Michelle Carr joined The Nature Conservancy in 2013 after 16 years as an advisor at Goldman Sachs. In keeping with TNC's global mission “to conserve the lands and water on which all life depends,” Michelle leads strategic efforts to advance critical conservation work in Illinois and throughout the region. Her civic and professional experience helps TNC bridge the gap between conservation and economic decisions to protect important places and change the way people and institutions use nature.
Today, The Nature Conservancy is advancing a path toward a resilient and sustainable future, one in which people and nature thrive together.
Key conservation efforts in Illinois include protecting and restoring prairie and other natural areas to help mitigate the effects of a changing climate, working with partners to advance clean energy policies, improving the quality of fresh water resources in the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi River basin, collaborating with local communities on urban conservation efforts and finding ways to engage more Illinoisans with nature and conservation work. Since 1957, TNC in Illinois has protected more than 80,000 acres of critical habitat, and its science-driven and partnership-based approach has fueled breakthroughs that support conservation work across the globe.
Through Michelle’s leadership, the chapter has successfully piloted innovative approaches to water quality improvements through the implementation of wetland restoration sites along the Illinois River, by working with agricultural partners to develop sustainable farming practices that reduce harmful runoff and protect soil health and controlling and preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. Prairie conservation is also central to TNC’s work in Illinois, where only one-tenth of one percent of these iconic landscapes remain. TNC scientists are executing a strategic plan that is restoring thousands of acres of Illinois land to this original natural habitat. In doing so, TNC is providing essential habitat for wildlife, helping mitigate the effects of climate change, and providing spaces where people can connect with nature. Additionally, Michelle’s team is working closely with local partners and communities to advance urban conservation in the City of Chicago, ensuring that nature-based solutions are taken into consideration as the population grows. All of these efforts are influencing conservation at a global scale.
Michelle graduated from St. Louis University with a B.A. in history and economics, Phi Beta Kappa and holds a MBA from Vanderbilt University. She currently serves on the executive council of Chicago Wilderness, the board of the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern and the Cook County Land Bank board. Michelle is a consultant to the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission and is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago. Michelle formerly served on the board of Links Hall, chairing the finance committee; on the board of The National Museum for Health and Medicine Chicago as finance chair; and on President Obama’s National Finance Committee through his first and second elections. Michelle lives in Chicago with her husband, Dane, and three children.
Clean energy transition stands to benefit both people and nature, but must be done thoughtfully
March 29, 2023
The transition to clean energy is not as simple as flipping a switch from fossil fuels to renewables. The rapid renewable energy buildout we so urgently need could fall short of driving the best possible outcomes for climate, biodiversity, and local communities without proper planning and execution. As an increasing number of solar and wind farms dot the landscape of the Prairie State to meet the state’s goal of sourcing 50% of our energy from renewables by 2040, it will be important to carefully consider where sites are developed and how they are managed to maximize benefits for people and nature.
The solar footprint in Illinois could expand across as many as 320,000 acres by 2050, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Smart siting—the selection of low-impact sites to minimize environmental disturbance—is the most effective way to reduce harmful impacts of this development on nature. New guidance for Illinois created by The Nature Conservancy in Illinois and Pollinator Partnership recommends avoiding new construction in natural habitat, including forest, grasslands, wetlands, and floodplains, or where there are potentially negative impacts to vulnerable or endangered species. Prioritizing development in areas including rooftops, parking lots, former mine lands or idle industrial areas can support a healthy ecosystem and repurpose land in a productive way. Developers can also take advantage of state and federal incentives such as Illinois’ Coal-to-Solar program or the new federal tax credit for developing renewables on brownfields or within regions formally dependent on the fossil fuel industry.
When solar sites are built with native prairie plantings, they can also support wildlife and pollinators like monarch butterflies, improve soil and water quality and increase carbon sequestration. Solar developers can even cut back on management costs over the long term, in part by reducing the need for frequent mowing. Recent state legislation on renewable energy siting enables counties to require solar developers to plant pollinator-friendly habitat. If counties across the state take advantage of this opportunity, it will help to ensure that new solar is paired with native plants that support pollinators, improve soil and water quality, and help restore a portion of Illinois’ once vast prairie. The more solar built with nature in mind, the better the outcomes for biodiversity and people across the state.
To avoid the worst impacts of climate change in Illinois—especially in the state’s frontline communities—we must urgently act to cut carbon pollution with more renewable energy. We can also take steps to optimize the benefits of the transition to clean energy. Given the 20 to 30-year lifespan of new wind and solar farms, decisions made today on where we build and how new sites are stewarded will have lasting effects for the future generations living in the Prairie State.
