Reflections from Judy, October 2020
There’s a lot of learning to be had of late.
This week, the national Land Trust Alliance kicks off their remote conference—the most attended conference in their history. The workshops are going to cover a wide array of topics including climate change, communication strategies, and community conservation.
If you’re curious about the schedule, you can view it here.
I also wanted to share American Farmland Trust’s webinar series focused on “smart solar siting” and agriculture. While focused on New England, there are many transferable concepts that you and your land trust might appreciate.
The webinars reflect a wide array of perspectives and partnerships—ranging from Vermont Law School and the Acadia Center to The Nature Conservancy, solar developers, and Maine Audubon.
They note: “Smart solar siting removes unnecessary barriers to solar projects that are in the public interest while providing oversight for projects that will have community or natural resource impacts. It is built upon data-driven analyses that consider the inherent trade-offs associated with ground-mounted solar and the differing values of stakeholders in order to reduce conflict and achieve greater public support of renewable energy siting.”
If we are going to conserve lands and waters for generations to come, we will need to partner at the local, regional, and state-wide levels to encourage policies that bolster natural climate solutions and accelerate transitioning off fossil fuels to renewables.
It’s time for conservation groups to join partnerships around energy conservation as well. Not only will policies that assist in weatherization and energy transition help slow climate change, but they will also help reduce the amount of land needed to provide that energy, while creating more resilient and robust communities and landscapes.
Let’s remember all those who are grappling with the tremendous losses associated with the fires, floods, droughts, and storms. It’s been a challenging time, and we will need each other as we head into 2021. Climate change is ramping up extreme weather. It’s up to us to slow it down.
Reflections for land trusts, September 2020
I hope you are doing okay. Given all we are facing, as well as those grappling with extreme weather, it’s been challenging, and my thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones, homes, and animals. Like many of you, I also think about the millions of wildlife who have perished. It almost goes without saying how much I (and I’m sure you, too) appreciate the first responders, neighbors helping neighbors, and the journalists who are reporting on these events.
Indeed, the year 2020 is something many of us are looking forward to forgetting—yet it is also the wake-up call we knew was coming. We’ve known about climate change for over 100 years; we’ve seen the writing on the wall.
I thought you might appreciate this article that examines what’s happening out West; it’s a snapshot of how a changing climate is changing our landscapes, and I quote:
“Most of the truly unprecedented extreme weather disasters we’ve seen in recent summers throughout the Northern Hemisphere—the floods and heatwaves and droughts. Most of them…have been associated with these resonance [wavy jet stream] events,” [Dr. Michael] Mann said. “And they are getting more frequent because of human-caused planetary warming.”
Long associated assumptions of ecosystem regeneration are now having to be re-examined.
Kerry Kemp, a forest ecologist for the Oregon Nature Conservancy, studies forest resiliency, or the ability of forests to come back after wildfire or other major disturbances. For new trees to grow in the forest, living ones must be nearby to act as seed sources. And then once those seeds start growing, they’re more susceptible to drought than established trees. “The resilience of these forests is likely to be lower when there’s a mismatch between the current climate and the climate niche for tree regeneration,” Kemp said. “As the climate changes, a given location may no longer be capable of supporting tree regrowth the way it could when temperatures were lower and weather patterns were different. In some parts of the West, it’s already happening,” she said.
That’s why land trusts are stepping up to the plate—helping people connect the dots and take action.
I find it inspiring and hopeful. These land trusts are leading and taking risks by learning new communication strategies, rethinking what it means to conserve land, and doing so by working with people from all walks of life.
They are demonstrating, as Thomas Merton once said, that:
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”
Land trusts have always been in the business of hope. Now we need to be entrepreneurial in spirit, too. To do so we will need to be creative, empathetic, compassionate, research-based, practical, collaborative, and above all, determined with a resilient spirit.
Thank you for your partnership as we face the reality that conservation work as we knew it 20 years ago is not the same today, nor will it be the same 20 years from now. You are part of a new breed of those who care and who are in the midst of redefining what it means to conserve land and water for generations to come.
No one said this was going to be easy. But check out the examples below of land trusts taking action. There’s much to share and learn.
Reflections from Judy, September 2020
What a month it has been. I’m hoping this email finds you, your family, and friends healthy—with the support you need to weather the emotional turmoil many of us are facing as this fall (literally) intensifies. I’m thinking of all those grappling with the reality of fires and storms happening now, too.
