Reflections for land trusts, May 2020
I hope you are doing okay as we grapple with the Covid-19 crisis. I’ve spent some time gardening, finding a sense of renewed hope by planting things on beautiful spring days.
Here in our county, in upstate New York, our Covid cases continue to rise. We are far from out of the woods, and I know it’s a challenging time for all of us.
I bet you’ve noticed that people are looking for images of beautiful landscapes, a sense of calm, humor, hopeful stories, and ways to connect with others who care. Stories about music bringing compassion to patients on ventilators.
Stories of special places being conserved to save the lands people love—and now need—as never before.
These lands have become our sanity, our refuge and sense of community, and the places where we can share in the little things of life.
Yet they are increasingly threatened by climate change.
Despite the news stories of a smog-free Los Angeles, or the once-again-visible Himalayas because of reduced pollution, the lands that we love need us more than ever. And it’s OK for you to share stories now about climate change that emphasize solutions; people need to see positive change. I just wouldn’t be posting stories about “silver linings” that come at the cost of people’s lives.
There is an opportunity, however. We have an opportunity as conservationists to help focus on energy conservation, clean energy, and land as part of the climate solution as we pull out of the Covid-19 crisis. Your land trust can lobby for energy incentives just like it can lobby for land protection funding. Why is that? Because climate change is going to make or break your land protection work; it is core to your land trust’s mission.
You and your local land trust are key to those climate change solutions—scaled to a level to authentically make a difference in the next 10–12 years.
Just like so many on the frontlines of the pandemic, we can’t afford to think rigidly. We must be creative. We have to recognize that land conservation and land management are central parts of the solution (we hope 21% here in the U.S.) but that without energy conservation and renewables, we will lose what we love.
Together, we can help people and communities become more resilient—and more hopeful—just when we need it most. Land conservationists are leaders and problem solvers. We can multitask and understand nuances.
This climate challenge is made for us. That’s why I’m leaning on you now.
P.S. If you have heard about the film Planet of the Humans, please be aware of how much misinformation is being conveyed. It’s alarming that when we need to come together and save the land and water, by reducing climate change, a film would come out that is so factually skewed and outdated. The fossil fuel folks are loving it. The climate scientists and climate/conservationists are trying to sound the alarm and convey the truth.
Reflections from Judy, April 2020
I hope you are doing okay. I know how trying this is—and my heart goes out to all of those who are facing the virus firsthand.
Like you, I am “sheltering in place” and going for walks. I feel blessed that I can take those walks which, once again, clarifies the need to create more opportunities for people to experience nature, and the outdoors, close to home (even in rural areas).
Several years ago I spontaneously wrote this poem, when I was up in Maine, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the past month:
I go to the quiet place, the place where the fern grows and the wind is damp
Where the moss is soft and the light glows
I go to the ocean, the marsh, the meadow, and the woods.
I go to breath. And to absorb.
We need these places for our sanity, our sense of belonging, and our community. In times of disruption, the farms, trails, woodlands, and sounds of spring provide us with a foundation from which to ground ourselves. And sometimes it’s just too much.
That’s why I’ve been waiting to send out my twice-monthly climate eNews until now. I wanted to give you some time to adjust, if that’s possible.
Climate change is not waiting for us… but we have seen what a difference as little as a month can do to clear air pollution and refresh landscapes.
It’s important to catch our breath. To adjust and absorb this time we are in. To find the emotional space to embrace what we have and what we have lost.
Given all we have been grappling with, and the confusing and unnerving world we now live in with Covid-19, I decided to “hit pause” to let you, and me, settle a bit before we started talking, and thinking about, inspiring action to slow down climate change once again.
The virus has provided me with a chance not to slow down (it’s been crazy busy) but to value what is here, with us, today. I value you. I need to know that there are others out there who are going to breathe deeply and continue to help people connect the dots and prioritize climate solutions while there’s still time.
With Earth Day upon us I believe we must refocus and recommit to inspiring those around us so as to renew their commitment to the lands and communities they love, the places they to go to heal and connect, and the wildlife that depend on us for their survival.
