"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."
-Lyndon B. Johnson
President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act in 1964 to combat the threat of "expanding settlement and growing mechanization" to our country's natural spaces. In 1965, LBJ was the first American president to acknowledge climate change, warning that we have "altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through... a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels." Fifty years ago, science wasn't able to fully comprehend the threat that carbon pollution posed to our climate and society, but our understanding has advanced significantly since. To earn our children's gratitude, we must act on this knowledge. President Obama took a significant step in the right direction this week.
In some ways, the EPA's Clean Power Plan can be seen as a successor to the Wilderness Act. The Clean Power Plan sets carbon emission limits for each state that encourage electricity generation in ways that reduce global warming. We won't stabilize the climate overnight, but at least we'll be contributing to the solution rather than making the problem worse. Like Johnson, President Obama has a vision for a secure and vibrant future and has acted to make his vision real.
Left unchecked, climate change will render our landscape unrecognizable. The glaciers of Montana and Alaska are already well on their way to melting. Permafrost will thaw. Coastal reserves will be engulfed by the rising oceans. Deserts will expand. Habitat will become inhospitable and many wildlife species will be unable to move to something that keeps them alive. The National Park Service considers climate change its "greatest challenge." Climate change is devaluing many of its assets. These are our assets too.
As someone who has worked so long to protect our land and wildlife, I am excited about the ways our work matters to the President's Clean Power Plan:
- NRDC is working with the Department of the Interior to site solar, wind and geothermal projects on public lands in a way that minimizes the environmental damage.
- NRDC is working with the Department of the Interior to reduce the waste of natural gas from flaring and leaks where it is drilled.
- NRDC is working with the Department of the Interior to increase the amount companies pay to mine coal on public lands.
I am also excited about how the Clean Power Plan matters to NRDC's land and wildlife work:
- The wildlife - like the grizzlies and wolves - NRDC is working to protect in Montana and Wyoming will benefit from the plan's carbon reductions.
- The clean renewable energy projects that NRDC is working to promote will have a market as states look for energy solutions without carbon emissions.
- The forests that NRDC works to protect will be less likely to burn from catastrophic fires.
- The streams on which trout depend will remain suitable for them and the economies which depend on them to thrive.
- The ice on which Pacific walruses depend will be more likely to stay around.
Next week, I am heading to the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. Bob Marshall was one of many who worked for years to make the Wilderness Act a reality. The Wilderness Act won't mean much though, if we don't act now to address climate change. My 16-year-old daughter will be with me. I am glad that I can point to President Obama's action this week to show her that some leaders care about the world we are leaving her. My hope is that enough will follow the President's lead so that my daughter will look back on her parents' generation with gratitude - not contempt.