September has proved huge for climate change

J.P. Leous

It’s been a big month for climate change. “YOU LIE!” you say? Well, if you don’t geek out on environmental politics all day (in other words, you are a relatively normal person) you may be under the mistaken impression that healthcare is the only game in town these days. But don’t be fooled. September has seen several game-changing developments on the climate front. Here’s a quick recap of some highlights from this month so far:

  • President Obama, on the 45th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, proclaimed September National Wilderness Month. This is a big deal for folks here at The Wilderness Society for many reasons — considering it was one of The Wilderness Society’s own presidents who wrote The Wilderness Act of 1964 and that the spirit behind it guides our work. It’s also a great reason to examine why wilderness is such a big deal in the climate debate: these special places store vast amounts of carbon, and if managed properly can store even more; so they are a key part of the carbon pollution solution. Forests, grasslands, wetlands and other open spaces also provide valuable services — from cleaning air and water to serving as critical habitat for countless species. As the planet continues to warm, communities and critters (and let’s not forget plants) will rely on healthy wildlands as they adapt to changes in temperature and precipitation patterns.
  • Key Administration officials also understand this critical link between our wildlands and climate: on Sept. 14, Interior Secretary Salazar announced the Interior Department’s first-ever coordinated strategy for addressing climate change. Here’s why this is a big deal: a federal agency managing one-fifth of our nation’s landmass and nearly 1.7 billion acres on the Outer Continental Shelf (that’s a lot of public land and water!) just laid out a game plan (aka “Secretarial Order”) that focuses significant resources on addressing climate change. The Secretary will create new centers and partnerships to respond to climate change in regions across the country as well as a network of landscapes that will help the wildlands and wildlife I mentioned above respond to changes in climate. And it gets better: understanding that Interior can’t address climate change alone, the Secretarial Order calls for coordination across agencies — from the EPA to the Department of Defense. (If you are national security buff, check out this report on the dangerous impacts unchecked climate change will have on the U.S.) Now comes the heavy lifting of putting these ideas into practice, and you can be sure that The Wilderness Society will be there providing expert scientific and policy analyses to help guide these important programs’ development.
  • The good news doesn’t stop there. A day later the Administration proposed rules that would increase fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks by approximately 25 percent, the equivalent emissions of 42 million cars. Not only will this increase our energy security (by conserving 1.8 billion barrels of oil, we’ll be less dependent on foreign sources) and cut nearly a billion metric tons of dangerous greenhouse gas emissions (which will make our communities and public lands healthier), but it will also save you money — on average, more than $3,000 over the life of the program (more efficient cars mean you need to buy less gas), (Not-So-Fun Fact: burning one gallon of gas produces about 20 pounds of CO2.)

The Administration is keeping the ball rolling on climate — great news for all of us. To celebrate, why not get outside and go for a hike? Saturday, Sept. 26 is Public Lands Day, with events happening all across the country. It’s a great opportunity to remind ourselves just how important it is that we work to protect these amazing places and all they provide. Check out fun events happening in your neck of the woods, from trail restoration to a fall hike with friends.