For me, the last month has been a bit of a challenge to keep going with “work as normal.” I tend to run on compassion, empathy, and the urgency to act while there is still time. Yet all around us, and throughout the country and world, it’s been grim. Among the need to elevate racial justice, the Covid-19 crisis, the acceleration of climate change with its floods, fires, tornados, and hurricanes—and the economic ramifications of all three—things are rough.
But that’s why we do this work, together.
In times likes these, our support for each other and our collective efforts to find the bright spots and solutions to climate change is more important than ever. We are experiencing a time when providing each other space to adapt and respond to the research and situations—while also helping hold each other accountable to the urgency of action—is central to our success as people who care.
To make headway, we’ll need to continue to inspire those around us to see new solutions and ways of thinking to address climate change. That will mean rethinking how natural climate solutions, energy conservation, and renewables can work together to build strong, resilient landscapes, communities, and economies.
It will take integrated thinking and a willingness to face what will happen if we don’t act decisively, now.
The good news is that all over the country, land trusts and people like you see this imperative and are responding in a manner that no longer looks at this challenge in isolation. If we act soon—locally, statewide, and as a nation—natural climate solutions may account for up to 21% of the solution here in the U.S. Renewable energy and energy conservation will need to address the other 79%.
As always, I have selected a variety of articles that you can share with friends, Facebook followers, and organizations you care about. Try selecting one and chatting about it when you are at work, or even on a walk with a friend. Read them all, skim them, or just focus on the topic that is most meaningful to you now. They are available on my website, too.
Reflections for land trusts, August 2020
There’s been some encouraging conservation news of late, with bipartisan support for the Great American Outdoors Act. According to The Hill, President Trump is expected to sign the bill which would provide $900 million, annually, in federal oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks.
This funding is critical to our nation’s parks and conservation lands. The bill provides $1.9 billion annually for five years for national park maintenance. As of 2018, the maintenance backlog consisted of nearly $12 billion worth of deferred repairs; the repairs have been delayed because of other budget priorities.
Yet the irony is that the funding comes from oil and gas at a time when climate change has become the most significant threat to land and water conservation ever. As cited in The Hill article, “Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) this week also expressed concern that funding could dry up at times when there are fewer oil and gas revenues.”
He raises a good point. It will mean conservation groups will need to put the urgency of transitioning to renewables from fossil fuels over the desire and necessity for the funding. This will involve finding other sources of funding, even as the new funding initiative is met with applause.
Being honest with ourselves
Instead of thinking of this a long-term conservation funding stream, we will need to view it as a short-term opportunity to catch up on the conservation work needed as we accelerate efforts to transition off fossil fuels within the next 15-20 years. National Geographic cites a report that suggests this is possible.
“To pay the bill’s hefty price tag, Congress is tapping revenue from the fossil fuel industry. Though the new law has been cheered by conservation groups, it fails to address either the modern crisis of climate change or the impacts of the West’s growing recreation and tourism economy on wildlife. In this way, the Outdoors Act exposes the gaps between conservation and climate activism, while providing a grim reminder of the complicated entanglements of energy, economics, climate—and now, a pandemic.”
Natural climate solutions, of which land and water are part, will be important pieces of the solution. But they will not be nearly enough. We have to be honest about that. It would be too easy to mislead our communities and conservation supporters into believing that the pace of climate change work will meet the critical goals without a rapid transition to renewable energy.
Kate Kelly, the director of public lands for the Center for American Progress, who supports the bill, notes, “The funding model needs to be re-examined and reimagined.” Moving forward, addressing climate change and biodiversity loss requires acknowledging that the crises are inextricable. “The climate and conservation communities haven’t always coordinated, and that needs to change,” Kelly says. “They’re two sides of the same coin.”
Yes, climate change and conservation are intertwined and complicated. Yes, we will have to make sure we keep the end goals in sight and do the work that needs to happen—before the lands and waters we are working to conserve are lost to the ravages of climate change. That’s why your leadership will be needed, more than ever.
Reflections from Judy, July 2020
It’s hard to focus on climate change with Covid-19, the need for greater racial justice, and economic challenges. Yet, focus on it we must—as people actually want us to keep working to slow it down.
That’s why this newsletter is designed for you to skim.
As tough as it is out there, there is good news: land trusts, conservation groups, local governments, and people throughout the country are realizing they need to be part of the solution to address climate change.
