America’s Conservation Future: Renewing Our Heritage

from Wildlife Promise

2 4/5/2007 // By Larry Schweiger

Last week in Washington D.C., National Wildlife Federation hosted one of the most vibrant and engaged Annual Meetings and Hill receptions we’ve had in years.  Representatives and supporters from 48 states joined with us to learn and work together to make a difference for wildlife, address the great threat of global warming, and learn about ways to reconnect Americans, especially children, with nature.

On Wednesday, over 300 supporters joined us for Capitol Hill Days to support a global warming bill that will reduce U.S.global warming pollution 2% per year, on the order of 80% by the middle of this century.  (Scientists warn that we must cut pollution at least by this much to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global warming.) 

The day culminated in a reception in the Senate Hart Office Building.  Sen. Blanche Lincoln of  Arkansas gave one of the most moving speeches, reminding me that this issue will affect each one of us.  Sen. Lincoln is a farmer’s daughter who grew up paddling her local streams with her father and sister.  She knows that families like hers who spend time outdoors also drive the tourist economy of many states, and that global warming’s impacts on local wildlife are going to impact her tourist economy.  In her words, this issue “is too important to let go.”  I am grateful to all of our supporters who were able to join us.

On Friday morning, we were inspired by the words of David Orr and Jim Martin.  Jim Martin presented “A Great Wave Rising: Global Warming and the Development Juggernaut.”  He shared that he was with us today because he’s passionate about the future we’re leaving our children.  An avid angler, Jim urged us all to think about the places we love.  If we don’t address climate change and incorporate conservation planning in to development plans, the places we love will be gone.  As Jim said, if you want to know what the places you love will look and feel like if these issues aren’t addressed, drive 500 miles south to a place with three times your population.  Be thankful for the places we have, then get busy addressing climate change and development. 

David Orr, Professor of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, followed.  David conveyed the urgency and the hope of addressing climate change.  We are at a scientific tipping point in needing to address this problem.  The Arctic ice cap is melting more rapidly than expected, with the prediction that the Arctic in summertime will be ice free by the year 2040.  The number of glacial earthquakes in Greenland is doubling every six years, with 32 between 4.6 and 5.1 registering on the Richter scale in 2005. The permafrost in Siberia is thawing, threatening the release of the 70 billion tons of carbon stored there.  The total amount of carbon stored in these Siberian soils alone is ten times the amount emitted annually into the atmosphere from human-caused sources.  As David reminded us, the great work of our generation will be to stabilize and reduce all heat trapping gases, and make the world more secure.  And the good news is we have all the tools we need to do this right now – improve vehicle efficiency, building efficiency, and increase the use of renewables. 

I was pleased to be able to spend so much time with our emerging young conservation leaders.  These energetic attendees included NWF’s Campus Ecology Fellows and the Conservation Leadership Corps of the Missouri Wildlife Federation.  I was also encouraged to see how many attendees participated in NWF’s new training program Global Warming Effects on Your Hunting and Fishing.  This training tool will help our affiliates reach conservationists around the country.

A wonderful week ended with National Wildlife Federation’s Annual Awards Dinner and Presentation.  So many individuals and organizations volunteer their time, talents and service in outstanding support of our mission, our affiliates, and the conservation movement.  The awardees I was privileged to meet and help honor are Diana Guidry – Community Volunteer of the Year, Ed Zygmunt – Affiliate Volunteer of the Year, Elain Tholen – Volunteer of the Year, G. Richard Mode – Charlie Shaw Conservation Partnership Award with North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Felice Stadler – Charlie Shaw Conservation Partnership Award with National Wildlife Federation, and Affiliate of the Year Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.  Each one of their stories reminded me that we are in this together, and that together we are making a difference.