A view over the Sierra Mountains from Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park, California. © Nick Hall

Mark Tercek is the president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and author of Nature’s Fortune. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkTercek.

A new American President took office this weekend, and political passions are running high. President Trump’s bold call in his inaugural address for a “new vision” to put “America first” was answered by unprecedented public demonstrations in Washington and cities around the world.

But when one steps back from the heightened passions of the moment, it’s uncertain what exactly will happen next with federal policy on the environment. We are in uncharted terrain.

President Trump’s team has not yet laid out a clear road map for implementing its priorities. The administration says it intends to eliminate the Clean Power Plan and other environmental policies of the Obama administration, yet it promises that “protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority.”

It’s not yet clear how the administration’s priorities will fare in Congress. Republicans control both Houses, but their narrow majority in the Senate means they will need to muster Democratic support to enact significant policy changes. Democrats will likely push back against Republican attacks on existing environmental policies and programs.

At such an uncertain time, with political passions running high, how should environmentalists proceed?

First, we should remember what we have working in our favor. While the environment may appear to be a partisan issue in Washington, DC, most Americans support common sense policies to protect our air, land, water, oceans and climate. In the 2016 elections, voters in a dozen states—red and blue—approved ballot measures that will devote $4.4 billion to protect the environment. Some of these measures passed with majorities of 80 percent or more. At a time of historic political division, nature can unite us.

This doesn’t mean that Americans agree on how best to protect nature. Many of our partisan disagreements on the environment boil down to how we should protect nature, not whether we should.

The Nature Conservancy has succeeded in our mission for more than sixty years by listening to people whose lives and livelihoods depend on nature and creating conservation solutions that protect the environment and address their interests. We know from our work in all 50 states and 70 countries around the world that the needs of people and nature aren’t necessarily in conflict—indeed people need nature to thrive.

In that spirit, we offer a few core principles that we believe both Republicans and Democrats can embrace to make progress on our nation’s—and the world’s—environmental challenges.

Be inclusive. Both parties heard loud and clear in last year’s elections that too many people feel left behind or overlooked. Our environmental policies need to address the interests of all Americans—especially those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the health of our natural resources. This means that both urban and rural communities and Americans of all colors, genders and ethnicities need a voice in environmental policymaking.

Follow the science. Knowledge about the state of our environment is growing rapidly. While uncertainties remain, we know that human-induced climate change is harming communities across the country and around the world. We know that growing numbers of people globally lack clean water, clean air, and healthy soils. More importantly, we are developing effective technologies and practices to address these threats to human health and wellbeing. Sound science should be the basis of environmental policymaking, and we should continue to invest in science and technology.

Harness market forces. America has shown over the past 40 years—since we enacted our first major environmental laws—that we can grow our economy and improve our environment simultaneously. In fact, our most successful companies are showing that clean technologies and practices are better for business. Smart environmental policy puts market forces to work to improve environmental outcomes while reducing costs and creating opportunity for innovation. As Congress and the President consider tax reform, they should look for opportunities to incentivize environmental innovation.

Encourage collaboration. The Nature Conservancy’s own experience shows that the most effective, durable conservation successes result from collaborative efforts between resource owners, the private sector, environmental organizations, and local, state and federal governments. For example, collaborative efforts between farmers, conservationists, food and agriculture companies and state and federal agencies are helping to reduce water pollution and boost farm incomes in key watersheds like the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. This kind of collaboration isn’t easy, but it’s the most promising path for conservation policy, and it’s supported by Republicans and Democrats alike. The Farm Bill, likely a priority for this Congress, is a powerful vehicle to encourage this type of collaboration.

Invest in nature’s solutions. Nature is valuable in its own right, but it’s also a cost-effective solution to pressing infrastructure problems. In cities like Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Seattle, “green infrastructure” in the form of wetlands, open space, and permeable surfaces helps manage stormwater runoff and reduces the need for expensive upgrades to municipal drainage systems. Along the nation’s rivers and coastlines, restoring wetlands and reefs helps to manage flooding and reduces the need for expensive enhancements to levees and seawalls. As Congress and the administration consider new investments in infrastructure, investing in nature is a promising solution.

