One of us is an actor who has devoted much of his life to developing a “low impact” lifestyle and teaching others how to do so. The other is a conservation scientist who works to protect rainforests around the world. The daily work that feeds our passions could hardly be more different — yet we are each responding to the same challenge. What can we do so that Earth Day remains an American legacy to clean air, wild rivers, ancient forests and a stable climate because, after all, aren’t we all in this together?
At the top of our Earth Day agenda is the climate. Nearly a century ago, the downtown Grants Pass sign — “It’s the Climate” — first welcomed tourists to the beauty of our region. But the sign needs a facelift and should read,”The climate is becoming unsafe, so what are you going to do about it?”
Weird climate events such as Superstorm Sandy now happen with increasing regularity — a stark reminder that climate change is more than dying polar bears and melting ice caps. This is nature’s wake-up call, a signal that bold action is needed from citizens to the president, who himself proclaimed in his State of the Union address that if Congress does not take action on climate change, he will.
The president needs to walk his climate change talk by breaking the nation’s “drill-baby-drill” addiction to fossil fuels through bold actions that prepare the nation for a safe climate. Oregon is thankfully engaged in clean-energy development and so are other forward-thinking states. The president could do the same by hosting a national summit on climate change solutions in cooperation with state and tribal governments, clean-energy industries, scientists and religious leaders to plan now for a clean-energy future.
President Obama could also take advantage of America’s private-sector innovation and public interest in a clean-energy economy to stimulate jobs in green industries. Congress could give clean energy a booster shot for research and development and provide tax breaks to homeowners and small businesses to green up energy use. With such support, solar panels could become a standard feature on rooftops from the Rogue Valley to the nation’s sun belt, a tribute to energy independence.
The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management also need to do their part by protecting irreplaceable older forests and wild rivers for their unique role in helping to stabilize the climate and providing clean water. From the California redwoods to Alaska’s rainforests, our forests soak up and store more carbon per acre than any forest on Earth. When they are cut down, much of the stored carbon is released as carbon dioxide pollution, a chief culprit in global warming. Private landowners can also benefit from California’s “cap-and-trade” program that rewards landowners who steward forests for their climate benefits. And by protecting forests we all get clean water, wild salmon, and a quality of life that is second to none.
Unfortunately, the latest skirmish over proposals to increase logging on BLM lands to help resolve the counties’ fiscal issues would undermine the region’s clean water, salmon and older forests.
Oregon was once the wood-basket of the nation. It got this reputation by logging all but the last of our ancient forests and replacing them with overly dense and impoverished tree farms, many of which need restorative actions. Expecting logging on federal lands to solve the counties’ fiscal crisis is not only a step back, but it will also degrade clean water and salmon when they are needed most as part of our climate-change insurance.
Instead, we believe the state of Oregon, local counties and the federal government should share the responsibility for generating local revenue without stripping forests of natural assets. A vibrant planet and a stable climate are in everyone’s best interest.
As we ponder our role on Earth Day, we can all do our part as responsible citizens stewarding spaceship Earth by voting for green candidates, reducing wasteful energy use, supporting local conservation groups, and bringing creative solutions to our churches and neighborhoods.
We live on a remarkably alive planet maintained by a fragile atmosphere that gives us a safe climate — so let’s all do our part to keep it that way!
Dominick DellaSala is Chief Scientist of Geos Institute (www.geosinstitute.org), president of the Society for Conservation Biology, North America section, and an award-winning science writer.
Film, stage, and television star Ed Begley Jr. is well-known for his educational work on sustainability and renewable energy (http://edbegley.com).
Geos Institute depends on the generous support of caring people who believe we can and must do a better job addressing climate change for our children and those who will follow.