Increasing numbers of Americans want greater action on climate change. (See the interactive Yale Climate Opinion Maps where you can assess how the people in your county(s) feel about climate change.)
If you are interested in conservative messaging and perspectives around climate change, you might like the podcasts by republicEn.org.
For a good example of how conservation groups can think holistically, check out Maine Audubon’s ongoing webinar series on climate change, including energy, community, and policy responses.
They note that “climate change is the most significant threat to Maine’s wildlife and habitat. Impacts to wildlife and habitat due to climate change under a ‘business as usual’ scenario—in which Mainers continue at the same levels of consumption and emission of fossil fuels—are particularly severe.”
That’s true all over the country.
So they are doing something about it. We can all take heart and inspiration.
Reflections for land trusts, July 2020
I hope this newsletter finds you healthy and with some time to connect with those in your neighborhood. I’ve been spending time with my 88-year-old neighbor talking about plants, weather, the need for greater social justice, and climate change.
She was a Republican for most of her life. As a former nurse, she cares deeply about people, her community, and her church. That’s not to say that with all of the stress and anxiety of Covid-19 we have forgotten about climate change.
No, we both express dismay about the accelerating pace of climate change. We see it in the summer droughts punctuated by torrential downpours. We see it with the different bird migration patterns at our feeders. And, we see it with the crazy cold snaps followed by rapid warming. Yes, “upstate New York” is finding that our trees are stressed by invasive bugs, lack of snow cover during cold snaps, and high temperatures with summer drought.
Indeed, I love trees. I always have. It was one of the criteria I had for selecting a college (much to my parent’s amusement). Seeing the trees under stress is a challenge for me.
That’s why I’m heartened to see land trusts starting to connect the dots around climate change. The timing is critical—and people are looking for answers.
According to the Yale Program on Climate Communications’ recent report, a record-tying 73% of Americans think global warming is happening. Only one in ten Americans (10%) think global warming is not happening. Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it isn’t by a ratio of about 7 to 1.
We need to help folks envision the solutions. The good news is that natural climate solutions could play a big role (up to 21% in the U.S.). Yet, we, as land conservationists and people who care about farms, woodlands, water, and wildlife, will also have to encourage energy conservation and renewables to meet the pace, and scale, of the other 79% of actions. And land trusts are starting to do that, too—I’ll share more examples of that in the next Land Trusts Taking Action issue. In the meantime, see if there is inspiration for you and your land trust in the examples below.
Reflections for land trusts, June 2018
This summer is starting off with some really crazy weather—something we know climate change is and will continue to exacerbate. That’s heartbreaking for those in harms way, including community members and the countless animals that can’t out-run these storms and fires.
The good news is that there are land trusts who are realizing that slowing down climate change is critical to conserving the lands and waters they have pledged to protect.
I often use the analogy that worrying about eradicating invasive species, without a strong emphasis on slowing climate change down, is a bit like worrying about a rotten sill in your house when it’s on fire. We need to get the fire under control before it demolishes the entire house (in this case, habitat and species diversity, agriculture, and our communities). Both are important, but the window is closing on slowing climate change down enough to avoid species disasters (and agricultural failures).
Today I’m featuring a small land trust in rural New York who has created a climate section on their website. They are learning as they go, and they’ve realized that while their path is evolving, helping people connect the dots is something they can, and should, do.
If you know of a land trust working to slow down climate change please shoot me an email. I’d love to feature them. Thanks for caring. We need all hands on deck.
Reflections from Judy, June 2020
I’ve had to push myself these past few weeks to focus on land conservation and climate change in light of what else is going on. Like so many of you, I’ve been reading, learning, and trying to lend my voice for collective change to end racism and discrimination.
One of the articles I found helpful was from the Smithsonian. It’s an extraordinary compilation of videos, podcasts, and websites chronicling the history of anti-black violence and inequality in the United States. It helped open my eyes, relearn what I had known before, and find ways to make real and lasting change.
Using the lens of inequity and the need for justice and fairness could help you think about how you tackle climate change in your region and community, in addition to considering the ecological and agricultural impacts.
Climate change, fossil fuels, housing, and how people experience the impacts of extreme weather is wrapped in inequity. I know that’s nothing new to most land conservationists, but perhaps now, with a renewed focus on the Black Lives Matter movement and racial justice, there may be a faster, broader, and more meaningful desire for change.
If we come together to find ways to act—ways that support humanity both near and far, and the ecological and agricultural places we care about—we will have taken a significant step in our pledge to conserve land and water for generations.