Every Fraction of a Degree Matters, as Shown in Latest Climate Report
March 20, 2023
The latest report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that the global average temperature is extremely likely to increase by 2°C and could even exceed a 3°C rise by the end of the century. This seemingly small change will touch every aspect of our livelihoods—impacting everything from record-low ice coverage on the Great Lakes to rising prices at the grocery store. The IPCC report proves that every fraction of a degree matters, and we should take this as a signal to amplify the momentum of climate action. The pace and scale of state and national policies designed to address the climate crisis are increasing almost daily, and the clean energy transition is well underway.
Prior assessments by the IPCC have shown how climate change works, its impact on the planet’s health and human well-being and how we can mitigate its effects. The most recent analysis is not a surprise, and the scientific consensus is loud and clear: we need bolder, faster climate action to drastically curb carbon pollution while also building resilience to climate impacts. Without stronger, coordinated efforts to reduce carbon emissions, changes in Illinois will likely include more frequent heat waves, increased precipitation in the winter and spring, and drier summers, impacting everything from our agricultural economy to public health.
The good news is that the solutions are at our fingertips, and in Illinois we have a strong foundation to propel us toward a more sustainable future. Through the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, the state aims to transition to 100% clean energy by 2050 while also providing historic funding for jobs and economic development. The cost of renewables continues to fall dramatically as technology becomes cheaper and more readily available, and according to the Clean Grid Alliance, the solar industry has already invested more than $3 billion in our state. This is a great start, and strong investment in renewables combined with more funding for energy efficiency will, in turn, lead to lower energy costs for residents.
To ensure the clean energy transition proceeds quickly, we must plan ahead to avoid land-use conflicts that further delay progress. It is vital to carefully consider where renewable projects are developed and how they are managed to maximize the benefits to people and the planet. The steps we take now to design and plan for a renewable energy buildout that minimizes conflict with local communities and limits impacts on wildlife will ensure that we do not lose momentum in the race against climate change.
We are seeing momentum on climate action, but we must scale our efforts globally and across all sectors. Because of recent legislation, like the Inflation Reduction Act, strong incentives exist to equitably transition to a clean energy economy, but we must work together to ensure communities reap these benefits. From supporting farmers who are eager to implement regenerative practices on their fields in rural Illinois to promoting community climate action planning in Cook County, we are making progress in the Prairie State. We urge decision makers to use this IPCC report as further motivation to build on progress to date and to accelerate much-needed action to ensure our economy and communities are resilient to the changing climate.
Working Together to Support People and Nature with Policy
November 30, 2022
Our environment, health and economy are worth protecting. At a time when politics appear more heavily divided than ever, there are several wins for both people and nature that serve as reminders that common ground can be found. The Nature Conservancy has worked with lawmakers across the political spectrum for decades, and we can’t afford to lose pace as science shows us that we must act with a sense of urgency to address the climate and biodiversity crises, which are having devastating effects on people’s lives and livelihoods.
Major wins were achieved this past election day in 14 states across the country when voters approved 17 ballot measures securing over $7 billion for conservation. In Illinois, we continue to celebrate the passage of the Vote Yes for Clean Air, Water, and Wildlife ballot referendum, which secures critical funding for the Forest Preserves of Cook County, the nation’s largest and oldest forest preserve system. It is estimated that the referendum will generate approximately $45 million for the forest preserves annually, totaling $1 billion over 25 years. This impactful decision made by voters ensures these lands continue to thrive and provide clean air, water, wildlife habitat, and jobs for residents throughout the region. Together, we have taken action for a better future for generations to come.
November also marks the one-year anniversary of the $1.2T Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This unprecedented, bipartisan infrastructure package promises much-needed improvements for our nation’s roads, levees, ports and other structures. It also places greater emphasis on nature-based solutions, like investing in healthy forests and restoring wetlands that will make sure our country’s infrastructure and communities are more resilient to extreme weather.
The work can’t end there. These cross-party victories in attaining healthy, resilient communities are complimented by the ongoing progression of Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. This bill allocates $1.4 billion over ten years for states to implement local wildlife action plans. A critical step in addressing the dual crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss, Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is supported by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. We hope that, in the coming weeks, the Senate will act on Recovering America’s Wildlife Act so that our nation continues to secure the resources necessary to cultivate healthy, resilient landscapes.
