We can slash fossil fuel extraction and consumption. We can ramp up solar panels, electric cars, public transportation, and walkable neighborhoods. We can zero out the cheeseburgers.
But around the world, the realization is growing: In the face of twin crises of climate and extinction, to ensure the survival of threatened species and successfully combat climate change, we need to permanently protect half of the planet's undeveloped land and waters by 2050.
Per the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction due to land conversion, development, climate change, invasive species, and pollution. In the United States, more than 1.5 million acres per year are lost to development, the equivalent of an area of natural lands the size of a football field every 30 seconds.
This loss of natural habitat is a threat to human communities, threatening drinking water and degrading natural defenses against storms and floods, which are on the rise as climate impacts bite down.
Here's the good news: By protecting our lands and waters, we can maintain those lands as natural carbon sinks, keep fossil fuels in the ground, and avoid massive land-use change while providing crucial habitat for wildlife in a warming world. In the U.S., the Sierra Club is planting the flag for a major step toward this goal: The conservation of 30 percent of our natural lands and waters by 2030.
About 12 percent of American lands are currently protected—meaning development, logging, and off-road vehicle use is off limits, along with new oil and gas leasing. We are among the top five countries in the world that still have a plentiful amount of land in a largely natural condition. With the right agenda and leadership, the U.S. can conserve a meaningful portion of its remaining wildlife habitat and natural areas.
I know what you're thinking. Can this be done even if, come Election Day, the current administration—which, in the midst of a pandemic, hasn't dropped a stitch in its relentless attack on the environment and endangered species and is hell-bent on offering up millions of acres of public land to the fossil fuel industry for drilling and mining—remains in power?
Yes. State and local open space programs and parks nationwide can be expanded significantly. Such actions will have an impact, even if, at the federal level, we simultaneously have to engage in four more years of litigation to hold the former industry lobbyists running the Trump administration at bay.
Several states have already taken action based on what the science is telling us. Hawaii's Marine 30-by-30 initiative is committed to managing 30 percent of Hawaii's nearshore marine environment and protecting 30 of its watershed forests by 2030. In South Carolina, the Thirty-By-Thirty Conservation Act has been introduced in the state Legislature with bipartisan support.
And on Feb. 21, California state Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) introduced Assembly Bill 3030, declaring "the goal of the state to conserve at least 30 percent of the land and 30 percent of the ocean within the state by 2030."
Later this year, the parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity—the global agreement through which nations commit to protect wildlife, natural systems, and wild places—will convene to review and update the convention. The need to preserve 30 percent of our natural areas by 2030 if we are to turn back the specter of mass extinction is expected to be on the agenda. The voices of governors, mayors, tribal leaders, and state legislators will need to be heard to build support for this international 30-by-30 agreement.
In our own backyard, the 25-year-old greenbelt around the city of SLO and its emphasis on preserving wildlife corridors is looking more visionary with each passing year. The preservation of the 12,000 acres of pristine coastal lands around the Diablo Canyon Power Plant and implementation of the California Coastal Commission's vision for an OHV-free Oceano Dunes are key to this effort. Likewise for the passage of the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act and designation of a Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.
In other words, there will be plenty of opportunities for local and national engagement as the 30-by-30 campaign ramps up. Stay tuned.
Also: The Sierra Club is asking everyone to support the frontline organizations aiding the most vulnerable communities hit by the coronavirus. Critical funding and supplies are needed for those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Go to: secure.actblue.com/donate/covid. A hundred percent of your gift will go to organizations providing essential support and care to our friends and neighbors whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by this crisis. Δ