views reactive strategies as failures in planning: the problems should have been anticipated and nipped in the bud before they got out of control. Don routinely strategizes specific plans for 5,10, 20, and 50 years into the future. Moreover, his grasp of trends and biological interactions is conceived against the background of geological time, thinking in terms of millions of years past and future.
GLOBAL FISHERIES CONTROL Don believes that total control of the destructive and unsustainable effects of world fisheries and markets is attainable by conservationists, and some concrete ideas on how this can be accomplished. This notion departs radically in scope and concept from those who believe that only limited or incremental change is accessible to the conservation movement.
He has involved himself in complex negotiations with major fishery firms, and worked out mechanisms for bringing industries under stepwise control leveraging off existing market factors. He was a major player in securing "dolphin safe" tuna, among many other fisheries triumphs, and is now engaged in promoting a recasting of the entire ETP fishery. He also does not shrink from destroying a fishing industry which is inherently unsustainable, and warns that compromise is sometimes a bad strategy.
FIXING BROKEN TREATIES AND SCHEMES Increasingly, in the rush to internationalize trade, treaties are becoming a hodgepodge of inconsistent and unenforceable rules which nevertheless supercede national laws. In other cases, treaties have evolved taking into interest only the consumption of a resource, not the benefits of its conservation. These need to be fixed, and White sees them as crucial battlegrounds for the coming decade.
Two examples of this: The IWC and CITES were in conflict, with CITES rules preventing the acquisition of whaling market data. By innovating new technology and working with national CITES delegations to re-interpret the treaty, this conflict was fixed by Don and Sue White.
Similarly, the so-called "Panama Accord" regarding tuna fishing in the ETP led the USA to pass the IDCPA in 1997. The fundamental conflict is that in order to secure participation in the treaty, the US and IATTC have made the observer scheme non-transparent, and thus locked the large firms out of product acquisition by setting the law and treaty at odds with the existing "dolphin safe" cultural icon. The resulting problems have set U.S. policy at odds with itself and made the treaty less useful than it could be.
White is pressing the "Flipper" standard as a treaty-compliant icon rooted in contract law, while pressing for a return to transparency in fishery oversight. This can allow the re-entry of the large processing firms into the fishery while preserving the lowered-bycatch gains of past decades and current treaty negotiation. It can also break a troubling deadlock which now divides parts of the conservation community.
INDEPENDENTLY COMPUTING THE SITUATION One of the most important functions Don has provided is as a "reality check": he completely assesses any situation independently, from the ground up. While studying to understand the problem, he makes a concerted effort to ignore the existing assumptions and "buzz" and evolve a fresh view of the dynamics in play.
This "parallel perspective"s has saved the day many times on many issues, even though it often means that the solutions so derived are not intuitive to those working under the conventional wisdom. Thus, Don's initiatives often have had to work without mainstream support, and are not widely seen as successful until they succeed - at which point, everyone lauds them. On any issue he analyzes, Don can be counted on to propose a new set of options which were not previously apparent.
MAKING NGO'S EFFECTIVE, EFFICIENT, AND ACCOUNTABLE Don White believes that the "black hole" spending and accounting policies of many organizations need to be reformed for the long-term credibility of the movement. His past experience with NGO's and charities using "tricky bookkeeping" left a bad taste in his mouth. He has been an advocate of direct accountability to contributors and for "de-mystification" of financial reports. He also advocates new funding models which can allow funding to flow to efficient and innovative players rather than the few "name" organizations with all-encompassing mailing lists.
NEW BIOLOGICAL MODELS FOR FISHERIES When attempting to reform a fishery, there is often a "grandfathering" approach employed which "locks in" the currently capitalized fishing methology. Don feels there is always a "best" technology and fleet size which can be identified, and that mechanisms to evolve the fishery toward this ideal must be included in control regimes from the getgo. For instance, he is, at this time, specifically promoting the evolution of a new class of fishing vessel for the ETP tuna fishery, based on the "parasite hypothesis" of tuna/dolphin interaction and his "cleaning station" explanation for the biological basis of baitboating.