Thanks for caring.
Reflections from Judy, March 2020
This has been a good week to ponder climate change. You probably heard that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere recently reached an all-time high.
To quote the article from NOAA: “In fact, the last time the atmospheric CO2 amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago, when temperature was 2°–3°C (3.6°–5.4°F) higher than during the pre-industrial era, and sea level was 15–25 meters (50–80 feet) higher than today.
Carbon dioxide concentrations are rising mostly because of the fossil fuels that people are burning for energy. Fossil fuels like coal and oil contain carbon that plants pulled out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis over the span of many millions of years; we are returning that carbon to the atmosphere in just a few hundred years.”
Obviously, for those of us who follow science, and believe conservation needs to reflect sound science, this is bad news.
The good news is that land trusts have a unique role to play.
Because of our pledge to protect land and water in perpetuity, there’s often an expectation that we will help do something about this. And many are. They are working on natural climate solutions—as it might contribute as much 21% of the solution if we act quickly.
That leaves 79% of the solution wide open.
Unfortunately, too many places are NIMBY (not in my back yard) about renewables—they don’t like the look, they fear the perceived impact (and don’t compare it to what climate change is doing, and will do), and they don’t think it is compatible with conservation. As a result, they advocate it should only be on rooftops or parking areas…
Poorly designed renewables are bad news, true. But they don’t have to be. Instead, we can help encourage positive installations and help shift the paradigm by explaining that natural climate solutions and renewables are part of the solution to vibrant conservation far more often than not. It’s an opportunity for conservation leadership.
Reflections for land trusts, February 2020
I’m starting to see some momentum out there. Land trusts across the country are hosting conversations about climate change and what can be done about it. They’re focusing on natural climate solutions as well as energy conservation and renewables.
That’s good news given that scientists are racing to figure out why a giant glacier in Antarctica is melting so fast. Add to that the growing evidence that extreme wildfires threaten to turn boreal forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources, and the increasing stress on pollinators, as climate change contributes to widespread declines among bumblebees across continents.
And the urgency to move off of fossil fuels is getting greater. Just yesterday the news broke that we’ve significantly underestimated the methane released from fossil fuels. We can’t afford to shrug that off.
Helping people who care about land, water, history, and a sense of place to understand the urgency, and the causes of climate change, is central to our success as conservationists. That’s why one of the best things land trusts can do is to talk about climate change—and how it’s impacting the places that people know and love.
Yet we have to be solution-based or people will give up.
As with any communication strategy, continued messaging that connects to shared values is critical. That’s why land trusts are including climate change in their publications, social media, and outreach efforts.
They’re featuring articles that infuse climate change into common conservation topics like farming, habitat restoration, and water conservation, to help readers understand that this isn’t a fad—and that the problems and solutions are ongoing in ways they can relate.
But we have to be honest. Let’s make sure folks understand that natural climate solutions are part of the puzzle—and that we are going to need to ramp up energy conservation and renewables if we are going to slow down climate change enough to save what we love.
I’m hoping that your local land trust will find these and other examples inspiring—and start ramping up solutions-based stories of change. In the meantime, thanks again for everything you are doing to slow down climate change. This is a case where we must lead together…because it’s going to take all of us.
Reflections from Judy, February 2020
It’s been a challenge selecting articles to share with you over the past month. There’s been so much coming out about climate change and its impacts on land, water, and communities that I could send out a newsletter weekly.
(But that might be overwhelming, so I’ll spare you.)
Instead, I’m sharing the following articles with you in the hopes you will find them of interest when you consider how to talk about climate change, the role of natural climate solutions, and the changing role of solar.
I want to acknowledge that I understand when conservation-minded people (maybe you?) get frustrated when they hear me, and others, say how important it is for those of us who care about land, water, and communities to also promote responsible solar, wind, and geothermal—and energy conservation—in addition to land conservation.
The truth of the matter is that natural climate solutions—while critical—won’t be nearly enough (at 21% of the solution).
