Americans love national parks – climate change threatens their future

National Parks Week is a time to commemorate the landscapes and historic sites that form the crown jewels of the country’s public land system. For over a century, these treasured places, from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park, have offered millions the chance to find the healing and respite that only nature can provide. . But right now, climate change threatens these iconic lands and waters. There is, however, something we can do to save these places and even our communities for future generations: Protect nature more.

National parks are the places of countless treasured memories and are instrumental in establishing lasting connections with nature. I remember my mom taking my brother and I on a road trip to the Grand Canyon when I was a little girl. It was the first time I experienced such vast nature. But climate change threatens the long-term survival of our national parks as we know them.

Rising seas, higher temperatures and more extreme weather conditions threaten the very existence of these lands and waters and the stories and traditions within them. Iconic ice caps are receding at a frightening rate in Glacier National Park. In Yosemite, warming winters are causing mass mortality in coniferous forests, forever altering the landscape and driving wildlife out of their natural habitats. And in Virgin Islands National Park, warmer ocean waters are wiping out the park’s signature coral reefs. If we do nothing, these threats will only increase.

Scientists are convinced that protecting 30% of all land and water in the United States by 2030 is one of the best ways to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Increasing protections for these lands would protect them from destructive extraction by oil and gas developers while helping to curb climate change by having forests act as carbon sinks for atmospheric carbon.

Federal, state, and local policymakers can take a variety of steps to achieve this 30×30 goal. President Biden should take full advantage of the Antiquities Act of 1906. In addition to providing additional protections to vital landscapes, new national monuments would allow us to tell new cultural stories on public lands, incorporating the perspectives, stories and traditions of the communities who call these landscapes home but have so often overlooked. conversation.

We must acknowledge the harm done in the process of creating these national treasures and the stories these parks contain, from stolen lands to discrimination in access and enjoyment. Many parks now include programs on the history of black and indigenous peoples in the parks, and four national parks operate under co-management systems with tribal nations. The Biden administration and the National Park Service must continue to undo the wrongs and damage done in the past to ensure that all of our national park systems are as fair and accessible to everyone as possible.

We also need to protect existing public lands from oil and gas extraction. If we want to fight climate change, we need to drastically reduce carbon pollution, which means stopping pollution at the source so that these lands can be used to store carbon rather than release it. We can also pass bold conservation legislation, like the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC). An ambitious CCC program would protect our public lands and ensure that our communities can benefit from them. This includes everything from climate resilience projects like coastal restorations to building and maintaining infrastructure that supports national parks. And we must support locally-led conservation efforts that are essential to protecting the landscapes in and around our communities.

Protecting more landscapes would create more opportunities for people across the country to connect with nature. Preserving more nature would allow more people to get outside and help close the nature equity gap. And exposure to nature at a young age makes a person more likely to maintain those connections into adulthood, creating the next generation of conservationists. The Grand Canyon vistas started my own journey of environmental advocacy – we need to make sure young people have that opportunity too.

Currently, approximately 12% of the lands and waters of the United States are protected. To reach 30×30, we need to protect more landscapes over the next decade than we did in the last century. National parks and public lands play a key role in achieving this goal.

Christine “Chris” Hill is the senior director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. She is the first black woman to lead the Sierra Club’s legacy campaign on the outdoors and land, water as well as wildlife in its history. She has a background in law, community organizing and partnerships and over a decade of experience advocating for communities and the natural world.

Teresa H. Sadler