CROSS-DISCIPLINARY INNOVATION The conservation movement of today is made up mostly of specialists: biologists, lobbyists, lawyers, fundraisers, bookkeepers and administrators. This derives from some very basic perceptions on the part of the "movement" about the acceptable structure of an NGO and what the nature and limitations of conservation advocacy can be.
Don feels that at this point in the evolution of the movement, nearly all of the breakthroughs will be made through new cross-disciplinary approaches, and is actively promoting this concept to the conservation community. Many of White's most successful programs have demonstrated this sort of approach, due to his own expertise in a broad range of fields as well as his techniques for monitoring what is "newly possible" in seemingly-unrelated fields. His point is that such expertise and techniques are within easy reach of today's conservation advocates.
NEGOTIATING 'IMPOSSIBLE' DEALS TO ACCOMPLISH AN END One particularly useful tool is "the art of the deal"; being able to function as a dealmaker to leverage the interests of the private sector into large-scale support for new initiatives, and locking this progress into place with shrewdly-negotiated contracts.
This is an extremely underused tool by the movement because it necessitates an understanding of all motivations, economics, and stable states of a sector of businesses; and it also entails a level of interaction with resource exploiters which is distasteful to many NGO's.
White's unlikely deals have included convincing Ted Turner to underwrite an invasion of the Soviet Mainland and create a series of televisions specials; Creating the most-successful conservation TV PSA program in the nation by targeting nonstandard station employees; binding the world's largest tuna firm to contractual control of its tuna acquisition standards, negotiating co-ownership of Flipper with Universal studios with no money on the table, and many others. Such skills are widely available in the job market today, but are usually not employed by conservation advocates. Don is working to change this.
CREATING NEW MODELS TO TRANSCEND TODAY'S REGULATORY MECHANISMS We are heading for a "free trade" world, and all existing national conservation laws and treaties are poised to be nullfied or compromised. Even treaties like CITES are fundamentally in danger of the juggernaut that is the WTO, as small panels of businesspeople make decisions which will end species. Surprisingly, then, the bulk of conservationists are still focused on affecting national laws and treaties. White believes that we must "re-program" environmental protections in contract and trademark law, which are fundamentally immune to overhaul by free trade treaties. He has demonstrated new mechanisms which he hopes will enable a new paradigm for global conservation and business interaction in the 21st century.
TRAINING THE MOVEMENT TO USE NEW TOOLS You can lead a horse to water, but sometimes you have to hit existing groups over the head to break deadlocks. Sometimes even that doesn't work, and you have to leave the playing field and demonstrate that something is possible. Judging by the number of groups jumping in to help take credit for White's demonstrations after the fact, this is a successful strategy. To work, it requires nontraditional funding sources which aren't afraid to break new ground. It also may involve creating new kinds of advocacy groups, from the ground up.
PHASE SHIFT/STABLE STATE ANALYSIS As noted, Don White often finds himself engaged in creating tools and strategies 10 to 15 years ahead of their acceptance. Along those lines, In what may be seen by some as his most esoteric current initiative, Don is currently attempting to involve major players in global conservation in what he has termed "stable state analysis" of current and projected environmental problems, and the use of "phase shift" strategies to predict and produce abrupt and profound change in the issues so analyzed.
This approach is linked to complexity theory, a new way of looking at interacting dynamic systems. White contends that understanding issues, and biology, on this level as interacting systems with knowable stable states gives conservationists a way around the almost infinite complexity which now confounds the application of traditional conservation efforts to the global marketplace.
He has applied this strategy with great success, and is currently the only conservationist pushing this approach. It is quite accessible, but requires a bit of training to understand. White is used to being in front of the cutting edge. In general, his peers usually don't understand exactly how his newest initiatives will work, but they can't remember the last time he was wrong.