Leah Thomas recently wrote, “Environmentalists are familiar with discussing endangered species and conservation, but less familiar with advocating for black and brown lives; however, we can change this. We can become intersectional environmentalists by understanding the ways these issues are linked. Regardless of how disconnected from nature we’ve grown, we aren’t separate from it. And I question whether environmentalism can be truly effective if it continues to ignore those that are most vulnerable in our ecosystem and society.”
Now, with a renewed focus on the need for sustained racial and economic justice, there is a chance to embrace climate action, community conservation, and conservation in general as part of the solution. To do so must be a sustained effort built on trust and listening. We need to be authentic. We have to “own this”; we can’t treat it like a trend.
What gives me hope on days when it feels so hopeless is that I know you’re there with me. Thank you for that. Together, we will be the change we wish to see.
Reflections for land trusts, June 2020
This week has been a difficult week and today is another sad, and challenging, day. In the face of escalating violence against people of color and those responding with a call for change, I trust you stand with me in our fight against racism. It isn’t enough to be against racism, you must be actively anti-racist. It must be authentic, heartfelt, and sustained.
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson quotes Toni Morrison in a poignant article for the Washington Post, entitled “I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet.”
‘The very serious function of racism…is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.’
Johnson goes on to say, “As a marine biologist and policy nerd, building community around climate solutions is my life’s work. But I’m also a black person in the United States of America. I work on one existential crisis, but these days I can’t concentrate because of another.
People of color disproportionately bear climate impacts, from storms to heatwaves to pollution. Fossil-fueled power plants and refineries are disproportionately located in black neighborhoods, leading to poor air quality and putting people at higher risk for coronavirus…Look, I would love to ignore racism and focus all my attention on climate. But I can’t. Because I am human. And I’m black. And ignoring racism won’t make it go away…”
To quote Rebecca Ruiz, in her article “6 ways to be antiracist, because being ‘not racist’ isn’t enough“:
“One cannot strive to be antiracist without action, and Kendi says that one way to act is by supporting organizations in your community that are fighting policies that create racial disparities. You can volunteer for or fund those organizations. Kendi also recommends using one’s power or getting into a position of power to change racist policies in any setting where they exist—school, work, government, and so on. The point is to commit to some form of action that has the potential to change racist policies.”
I’ve always defined inclusive conservation as working to bring more people to conservation, and more conservation to more people, in a way that is meaningful to them. It’s conservation that brings people’s voices together and elevates a shared sense of community, including those who are often left out or excluded.
Climate change is the same. Slowing down, and adapting to, climate change must also mean committing to see the big picture and recognize the often outsized impact that extreme weather and fossil fuel production places on marginalized people and communities.
Climate change, and our commitment to humanity and the places and communities we love, requires taking action. Personally and as organizations.
We need you to stand and lead, more than ever. It’s not easy. It’s exhausting. It can feel risky. But the alternative is unacceptable.
I appreciate it more than ever.
Reflections from Judy, May 2020
I don’t know about you, but spring feels more welcome than ever this year.
We’ve been blessed with an unusual variety of birds at our feeders, and although we have directly experienced the whacko jet stream (and the frosts), most of the garden has survived.
With the Covid-19 virus still forefront in most of our minds, talking about climate change might seem odd. But it can be done. You just have to meet people “where they are,” and provide stories that show positive change.
The key is to relate these stories (see below) to what is happening locally, and what you and/or your land trust are doing to address climate change.
That can be as simple as reposting one of the articles below with a bit of pre-text. Or, it might mean helping the conservationists in your community rethink the importance, and impact, of renewables.
Collecting your own climate stories will be helpful as well—those in which your land trust isn’t calling the shots, but rather helping to elevate the observations and actions of others who people can relate to, and trust.
That might mean farmers, ranchers, landowners who have lived in your community for generations, fire chiefs, Scout leaders, doctors, and game wardens. People who make up the fabric of your community.
Climate change messaging and engagement is based on connecting—and connecting with a purpose.
I’ve selected a variety of articles to help you share your love of place and the changes you know we need, with those you care about.
Just one note of caution. Please don’t oversell the natural climate solutions and therefore make people think that energy conservation, and renewable energy, aren’t as critical as we know they are. We need all three. In a big way. And land conservationists can help people realize that it will take all three to make a difference.
Let me know what you think. Thanks for all you are doing to help conserve the lands and waters we love—and slow down climate change.