This point was driven home by recent reports of climate models running “very hot”; causing increased concern that the race to slow down climate change and get off fossil fuels isn’t going nearly fast enough to save what we love.
That means people like you can help others who care about land conservation understand why it’s important to get the communities where we live to ramp up renewables.
It’s a paradigm shift for many. I know. Together we can find ways to ensure that renewables are thoughtfully designed and compatible with the natural landscape at a pace that will save the very essence of what matters.
Australia is still burning. The oceans are acidifying. Farmers are going bankrupt from flooding damage. Birds are dying. The glaciers are melting faster than expected…
The climate is shifting… fast, and too much is at stake not to shift and adapt our approach. That’s why I appreciate your partnership. We need each other as never before.
Reflections from Judy, January 2020
The climate change news is coming at us fast and furious. It’s now now regularly cited in the news, in reports, as part of risk assessments, and in economic impact studies.
The insurance industry is paying attention. Articles like “Why climate change is the new 9/11 for insurance companies” are appearing more often.
So is the investment industry, with BlackRock (the world’s largest fund manager) announcing it will put sustainability at the heart of its investment decisions.
Land trusts and conservation organizations are starting to consider how to “walk the walk” in relationship to their investments, too. And many are realizing that conserving land is more critical than ever—and it won’t be enough to conserve the species and farms we know and love.
Remember that, optimistically speaking, natural climate solutions in the U.S. are currently believed to be able to contribute 21% of what we need if we significantly reduce fossil fuel usage in the next 10–15 years. The paradigms are shifting on what that means. For example, in some parts of the country, soils may be a more stable carbon sink than trees, given climate change impacts on forests.
Farmers, forest owners, wildlife managers, religious organizations, research organizations, and community members are recognizing that the time to act is now. We are going to need to be creative. Let’s find funding for forest carbon projects with smaller parcels, state-wide incentives for elevated solar projects on farmland at the community level, and soil regeneration efforts. Let’s find funding for people to insulate their homes and purchase electric cars, trucks, and tractors.
I suggest we also recognize energy conservation is a big part of the solution, too—and we collectively work to inspire incentives to help people and businesses recognize just that. It can be part of your land trust’s mission to join coalitions (as they might lobby for land protection funding) working to reduce fossil fuel usage to save the lands and waters they have pledged to conserve.
It takes time for policies to actually be implemented (beyond the stated goals) and that means a great deal of effort and new thinking. Because we don’t have a lot of time if we want to stay below the 2 degree Celsius level and avoid massive extinctions. That’s why I’m counting on you.
Reflections from Judy, New Year’s 2020
I wanted to do something a bit different in this eNews.
Let me start by wishing you Happy New Year. As someone who cares about slowing down climate change, it’s a tough time in our lives right now. Things are pretty bleak. So, “Happy New Year” may sound a bit shallow—but I say it with hope and conviction.
This eNews, therefore, features messages of change and hope. I’m not featuring Greta Thunberg nor the many youth that are stepping up to create change, because you know about them.
Rather, I wanted to share some articles and a short video from, and about, those folks with whom you may be less familiar.
Natural climate solutions are part of this work. We need to continue to conserve lands important to our communities and the plants and animals who depend on them for food and habitat. Ramping up the protection of these lands will continue to be a central path toward a more sustainable future.
However, as you know, natural climate solutions are currently thought to provide about 21% of the climate solutions in this country, if we reduce fossil fuel emissions rapidly over the next 10–15 years. That means we will need to embrace energy conservation, renewables, and community solutions as part of our conservation work.
The good news is, as the people below note, change is possible. We can change. We are changing.
It’s up to us to convey to those in our communities that the climate solutions are possible and we can, and must, act quickly. We can do so with grace, compassion, and authentic partnerships. And people like you, and land trusts across the country, are starting to do just that.
This is why I want to wish you a happy, and hopeful, New Year. Thank you for caring and for spurring action in your own ways.
