What a difference a week makes! In their first week in office, the Biden administration has hit the ground running to make up for lost time in the critical battles to keep our planet livable: tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. The exciting Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad issued by the White House on January 27th includes a goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030 and elevates the central role these initiatives will play in the new federal administration. Protecting more lands and waters is critical to addressing both crises as natural wild places provide havens for biodiversity to thrive and carbon sinks to help stabilize our climate. After years of the federal government reversing environmental protections and squandering the resources that sustain us, what a welcome relief it is.
California has led the way on many of the initiatives now adopted by the Biden administration, including the urgent need to protect 30% of our lands, inland waters, and oceans by 2030 to stem the alarming decline of nature (known as 30x30). Following legislative efforts spearheaded by Assemblymember Kalra, Governor Newsom issued a “30x30 and Working Lands” executive order last fall, and his administration must now lay the groundwork for how a strong, effective, inclusive 30x30 initiative can be implemented.
The Newsom administration is off to a good start. On a webinar hosted by the Administration on Wednesday, the Secretaries of Natural Resources, CalEPA, and Cal Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), along with the Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research stressed an approach that embraces the multiple benefits that a 30x30 initiative can achieve.
First, the agencies are focusing on expanding equitable access to nature. We know that under-resourced communities of color bear the brunt of our abuse of nature in the form of increased exposure to things like water and air pollution. Similarly, these communities tend to have reduced access to the benefits of nature, such as healthy flowing rivers to swim and fish in or forested areas to provide cooling shade in the summer heat. 30x30 must help us expand those opportunities and that access.
Second, the state’s 30x30 initiative recognizes that taking better care of natural and working lands is a necessary piece of meeting the state’s climate objectives. Elon Musk recently tweeted out that he will be “donating $100 million towards a prize for best carbon capture technology.” Happily, the State of California already recognizes that we have amazing pieces of carbon capture technology at our fingertips in the form of trees, wetlands, and healthy soils, which capture and sequester enormous amounts of carbon when properly restored and maintained. These natural climate solutions also can have remarkable co-benefits for protecting biodiversity, enhancing our economy, and allowing us to adapt to climate change. For example, CDFA Secretary Ross noted that a 1% increase in soil organic matter across the state’s agricultural lands—achieved by approaches as simple as planting cover crops and increasing use of natural compost—could increase the soil’s water-holding capacity by 1.5 million acre-feet, enough water to fill Lake Berryessa. That is a sensible and much-needed approach in a state where agriculture uses 80% of the developed water supply and faces chronic water shortages due to excess demand.
Third, the state will focus on expanding protections for California’s precious biodiversity and increasing species’ resilience to climate change. We are one of 36 biodiversity hot spots in the world. The state has a tremendous opportunity to lead the way on how protecting our natural systems goes hand in hand with protecting our economy and livelihoods. Recent news about a rare Mediterranean sea squirt providing a promising new COVID treatment reinforces just how dependent we are on the abundance and variety of nature for our survival. As the impacts of climate change are increasingly felt across California, it becomes ever more vital that we protect the species, ecosystems, and natural resources that we rely upon. Importantly, California will look to Native American tribes for both knowledge and restored stewardship to meet our 30x30 goals. Indigenous communities worldwide have a far better record of living in harmony with the environment, and we need to honor and integrate that expertise.
The multiple benefits of the 30x30 initiative are readily apparent and must be pursued with haste. A recent survey of California voters expressed overwhelming support for the national goal of protecting at least 30% of America's land, ocean areas, and inland waters by the year 2030, with more than four out of five California voters favoring 30x30 and 55% strongly favoring this plan. The support is bipartisan, with 92% of California’s Democrats, 79% of Republicans and 58% of Independents agreeing with this approach. Voters widely view 30x30 to be “good for the economy” (63%), “good for air and water” (88%), “good for health” (82%), and “good for fish and wildlife” (86%).
So let’s get busy, California. We have miles to go, but strong and favorable winds at our backs from Washington, DC.