Uncommon Vision, Common Dreams

No matter where our families came from—or whom we voted for—we all want to leave our children a clean, healthy, and hopeful world.
Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project

No matter where our families came from—or whom we voted for—we all want to leave our children a clean, healthy, and hopeful world.

In the bitter aftermath of the Korean War, my parents left behind the world they knew to start over in a foreign land. They came to America with two suitcases, a hundred dollars, and a dog-eared postcard of a full moon shining down over San Francisco Bay.

That gauzy image represented their picture-perfect American dream. A vision of uncommon optimism based on the vaunted ideals of equity and justice, a second-to-none standard of living, and a determination to leave their children a brighter, more hopeful world.

Those are ideals they passed down to me. And I to my young daughter.

Growing up in Boulder, Colorado―the perfect place for an adventurous, outdoorsy tomboy—I was raised to understand something more. There is nothing more deeply grounded in our bedrock American values than the natural inheritance we share. We all have a right to clean air and water, open spaces, and public lands. And we have an obligation to be good stewards of this inheritance, until we pass it on to our children.

With my father and sisters, Betty and Maggie, on summer vacation at the Grand Canyon, 1972

Today, our natural inheritance is at risk. Our incoming president and Congress are threatening to wind back decades of environmental and public-health progress. Their hit list includes commonsense safeguards that protect our lands and waters, our national plan to clean up our dirty power plants, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s work to protect our families and communities from toxic pollution.

Whatever we voted for on Election Day, it wasn’t for dirty water or air. Nobody voted to retreat from American climate and clean energy leadership. We didn’t vote to destroy our common inheritance.

In the wee hours of election night, my sister and I spoke about what happens now. We wondered what it meant for the country. We wondered what it meant for our children. She wondered what it meant for me, specifically, as the head of an environmental advocacy organization. I knew the answer to that one: Stand up, shout louder, fight harder.

With my mother, 1977

That resolve isn’t just a personality trait. It has come from experience. Though we all value clean air, clean water, and healthy communities, protecting our rights to them has been a long, relentless battle. Five decades ago, rivers contaminated with heavy metals and toxic chemicals literally caught fire in the heartland. Pristine beaches were coated in thick, black crude oil that snuffed out all life in its path. And cities and the people who lived there were choking on the world’s worst smog. 

At that time, we came together as a nation to demand better. By overwhelming bipartisan majorities, Congress passed the bedrock environmental laws that protect us all today: the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and more. And ever since, we at NRDC have defended those laws to protect the values they enshrine, the values that bind us.

Today, we need to protect these values as never before.

We need to protect the Americans who can’t draw water from their tap without putting their children at risk. We need to protect the communities whose air is put second to polluters’ profits. We need to protect our climate because our children’s future depends on it.

I believe we can and will rise to this challenge because I have faith that all of us—regardless of where we live, how we vote, what we look like, or when we arrived here—want to build a just and livable future for ourselves, our children, and our planet.

If you feel the same, now is the time to stand up.

Together, we can defend our rights. We can uphold our values. We can leave our children the beautiful future of our parents’ and grandparents’ dreams.

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