Accelerate the transition to clean energy. Over the last decade, the cost of renewable energy has declined dramatically and inexpensive natural gas has replaced coal as the largest source of electricity. As a result, our economy has grown while emissions of greenhouse gases have declined. America is a leader in the clean energy revolution. We can address the impacts of climate change and enhance our economic competitiveness by accelerating this transition to clean energy. Industrial states like Ohio, for example, which historically depended on coal, are showing that you can boost economic output and create more jobs by investing in clean energy and energy efficiency. A federal price on carbon would help accelerate this transition. Internationally, the United States should continue to lead the world in implementing the Paris Agreement.

Lead other nations on shared challenges. Some environmental problems, like climate change and marine fisheries, require international cooperation to solve, because the issues transcend borders and because solutions can be undermined by economic competition among nations. The United States has been a leader in forging international agreements, as President Reagan led the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer and President Obama led the Paris Agreement on climate change. U.S. leadership will be vital to the success of the Paris Agreement and other environmental accords. We can also negotiate strong environmental standards in international trade agreements, which will help level the competitive playing field for American firms and workers, a priority for the administration.

Manage the impacts of development at a landscape scale. A growing economy will require more infrastructure for energy, transportation, and other sectors. TNC has worked with infrastructure developers to pioneer an effective approach to landscape planning that allows development to proceed while safeguarding fragile natural habitat. State and local governments around the country, as well as the Interior Department and other federal agencies, are beginning to adopt this approach. It’s a promising policy to resolve disputes between environmental protection and economic development.

Maintain and enhance core laws and policies. America led the world in enacting effective laws and policies to protect the environment. This was a bipartisan effort of Republican and Democratic leaders over more than four decades. While policies can always be improved, and some regulations should likely be revisited, our bedrock environmental laws have stood the test of time and have created a cleaner environment and a stronger economy for all Americans. We should not abandon or weaken these laws and policies, which have served us so well. To the contrary, Congress and the President should work with the environmental, public health and business communities to look for ways to enhance our environmental policies to deliver even better environmental and economic outcomes for the 21st century.

Unleash America’s creativity. Lastly, and most important, we need to revive the bipartisan, “can-do” spirit that fueled so much progress in America’s history, including our success in restoring our environment and conserving our natural heritage. American ingenuity is one of the most powerful forces the world has ever seen. No matter how divisive our politics may appear, Americans know how to work together to make the future better than the past. We always have, and we can again now.

We just need to get to work.

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.

Comments

  1. This is a great letter. Thank you for parsing our present climate and giving us sound direction. I am a monetary and verbal supporter of The Nature Conservancy. Thanks.

  2. Thank you and much needed at this time.

  3. Your message of hope, not fear, is perfect. Beautifully said! Anne Ashmun, Texas

  4. Thanks for such a thoughtful, positive message. It’s frightening that the new administration recently slapped a gag order on the EPA (on tax-supported research) and stopped all it’s grants and contracts funding that supports environmental research. There is a new movement growing to March For Science in Washington D.C. I hope everyone who understands how crucial environmental science is to our fragile planet will participate.

  5. This is well thought out, reasonable, and a positive, hopeful message. We are dealing with a madman who does not adhere to the principles most of us do however. If he really cared about the environment, he would not have fast tracked the pipelines. I hope and pray that you have the best and smartest lawyers on the planet to work on stopping him.

  6. Hope it works and that no one does irreversible damage. It is hard to stay positive, but you have to!

  7. Fight the forces of darkness and vote them out of office.

  8. Thank you. Well said and clearly stated.

  9. This is so well stated. I hope that you will send this to President Trump. These ideas are so workable on all levels. Thank you!

  10. What a beautifully written statement. I am a registered Republican, but am a strong advocate of our natural world. I sincerely hope that President Trump doesn’t undo years of environmental protections. American citizens will need to become more educated about environmental concerns & become more politically active. Thank you for all that you do, and continue to fight the “good fight.”

  11. This is a wonderful letter!

  12. Such a thought, logical approach to why conservation must be a top priority . Please seek audience with our new president and help him understand this priority.

    1. I agree, and would urge you to seek audience with one of Washington’s Congressional representatives, Dave Reichert, who does not yet seem to understand the scientific consensus regarding the causality of Climate Change.

  13. Thank you for your words and leadership, Mark. I would like to add that now, more than ever, we need a global network of volunteers who share our sense of urgency to protect the one and only earth we have.