The Nature Conservancy of Illinois will continue to build on this momentum to advocate for meaningful and lasting solutions that protect communities, grow the economy, and foster a brighter, safer, and more equitable future for all. We can’t afford to lose speed, and we look forward to working across all levels of government to address these crises head on.
Vote Yes for Clean Air, Clean Water, and Wildlife in Cook County
November 7, 2022
Throughout the hustle and bustle of greater Chicagoland area, the sights and sounds of the prairies, forests and wetlands provide us with respite and relaxation in nature.
In November, residents of Cook County are faced with an important decision to support the places that sustain our wildlife, natural resources, and well-being. During this upcoming election, we have the power to better protect the Forest Preserves of Cook County, which provide us with access to green space, clean air, clean water, and jobs. By voting YES on the November 8th ballot referendum, we are advocating for the continued investment in these treasured local landscapes.
The Nature Conservancy endorses the Vote Yes for Clean Air, Clean Water and Wildlife campaign because of the positive impact it will have on both people and nature. Approving a 0.025% property tax increase, which amounts to less than $1.66/month for the average Cook County homeowner, will secure critical resources necessary for the future of the spaces that we love and the places that take care of us. This measure will:
Provide cleaner water sources and less flooding. Forest preserves filter storm and rainwater, keeping pollution from entering our waterways and reducing the risk of flooding from heavy rainfall in communities across the area.
Expand the protection of natural areas that make air cleaner to breathe, reducing impacts on health like asthma. The forest preserves protect millions of trees that absorb pollution.
Foster professional development by sustaining and creating thousands of jobs, including adding summer jobs and scholarships that prioritize communities with the most job growth potential.
Ensure that our forest preserves are maintained. When land and water are conserved, native wildlife thrives.
While this measure is focused within Cook County, the impact on wild places will affect us all. These are the places that connect us to nature—and to each other. To bring about larger, systemic change, we must all work together to seize local opportunities to improve biodiversity and restore and expand forest preserve land for residents to enjoy for generations to come.
Illinois’ Residents and Nature Win with Passage of Inflation Reduction Act
August 12, 2022
We are face-to-face with the climate crisis. Illinois is experiencing conditions that are already significantly warmer and wetter than at any time in the last 120 years. However, the momentum toward impactful and equitable climate action is gaining speed. With Congress’ recent approval of the Inflation Reduction Act, a $369 billion investment in clean energy and climate action, we have entered a new era of opportunity in tackling the climate crisis—a major win for people and nature.
Last year, Illinois took the stage as a national leader in state climate policy, passing the landmark Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act puts Illinois on a path to 100% clean energy by 2050 while also providing historic funding for workforce and economic development. The Inflation Reduction Act will build upon this momentum, estimated to reduce national carbon emissions by approximately 40% by 2030. Especially when coupled together, these two pieces of legislation are critical in meeting 2030 emissions reductions goals and simultaneously growing Illinois’ economy.
The Inflation Reduction Act contains multiple provisions, and some that we’re especially heartened by include:
Direct investments to improve local air quality, lower energy costs and expand access to clean energy in communities that are most affected by climate change.
Incentives that give farmers, ranchers and land managers the support they need to implement sustainable practices, like cover crops and improved fertilizer management. It also provides support to improve forest health and reduce wildfire risk.
Policies to clean up and repurpose degraded lands to expand clean energy while supporting economic growth and stewarding Illinois’ incredible nature. For example, enhanced tax credits in the bill could accelerate development of renewable energy on former mine lands and brownfields.
Investments to support new and existing technologies that expand the availability of clean electricity, decrease air pollution, and promote the use of zero-emissions cars and trucks. These provisions will also help bolster the United States’ role in leading the production of advanced energy technologies and cleaner manufacturing practices.
State-specific analysis commissioned by The Nature Conservancy in partnership with BW Research indicates the Inflation Reduction Act is projected to invest $15.9 billion in Illinois. This will contribute to 21,000 jobs each year for the next ten years and generate over $343 million in annual state, local, and federal tax revenue. This will equate to a $2.4 billion value-add to Illinois’ economy.
The passage of this milestone legislation is a landmark step forward to address the climate crisis and put our nation on the path to a brighter, more sustainable future. Thank you to our leaders in Congress who voted in support of protecting our environment and creating more resilient communities.
Facing Dual Crises: Climate Change and Plant and Wildlife Extinction
December 14, 2022
As we contend with climate change, we cannot ignore the other critical emergency threatening the planet. One-quarter of the globe’s plant and animal species face extinction, and the race to save biodiversity is just as urgent as the climate crisis. We have years, not decades, to reverse threats to nature worldwide. But together with partners, we can find a way to make a lasting impact.
