Can Americans agree on anything? While there seems to be a huge focus on the political divide these days, one issue is important to all Americans: nature. And The Nature Conservancy has the numbers to prove it.
A new Conservancy poll shows that more than 4 in 5 American voters say that “conserving our country’s natural resources—our land, air and water—is patriotic.”
The Conservancy’s poll finds that Americans of all political stripes deeply value the ways in which conservation improves their quality of life, by providing clean water, healthy wildlife and opportunities for recreation. And they are willing to invest in these values to secure them for themselves and future generations.
For example, 87% of Americans agree that state and national parks, forests monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of their state’s quality of life, and 82% agree that kids not spending enough time outdoors and in nature is a problem.
These findings may seem counterintuitive, given other data that highlight partisan differences. For example, last month, the Pew Research Center released the latest results from their American Values Survey. Twenty years ago, in 1992, 93% of Democrats and 86% of Republicans agreed with the statement that “There need to be stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment.” The Democrats haven’t changed one bit, according to the new Pew survey: 93% still agree in 2012. But Republican support has fallen dramatically. Now, for the first time, fewer than one-half—only 47%—of Republicans agree that we need stronger laws and regulations to protect the environment.
Does this mean that conservation is doomed to partisan gridlock?
No. There is still broad support for a pragmatic approach to conservation that preserves our natural heritage for future generations.
Polls are only as relevant as the questions they ask. The Pew question refers to specific tactics: stricter laws and regulations. That leaves a lot off the table. If you asked a real values question, such as “How important is it to guarantee that future generations can enjoy healthy wildlife and clean water?” almost everyone, Republicans and Democrats alike, would say it is important.
In fact, these issues are so important that people are willing to pay for them. The Conservancy’s poll found that more than 4 in 5 Americans want to see the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LCWF) continue to use offshore drilling fees for conserving natural areas, wildlife, and clean water and providing access to outdoor recreation throughout the country. And 3 in 4 Americans believe that “funding to safeguard land, air and water should not be cut.” Perhaps surprisingly, more than 4 in 5 Americans are willing to pay additional taxes to protect American land, water and wildlife (including 72% of self-described Tea Party Republicans).
Americans of all political stripes recognize that we can protect lands and water and have a strong economy at the same time. I agree. Every day, the Conservancy works with private landowners, markets, communities and businesses to find innovative solutions that balance the needs of humans and nature.
But don’t just take my word for it. Check out these solutions for yourself:
- We are working with Texas ranchers to preserve the rangeland that provides water to Austin and San Antonio, while also protecting ranchers’ livelihoods.
- We are working with carbon markets to fund forest protection and restoration in Louisiana and around the world (even the Lorax likes our pragmatic approach!).
- We are restoring oyster reefs that protect Gulf coast communities from storms and waves.
- And we’ve worked with the fishing and forestry industries to develop innovative approaches to sustainable fisheries management in California and sustainable forestry practices in Michigan.
So let’s not confuse values with tactics. Our shared values are clear: Americans care about clean water and healthy wildlife, no matter their political affiliation. The question is, will we use the innovative, pragmatic solutions that can be found across the political spectrum to conserve this legacy for future generations? Preserving these shared values should be something that Americans of all political stripes can get behind.
Joe Fargione is lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s North America program.
(Image: American flag. Source: Flickr user tonyduckles via a Creative Commons license.)