  14. This kind of thinking is why I have donated to TNC for so many years. This kind of thinking is what the country needs right now.

  15. Á BIG YES!!

  16. Whole heartedly agree with everything written in the article. What is missing is one more point: until we D throne cash as king in our elections and government, the environment will be a loser among our decision makers

  17. “Following the science” means observing the principles of evidence-based practice, and adhering to them. To evaluate someone’s claim, the first question we need to ask is “what is your evidence?” Then we need to assess the validity and strength of the evidence. I do not hear these questions often in the current political climate

  18. Beautiful letter. Thank you!

  19. Very optimistic – I totally agree the “can do” spirit of Americans and our collective talents and energy will make all the difference. We need a climate conscious culture change – and with that collaborative communities will make this happen.

  20. Thank you for the positive thoughts in a time of such upheaval and uncertainty.

  21. Thank you for this. In a time when we have seen other supposed environmental groups shed their skin and reveal other agendas it is refreshing to know that TNC is staying true.

  22. Thoughtful, pragmatic and optimistic… The Nature Conservancy leads in intelligent and productive dialog…

  23. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

  24. Hopeful and challenging, I applaud the message.

  25. This ‘go along to get along’ mentality might work with reasonable people, but that fully disqualifies it as a strategy with the new administration. Unfortunately, many of these situations have absolute, not relative outcomes….

  26. I sure hope you are right. But from what I see regarding all of Trump’s appointments that effect the environment the people he selected to lead the agencies are anti environment. Not to mention the members of congress who have been bought by the special interests. As of now the future does not bode well for the environment as I see it. Just hope I am wrong!

  27. What specific actions (daily?) do you recommend both TNC and its individual members take to keep our new politicos informed and supportive of our mission?

  28. This is so hopeful and reasonable it gives me confidence in the power of the human race if, indeed, we follow your wonderful suggestions.

  29. Mark, as a marketing rep for Facing the Future, I found your letter to be intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable and straightforward. Perfect for sharing. Thanks.

  30. I can agree with everything except your infatuation with the Paris accords. The
    only country that is required to do anything concrete is the US. Neither China or India will make any changes until their carbon based energy has
    provided their economies with sufficient power, at which time they will have surpassed the US in carbon
    pollution.

  31. Mark’s letter is also inspiring. We are all in this together, an undeniable fact. Therefore, working together has to be our goal. Thank you Mark for your leadership with the Nature Conservancy for the sake of all, including the animals that are losing their livelihood as we speak.

  32. to the nature Conservancy;
    I have donated to your organization for many years. I think that the approach of the nature conservancy has been both positive and effective at the local level. I just wish I knew more as to how or where to get into local activities like planting trees

  33. thank you for your thoughtful comments. I would however like to point out that this comment. “Over the last decade, the cost of renewable energy has declined dramatically and inexpensive natural gas has replaced coal as the largest source of electricity. As a result, our economy has grown while emissions of greenhouse gases have declined. ” leads one to believe natural gas is clean but the process of getting it out of the ground, dealing with fracking waste, emissions from fracking wells, and many times transportation of the gas and oil is not clean. Thank you.

  34. I have stopped supporting the conservancy because of its support for the continued lie of climate “change”! Stick with conserving natural areas and stop shooting yourselves in the foot with support for this LIE! Instead you should be decrying the greenspace destruction caused by illegal as well as “legal” immigration. What’s the last figure I saw? Seems like it was something like 1000 square miles a year. Where is the outrage at this criminally ignorant destruction which could be easily prevented?

  35. Just a thought……funny we didn’t have a problem with this for the last 8 years.

  36. An interesting bunch of comments.

  37. Mark, your posts are such an antidote to the daily news from D.C. Yes, there are still rational, cooperative, positive people in the world who want all of us and everything to work for improvement. Thank you.

  38. To the Nature Conservancy, Thank you for your admirable efforts to protect Nature and Life. Stay healthy and strong and grow in number(s). Cowards, ignorance and greed are pathetic and toxic, preying on nature and destroying life.

  39. We will only make progress if all are heard in a respectful manner. This is an excellent letter and appeals to all to work together. We are blessed with a wide range of resources. If we apply our best science to all then we can all benefit from the solutions that follow. America is known for its innovation that has been demonstrated over many years. Let’s stop shouting and start working.

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