More Than Just a Pretty Place
Celebrating the centennial of a government agency isn't exactly the norm in America these days, but the National Park Service represents something special. It has taken what Wallace Stegner called "the best idea we ever had" and made it a reality -- a system of national parks that is both the envy of the world and the priceless birthright of every American. Sierra Club members were excited when the National Park Service was created in 1916, and today we're more than ready to celebrate this centennial. At the same time, though, we want to join the Park Service in using this milestone as an opportunity to think about what we want the next 100 years to look like for America's national parks, monuments, and historic places.
That was a recurring theme during an online discussion I had last week with National Park Service director Jonathan B. Jarvis, Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp, Latino Outdoors founder José González, and Sierra Club Board director Allison Chin. You can watch it here if you missed it. We covered a lot of ground, but a couple of themes stood out.
First, our national park system embodies not just our scenery but also our history. Director Jarvis talked about how the National Park Service has consciously chosen to speak more honestly about the Civil War, as well as the relevance of national historic sites such as Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church and Alabama's Tuskegee Institute. Although President Obama has designated some spectacular public lands as national monuments, he's also chosen to preserve important historic sites like the Pullman, César E. Chávez, and Honouliuli national monuments.
Second, history shows that we need to bring more democracy to our national park system. One hundred years ago, it was assumed that national parks were relevant only for a particular class of people, and that attitude has been frustratingly slow to change. That's why the work of leaders like Rue Mapp and Jose Gonzalez is so important, but we can't expect them to do all the heavy lifting. The responsibility also lies with established outdoor organizations like the Sierra Club. As José said during our discussion, America's public lands are "both a responsibility and a privilege." Every American deserves to enjoy them, and all Americans share responsibility for their stewardship.
How do we bring all kinds of people to the parks? One approach is outreach like the Obama administration's Every Kid in a Park program, which seeks to get every fourth-grader in America to visit a national park this year by offering a free annual pass. Do that 12 years in a row (which is Director Jarvis's goal), and you've reached an entire generation. Another approach, though, is to bring the parks to the people -- what we call "Nearby Nature." A great example is the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. John Muir once hiked in these mountains, and today they're within 90 minutes of 15 million people in the Los Angeles Basin.
So let the celebrating begin -- for all Americans.
January 21, 2016
America's Ready for 100
Time, tide, and climate disruption wait for no one. Just yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA announced that global temperatures last year reached their highest level in 136 years of record-keeping. There's only one rational response to news like that -- cut climate pollution as fast as we possibly can. That means not only pushing back against fossil fuel projects but also expanding and accelerating our development of renewable energy. As Buckminster Fuller put it, we need to "build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." That's where the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 campaign comes in. We know it's possible for the United States to power itself with a new model of 100 percent clean energy -- but it won't happen fast enough unless we set and meet some ambitious goals. Right now, the most effective way to do that is for cities, businesses, and local communities to commit to renewable power.
The good news -- the great news -- is that we have a powerful tailwind. Solar prices have fallen 80 percent in recent years. Wind prices have fallen 60 percent. In several regions of the country, clean energy is already cheaper than coal and gas and nuclear power. Renewable energy companies employ four times as many Americans as the fossil fuel industry does, and investment in the U.S. efficiency and renewable sectors is robust ($70 billion in just the third quarter of 2015). What's more, regardless of how worried Americans might be about climate disruption, they are broadly supportive of more wind and solar power. Polls like this one show that even Republicans are strongly in favor of accelerating the development of clean energy.
And why wouldn't they? The advantages in terms of national security, public health, and energy savings are undeniable. Stanford scientists calculate that the transition to 100 percent clean energy will save the average family over $200 dollars per year in energy costs and another $1,500 per year in healthcare costs. And I guarantee that nobody whose last name doesn't rhyme with joke is going to miss oil spills, mercury poisoning, fracking earthquakes, or methane leaks. How do I know we can get cities to commit right now to 100 percent renewable energy? Because we're already doing so. Already, 15 U.S. cities, including San Diego and Grand Rapids, Michigan, have declared they will go all-in on clean energy. And three of them, Burlington, VT, Greensburg, KS, and Aspen, CO, have already achieved that goal!
That's great -- but we can and must do even better. The American people are ready for clean energy, so let's give them what they want. We can start by getting 100 American cities to commit to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable power. Visit our Ready for 100 website to find out more. And if you live in a city, here's a tip: The U.S. Conference of Mayors is having its winter meeting this week in Washington, D.C. What better time to let your mayor know that you support 100 percent clean energy?
Michael Brune, Executive Director Sierra Club
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