Dedication to Our Natural Systems

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Published on May 17th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

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On May 15, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released the text of the American Clean Energy and Security Bill, which will go to markup by the committee next week.  With the determined leadership of Congressman John Dingell of Michigan and others, the bill includes dedicated funding to, in the language of the bill:

Use all practicable means and measures to assist natural resources to become more resilient and adapt to and withstand the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

(Read the Conservancy’s detailed take on the bill here.)

What does this really mean and why is the inclusion of dedicated funding for this purpose in the bill so incredibly important? (Dedicated funding is money that does not have to be specifically appropriated by Congress each year, but is certain to come for the designated purpose over the many years covered by the Clean Energy Bill).

The best science indicates that global warming, now underway, will produce more intense storms, more droughts and floods, rising coastal waters, more widespread wildfires, and dramatic changes in habitat for plants, fish and wildlife.

Such changes will have profound impacts on the health, safety and way of life of people in the U.S. and across the world.

In developing countries hundreds of millions of people depend on healthy environments for their everyday survival.  Here in the United States the vast majority of Americans are so removed from contact with our natural resources that we have literally lost sight of the fact that our lives, our economy and our way of life also depend upon healthy natural systems.

We must, of course, reduce the amount of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere to slow the pace and severity of climate change. At the same time, the most cost-effective way of defending human well being and plant and animal species against the change already occurring from a warming planet is to harness the ability of healthy natural systems to provide human benefits and habitat for plants and animals.

Assisting natural resources to “become more resilient and adapt to climate change” is the right approach to accomplishing this.  This means, for example, restoring and conserving:

  • Coastal reefs, marshes and barrier islands to shield communities from storms while providing habitat for fish and shellfish.
  • Freshwater wetlands and the floodplains of rivers and streams to reduce flood damage, to hold water in times of drought, and to filter out pollutants that are even more harmful as water temperatures rise.
  • The natural character of woodlands so that they will be less prone to catastrophic wildfires that endanger people and wildlife.
  • Wildlife corridors along mountain ranges to allow plant and animal species to move north and higher in response to rising temperatures.  (These same mountain corridors are critical sources of drinking water for nearby cities and towns).

The Conservancy has already begun proving these concepts through science in a variety of projects across the country and around the world.

These and other efforts to help adapt natural systems to the impacts of climate change are accomplished by natural system reconstruction projects. Such activities produce jobs in themselves (as they are doing through the Economic Stimulus Program now being implemented), and ongoing economic benefits in clean water, natural hazard protection, reducing harmful impacts on agriculture, and support of the recreation and tourism industries.  Natural systems degraded by climate change will profoundly damage human well-being and fish and wildlife habitat around the world; natural systems healthy enough to withstand climate change are not a luxury but a lasting asset and a wise investment in the future.

While this may seem pretty straightforward, the inclusion of funding for the express purpose of helping natural areas to withstand harmful change is a landmark in environmental policy — part of our coming of age as Earth’s stewards.  In truth the amount of funding in the bill for these purposes should be increased, but an important step forward was taken this last week by the leadership of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and they deserve our thanks for their actions on behalf our environment.

(image: Bridget Beesaw, Fishermen in Morro Bay harbor, California.)

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