Nature’s lessons: A sportsman’s perspective on the way forward
The last year has raised a question many of us never thought to ask: What happens when we can’t attend concerts, movies or ball games? How do we react when bars and restaurants are shuttered, schools and churches are closed, and the U.S. economy succumbs to a once-in-a-century pandemic?
It turns out that we spend more time in nature.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on, millions of Americans have chosen the road less traveled. There’s been a resurgence in outdoor pursuits, from hiking and camping, to biking, to fishing and hunting. According to the Associated Press, “sales of hunting and fishing licenses are spiking in much of the U.S. Weary of being cooped up at home — and of masking and social distancing when they go elsewhere — they’re taking refuge in outdoor sports that offer safety and solitude.”
But while Americans of all ages are discovering — or in many cases, rediscovering — the wonders of the great outdoors, our landscapes and waters are feeling the impacts of human-caused climate change. Mother Nature, as we’ve learned time and again, is resilient. We’ve all seen weeds sprout, Lazarus-like, from the cracks in a concrete sidewalk. Yet even nature has its limits. When we ramp up global temperatures and turbo-charge extreme weather by injecting billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere on an annual basis, the results are all too predictable.
In the eastern half of the U.S, storms are growing stronger as heat waves become hotter and more dangerous. We’ve experienced a marked increase in torrential rains. Crops are drowning as flooding becomes more widespread. Sea levels are rising, and coastal inundation is increasingly common — all while invasive species march north with the warmer weather.
In the West, temperatures continue to rise. Our droughts grow longer and stronger. Snowpacks dwindle. Forests succumb to heat, drought and unprecedented insect infestations. Farms and ranches grow parched. Wildfires become larger and more extreme as wildfire seasons last longer. Dangerous smoke drives people back indoors at the same time our rivers heat up and our fisheries decline.
If we’ve learned anything at all over the last year, it’s that we can’t sit on our hands while a threat of truly epic proportions impacts the entire planet. Fortunately, there’s a path forward that protects the natural world at the same time it increases our resilience and strengthens our economy.
Congress is currently considering an infrastructure bill based on President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan — legislation that could help break our addiction to fossil fuels and support new jobs in the clean energy sector. If the bill survives the inevitable special-interest assaults and emerges more or less intact, it could:
- Limit our CO2 emissions, preserve our landscapes and waters, and safeguard the 5 million jobs in the $788 billion outdoor industry.
- Create millions more high-paying infrastructure jobs in wind, solar, energy storage, electrical transmission and EV charging.
- Reinvigorate America’s transportation sector by shifting from gasoline and diesel to electric vehicles.
- Pay unemployed oil and gas industry workers to cap orphaned oil wells and repair the damage from a century of boom and bust fossil fuel extraction.
- Reimburse farmers and foresters for vital natural carbon sequestration while funding a new Civilian Climate Corps.
We have an opportunity to learn from our recent mistakes, restore our crumbling infrastructure, address the massive threat of climate change, and provide millions more good paying jobs in the renewable energy sector — all while safeguarding the natural world that has helped so many of us endure the physical and mental toll of the pandemic.
We simply need our politicians to set aside their partisan acrimony for long enough to pass an infrastructure and climate bill.
If that happens, we can hire Pennsylvanians to cap abandoned oil wells, retrain West Virginians to work in the fast-growing solar sector, and help Wyoming coal miners embrace the untapped potential of wind power as we ensure America’s return to clean energy leadership.
Unfortunately, too many of our politicians have turned their backs on scientific expertise over the last few years, and our children and grandchildren have paid the price. Millions of school-aged kids just lost an entire year of in-classroom learning because we lacked a robust, science-based national pandemic response.
Now we stand at another fork. One route forward leads to more political posturing, more partisan gridlock and more broken dreams. The other steers us back towards sanity and sustainability. Congress should step up and pass bipartisan legislation to restore our failing infrastructure, cut CO2 emissions, put Americans back to work and protect our landscapes and waters. Let’s take to heart the lessons we’ve all just learned in the great outdoors.
Todd Tanner is a lifelong hunter and angler, an outdoor writer, the founder of the School of Trout, and the president of Conservation Hawks, a group of sportsmen and sportswomen focused on combatting climate change. The views expressed here are his own.