Hope, as the saying goes, springs eternal. When the smoke finally cleared from January’s unprecedented political turmoil and the pandemic-driven craziness of the recent past began to fade, many of us who work in the $788 billion outdoor recreation industry peered into the future and convinced ourselves that 2021 was going to be far, far better than the year just past. Hope, which had proved elusive for so very long, was once again close at hand.
Who could blame us? With the political fires tamped down (and vaccines widely available, and the economy poised to recover from 2020’s pandemic-induced collapse), it seemed reasonable to expect that Washington, D.C. would pick itself up, dust itself off, vow to learn from its recent mistakes, and begin to re-engage in the proud American tradition of representative governance.
In retrospect, things actually started out pretty well.
President BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE’s American Jobs Plan focused — at least in part — on the single largest threat to our landscapes and our economy: climate change. It appeared that after a long series of blunders, missteps and missed opportunities, we were once again starting down a path illuminated by facts and science.
Hope — hope for our kids and grandkids; for our landscapes and waters; for a saner, more prosperous future — was in the air.
At the time, though, few of us realized that the powers-that-be in our nation’s capital would decide to move forward with a far narrower bipartisan infrastructure bill; a bill that eliminates most of the clean energy and climate action envisioned in the American Jobs Plan. Nor did we anticipate that the U.S. was about to get absolutely pummeled by a number of truly horrific — some might even say “biblical” — climate impacts.
You probably heard that the Pacific Northwest was baked by a heatwave so severe that it seemed, at least in a historical context, almost impossible to believe, and that the Western U.S., which was already suffering from a combination of drought and high temperatures, has experienced an outbreak of massive wildfires, and that smoke from those climate-tinged fires darkened skies all the way across the country in New York and Virginia.
It’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that while Michigan was suffering from severe, climate-influenced flooding, Oregon salmon were dying in too-hot rivers, coastal shellfish were being cooked alive in their shells, and Montana’s famous trout streams were experiencing unprecedented closures due to low water levels and rising stream temperatures.
Here in rural Montana, where fishing and hunting are a way of life and families frequently plan their summer vacations around river rafting and camping trips, smoke permeates our daily lives. At the same time, drought and extreme high temperatures — it was 88 degrees last night at 11 p.m. where I live near Glacier National Park — wreak havoc on our landscapes. And it’s not just Montana. Western states from Oregon to Arizona have seen the unholy impacts of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change on a far-too-frequent basis.
Which leaves those of us who are passionate about our woods and waters, and who rely on the outdoors for some or all of our income, in a world of hurt. We need Congress, which has apparently rededicated itself to a Jekyll and Hyde pattern of dysfunctional governance, to pass a reconciliation package that actually addresses the huge, systemic climate impacts that are trashing our world.
As a lifelong angler and hunter, and a business owner who depends on clean water and healthy landscapes, it would be devastating to see the Senate kick the can down the road yet again on climate change.
Our Senators should set aside their partisan enmity long enough to agree on legislation that promotes clean energy, kickstarts an immediate transition to electric vehicles, and reduces our CO2 emissions. The world needs America to lead on climate change, and that won’t happen unless Congress sends strong, substantive climate & clean energy legislation to President Biden for his signature.
Looking back, it seems as if our hopes for an infrastructure bill — or at least an infrastructure bill that addresses the dangers of a warming planet — were misplaced.
In a year when an angry mob attacked the Capitol, and when anti-vaccine sentiments have precipitated a massive resurgence of the pandemic, no one should be surprised if Congress embraces partisanship and inaction.
That doesn’t mean, though, that we should accept a status quo where homes burn, farms flood, and our politicians choose self-enrichment over their duty to the American public. It’s 2021, and climate change is the single largest threat to our future prosperity, not to mention our kids and grandkids. Congress should pass legislation that cuts our CO2 emissions and begins our transition to clean energy. Anything less would be unforgivable.
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.