Climate change is one of the major risks to biodiversity. The Nature Conservancy's report on impacts of climate change in Illinois shows that a wetter and warmer climate will harm some native species while increasing the presence of non-native, invasive species. In general, the shifting climate will result in many species’ ranges shifting northward. It can be hard to predict the precise impacts of climate change on a particular species or ecosystem; however, we know climate change will cause greater variability and disrupt the stability ecosystems depend on.
We also know that widespread land conversion severely limits habitat for native plants and animals to thrive. But there is hope. Ecosystem restoration has tremendous potential, when done thoughtfully, to slow or even reverse the decline of biodiversity. Many species respond positively to strategic ecosystem restoration.
In Chicago, The Nature Conservancy is supporting the expansion of the urban tree canopy and green stormwater infrastructure, harnessing nature to build resilience to flooding and heat in communities that need it the most while also increasing biodiversity. This is complemented by the recent passage of a ballot measure that increases funding to the Forest Preserves of Cook County, so critical stewardship work can continue at a larger scale throughout the region.
The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve in Central Illinois is one of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the Midwest. Today it is a thriving wetland home to hundreds of thousands of migratory and resident birds including American bald eagles and white pelicans.
A recent 20-year study at our Nachusa Grasslands preserve showed that prairie restoration efforts are working, bringing positive momentum to our state where less than one-tenth of 1% of the original tallgrass prairie remains.
During COP15—the annual UN biodiversity conference—much-needed attention is being focused on the health of plants and animals on a global stage. Leaders and scientists from around the world will play a critical role in addressing the biodiversity crisis, building a roadmap toward a nature-positive future with new targets to safeguard plants and wildlife.
Meanwhile, in the United States we are hopeful that the Senate will act on the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. This will allocate $1.4 billion over 10 years for states to implement local wildlife action plans. The money will be used for on-the-ground conservation efforts such as conserving and restoring habitats, fighting invasive species, reintroducing native species and tackling diseases.
To ensure long-lasting protection, conserved areas must be effectively managed, inclusively governed and expanded. Society depends on biodiversity to sustain healthy communities and economies, and together we can find a way to build on successes that ensure a more resilient future for both people and nature.
Climate Affects Us All
Progressive Steps Made by Illinois, U.S. as Global Leaders Meet During COP27
November 16, 2022
The world’s largest conference on climate, COP27, is one we need to pay close attention to as hundreds of government leaders and environmental experts meet to address the climate crisis. A key outcome of COP27 will be whether any major polluting countries vow to increase their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Another key area of discussion is centered on whether wealthier nations will pledge to financially support low- and lower-middle-income countries that are facing damaging losses from climate change despite their limited role in causing the problem.
Climate change is a global crisis with local impacts, and strong international cooperation and bold action are critical for maintaining a stable climate here in Illinois. Promises made as part of the Paris Agreement have already touched down across the Prairie State in a positive way and built momentum that we cannot afford to lose. If no immediate action is taken, virtually all aspects of life are threatened, as shown in the Illinois’ climate change assessment—a report compiled by The Nature Conservancy with more than 40 scientists and technical experts.
Many of us have already felt the brunt of more frequent rain leading to flooded basements, or heat waves that impact rural and urban communities alike. Frontline communities across the state—often low-income communities and communities of color facing historic disinvestment—are likely to face the most immediate and worst effects of the climate crisis.
While Illinois residents are not unique in experiencing these changes, we are standing out as a national leader in climate action. In the last year, we’ve seen positive progress in Illinois:
- The state passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, setting us on track to transition to 100% clean energy by 2050.
- The City of Chicago also revised their Climate Action Plan, which outlines comprehensive goals that set the city on a path to reduce carbon emissions by more than 60% by 2040.
- Both the Climate Equitable Jobs Act and Climate Action Plan aim to prioritize investment in low-income communities and communities of color.
- The successful passage of the Cook County Forest Preserves referendum will infuse funds to support access to green space and bolster the climate resilience of the forest preserve system.
More broadly at the national level, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the National Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) are providing a much-needed boost to support climate action, ranging from incentives for renewable energy, electric vehicles and enhancing support for farmers to build resiliency in the face of climate change. Land and water conservation is also ramping up through President Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative, with much-needed funding and coordination to better equip landscapes to withstand the disruptions of extreme weather.
While leaders meet in Egypt for COP27 to build a roadmap to support the planet’s common goals, momentum at the local and national level is important for reinforcing global climate action. By demonstrating the progress we are making here at home, together we can drive change on the global stage.