Reflections for land trusts, December 2019
I’m hoping you are able to take some moments over the next several weeks to spend time outside.
It’s important for us—those of us who care deeply about the lands and waters, and all things living in and around them. If you’re like me, you find solace in things in life that are often overlooked—the sounds of birds shaking snow off their backs, the splashing of water droplets bouncing off rocks in a stream, the wind in the trees.
This issue of Land Trusts Taking Action focuses on partnerships, selling carbon credits, communication efforts, and coming together. The land trusts are large, small, and in-between.
I selected these land trusts to show you how size and scale isn’t the issue so much as finding your place and starting to take action.
Talking about climate change is a major part of this effort. To be effective we need to help people connect the dots in a manner that focuses on what they care about and offer climate solutions.
On a side note, I’m finding it a challenge to come up with articles about land trusts working to slow down climate change. It would be great if you could explore how your local land trust could increase the search engine optimization for stories so that people can find articles on the webs.
Better story-reach will help with building momentum and growing awareness that land trusts are part of the climate solution.
Thank you for caring and best wishes for a peaceful holiday.
Reflections from Judy, December 2019
I hope you had a good Thanksgiving. I have to say, I’m thankful for people like you who care about taking action to slow down climate change.
This past week came with more clarification about the need to get off fossil fuels as fast as we can. As Forbes Magazine reports, “We are in an unprecedented era, at no point in human history ha[ve] carbon dioxide levels been this high, presenting concerning questions over what lies ahead…
This week the World Meteorological Organization published their yearly report on the ‘State of Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere,’ compiling data up to 2018.”
You and your local land trust can help people understand that natural climate solutions are important, but they are likely to play a less significant role (based on the current estimate of 21%) if we don’t slow down climate change fast by getting off fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency, and ramping up renewables.
I’m a bit concerned that those who love land and water may be lulled into a feeling of security if we only talk about natural climate solutions—and that would be a disastrous place to be.
There’s good news, of course. Farmers continue to be part of the solution to climate change. People are talking to their kids about climate change, Greta is having a real impact, and Audubon’s interactive report is helpful in visualizing our climate future.
As we go into the holiday season, let’s remember that we need each other. Working on climate issues can feel lonely. Often it’s work that we do on top of everything else we already have committed to doing. But it’s a big part of the work that will conserve and benefit the lands and waters, and communities, you love for generations to come.
Reflections for land trusts, November 2019
I’m witnessing a growing interest in what I call “elevated solar.” This is solar designed in a manner that allows for large animals, vegetables, and crops to be grown in and around the solar panels (as shown in one example below). Land trusts are starting to express interest given that it’s compatible with a variety of agricultural practices.
The panels are lifted up (often starting at seven feet) and spread farther apart—both on the same “rack” and between racks—to allow more sunlight to hit the ground.
This means that the solar density isn’t as high as it would be if there were continuous banks of solar panels. However, it gives farmers and ranchers more options.
In Massachusetts, there is added incentive to allow this type of solar to be competitive with traditional ground-mounted solar. From what I understand, this is critical.
If we want to slow down climate change to a level that will avoid massive extinctions of plants and animals, we will have to move off fossil fuels and ramp up our use of renewables.
Remember that natural climate solutions are important and can, with the current estimate, provide up to 21% of the solution. Andrew Bowman of the Land Trust Alliance lays out a clear call to action to help make it possible.
If you want additional information, check out the widely-referenced, peer-reviewed study published last year in Science Advances from The Nature Conservancy and 21 institutional partners. They found that nature’s contribution could equal 21% of the nation’s current net annual emissions by adjusting 21 natural management practices to increase carbon storage and avoid greenhouse emissions.
The news that climate change is picking up speed isn’t good, but we have choices. We are going to need to use all the tools we have. In addition to direct land conservation and related climate management, elevated solar gives us another tool in our conservation toolbox. It’s an idea that land trusts can help spread and—just as land trusts advocate for conservation funding—we could advocate for incentives to conserve additional land and make this type of solar possible, too.