US must show leadership in combating climate change and protecting our outdoors

June 8, 2017

While the White House backs away from the Paris climate accord and the United States leadership role in addressing climate change, we are now charged with taking up the mantle of leadership on climate change. This time is too important for us to acquiesce to Washington’s failure to lead. If the “grass tops” won’t lead, then the “grassroots” must. Many Governors and Mayors are already leading with a commitment to uphold the emissions goals of the Paris Agreement, and we need to show our support for them as well as encourage the ones who have not yet committed to do so.

As the oldest conservation and recreation organization in the United States, the Appalachian Mountain Club with work with our 350,000 constituents and the 54 million people in the region we serve to engage generations in grassroots leadership on the challenge of climate change.

The Paris agreement is an unprecedented international effort for nearly 200 nations to work together to roll back the effects of climate change. This group of nations hopes to slow climate change by substantially decreasing the overall carbon emission rate; codify the temperature rise limit to 2 degrees Celsius in the coming decades; provide hundreds of billions in funding to poorer nations to adopt alternative energy; and foster a new green economy worldwide.

While some of our leaders look to divide us on the Paris agreements’ virtues,  there is far more that we share in common belief. I applaud the leaders of the states and cities who recognize humanity’s shared interests and remain committed to rolling back climate change.

Here are seven concepts that can unite us in our efforts –- catalyzing different beliefs, but working toward one purpose of a better life for humanity and our planet

  1. Outdoor Citizenship: We envision a world of Outdoor Citizens with healthier and happier people, and broader engagement in local, national and international work. A world where there is greater mindfulness and connection with our surroundings. And a global community comprised of generations of conservation stewards.
  2. Outdoor Cities: Today, over 4 billion people across the world live in cities — and that figure will rise by 1.7% annually for the next 10 years, as people young and old increasingly migrate to urban areas, drawn to diversity, innovation, opportunities, quality of life and convenience. This is a time for cities to come together, to lead the world in global stewardship, and advance a more cooperative, cleaner, and prosperous world.
  3. Innovation and the New Economy: the challenge of climate change presents an opportunity for us to innovate, invent and spur a new economy. This new economy will include innovation in renewable energy, human-powered infrastructure, enhanced energy storage, and outdoor recreation applications. Looking through the lens of digital alone, we can expect 1 trillion devices by 2025 [1]. By harnessing digital tools, we can drive environmental engagement, navigate the outdoors, promote a sharing economy, and collect and exchange decision-driving data to better measure energy consumption and promote conservation.
  4. Conservation: If we have any hope for the health and wellness of humanity and our planet, we must work to embrace conservation. Over the next quarter century over 3 billion people will join the middle class in the developing world (at a rate of 140 to 170 million annually).[2] This new group of consumers will demand more power, more goods and more services. One can only imagine the devastating effects on the Earth with a ten-fold increase in carbon emissions driven by this new world of super consumers. Conservation needs to underpin the new economy, foster sustainable use of our resources and mitigate against the effects massive consumption increases can have on climate.
  5. A Next Ecology: The tremendous latent power of our natural areas is often overlooked and underestimated. Our respective communities will need to leverage every opportunity they have to support resiliency. While the outdoors’ aesthetic qualities and natural beauty are evident, some of the most important properties of our natural and wild areas are as our natural defenses. As leaders, we can double our efforts to tap into a next ecology to support, augment and improve the capacity of these natural areas to foster resiliency and mitigate the effects of climate change.
  6. Soft Power: Here is a real opportunity to work with developing nations to help them achieve greater prosperity while embracing sustainable economies and sustainable futures. Borrowing from former Kennedy School Dean Joe Nye-coined “soft power,” this humanitarian outreach strategy will help to lay the groundwork for better diplomacy, build trust beyond boundaries and unite us in our collective efforts against climate change.
  7. Clean Air, Clean Water and Healthy Living: Finally, our work to reduce air pollution will have positive effects on our health, our quality of life and the vitality of our living planet.

I think about this world my daughter — who just turned one — is inheriting. This is our time and legacy to do the right thing for our children and our planet. Robust grassroots leadership is needed to roll back climate change. We can tap into our collective intelligence to adopt best practices; invent the next generation green and sustainable economy; fuel a grassroots movement by embracing a global outdoor citizenship and citizen responsibility; empower cities to take the lead; and work to unlock the potential of the outdoors for everyone. Humanity and our planet need our commitment, full-throated support, and immediate action. Our future depends on it.

[1] McKinsey & Company

[2] Brookings Institution The Unprecedented Expansion of the Global Middle Class; Homi Kharas; February 2017