Author Archives: David Yarnold, President and CEO, Audubon

Smart Headlines for the Planet

Here’s the smartest headline we’ve seen in a long time: “It’s Climate Change, Stupid,” declares the cover of Bloomberg Business Week.

After a prolonged absence from the political debate, climate change and conservation are back on the national radar screen thanks to Superstorm Sandy’s appearance the week before the election.

Let’s just hope the lessons of Superstorm Sandy don’t fade along with the headlines of destruction and despair in New York City and New Jersey.

We all know that a single storm isn’t “climate change.” But Sandy wasn’t just a single storm. She was part of a growing and disturbing pattern, whether it’s called Sandy or Katrina or Snowmageddon or a nationwide heat wave that broke 3,215 high temperature daily records this past June.

In our grassroots campaign calling for an end to the partisanship that has paralyzed political action on conservation and the environment, the National Audubon Society and our Republican partner, ConservAmerica, asked you a critical question that was never posed in any of the presidential debates:

What should be the top conservation and environmental priorities for the next administration?

Whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, you responded from across the country.  Your answers offer a valuable roadmap for President Obama, the Congress and other elected officials.

No. 1. Promote the development of clean, renewable energy sources to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and foreign sources.

This was by far the most frequently listed priority. Debrah Roemisch echoed the concerns of many when she wrote, “Developing clean energy sources will help the environment, provide jobs and help us be independent—win-win for everyone except the oil companies.”

No. 2: Protect air, water and land from pollution.

“Clean air and water…Take the politics out,” demanded Corrine Carter of Prattville, Ala. In comment after comment, folks across the country expressed dismay that conservation—once one of the great unifying issues in America—has become a victim of drive-by partisan politics.

No. 3. Be cautious with the Keystone XL pipeline, offshore drilling and hydrofracking in environmentally sensitive areas.

“Drop forever the Keystone pipeline project and replace it with a national smart grid (a heck of a lot more jobs,)” wrote Mark Ford.

“Put a moratorium on fracking in the U.S.” said Rosann Strum of Bloomington, Indiana. “Stop deep water drilling.”

Many of you were very passionate on these issues. We believe our elected officials can find common sense solutions for well-managed energy development that both protects sensitive areas and helps meet America’s energy and employment needs.

Elected officials are going to be faced with difficult decisions on whether to allow drilling in the Alaskan arctic and on our coastlines, as well as how to regulate hydraulic fracking so that it does not endanger our communities’ water sources and wildlife areas.

No. 4: Protect national and state parks and open spaces.

“We need to restore and keep full protections for our wilderness, wildlife, national parks,” said Barbara Eaton of Allenstown, N. H., expressing the concerns of many respondents.

Just as Hurricane Katrina before her, Superstorm Sandy demonstrated the short-sightedness of draining, paving and building atop our natural storm barriers—marshes, seashores and other wetlands. Without the protections nature provided, the storms slam into populated shorelines full force with no buffers to slow winds or water surges.

No. 5: More environmental and conservation education.

Educating our youth to care for the communities and the planet they will inherit leave to their children was a recommendation repeated multiple times.

A strong common thread linked the environmental priorities Americans offered the next administration and Congress. In message after message, Americans of every political stripe said they were fed up with the do-nothing partisan politics that has infected virtually every environmental issue.

Ms. Eaton from New Hampshire summed up the real challenge for America’s elected leaders: “Both parties must realize that our Earth and wildlife are not battlegrounds.”

We also received many great comments from our Q and A with Felicity Barringer of the New York Times.

Linda from Idaho called it “a refreshing discussion on how caring for our environment should not be a partisan issue.”

She described the situation in her own state: “There are many Republicans in my red state of Idaho who deeply care about the health of the environment which they depend on for their livelihood, however, they are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution like children bullied in a playground.

“No matter what your political stance, you should be able to freely speak your mind about environmental issues you care about without being bullied and condemned.’’

Maybe now that the electioneering is over, the common sense conservation of our environment begin.

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CNN: Audubon and ConservAmerica “try and take the politics out of conservation’’

CNN spotlights the efforts of the National Audubon Society and ConservAmerica to “try and take the politics out of conservation and climate change.”

“I think the extremes on both sides have made that conversation almost impossible and in an election where the economy is front and center, it is hard for any other issue to break through,” David Yarnold, president and CEO of National Audubon Society told CNN. “It is really unfortunate. It is yet another example where Americans are out ahead of their leaders.”

“We want to take the issue back,” said Yarnold. “It is not left, it is not right, it is not center.”

Read the full story here.

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Conservation Builds Jobs

Jobs and conservation is not an either/or choice. But you wouldn’t know that listening to the partisan rhetoric the politicians have been slinging around Washington.

At a time when presidential debates are full of political jousting over how to create more jobs, our parks and recreation areas are providing millions of home-grown jobs in communities across America. And these are jobs that can’t be outsourced.

An added benefit: Most of these jobs are in rural parts of our nation where folks are struggling hardest to make ends meet.

A recent report by the research group Southwick and Associates found that conservation and recreation provide 9.4 million jobs across America and contribute $107 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues.

In fact, during the recession of the past four years when many businesses across America were struggling or failing, businesses that support outdoor recreation activities grew by nearly six percent a year as more and more Americans went fishing and hunting, birding and boating, hiking and camping, or just strolling and picnicking.

Even the most partisan politicians have to find it hard to complain about numbers like that.

Earlier this year a poll conducted by Colorado College and two polling firms—one Democratic, one Republican—asked residents in the six western states of Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and New Mexico whether wildlife areas, national parks and forests should be considered “an essential part” of their state’s economy. A resounding 91 percent said “yes.”

Our number one job at National Audubon Society is protecting America’s wildlife and wild spaces—for people as well as birds and other wild creatures. Our support of the Restore Act, which makes sure that fines and other money paid by BP goes to assisting Gulf Coast states in the aftermath of the catastrophic oil spill two and one-half years ago, was as much about helping people as helping  birds and wildlife and their habitat. A study by the Walton Foundation estimated the Restore Act would create more than 88,000 jobs along with the conservation efforts.

In absolute contrast to what the partisan crowd in Washington would have you believe, conservation and stewardship of the environment are job generators, even in the toughest economic times.

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Many Voices, One Vision for Conservation

“I’m a staunch conservative, not an environmental wacko.”

That was Gisele’s eye-catching opener when she joined our American Eagle Campaign conversation here on this website.

“If you stop a road project for the sake of a stupid blind spider, then I think you are an idiot,” she went on to explain. “But if you are doing something to endanger my hummers or kingbirds, swallows, northern cardinals, roadrunners, etc., then you will arouse that tiny environmental wacko that lives in me.”

I think Gisele has exposed the great fallacy of American politics today. The partisan rhetoric that has consumed the debate over clean air and water and protecting our wild spaces and wildlife has drowned out the voices of real America. Real America sees stewardship of our natural resources as a unifying force, not a dividing force.

“Conservation is a universal, worldwide shared language,” Andrea wrote from Colorado. “I recently took a trip to Canada to see whales.  I met folks from Japan, Scotland, Australia, U.K., Belgium, Canada and the U.S. in a span of five days.  All of us were there to see wildlife and shared a common bond that transcended politics, culture, color, race or creed.  How many things can bring a world together such as this?”

“The planet and its health concern ALL of us human beings,” wrote Jennifer, who identified herself as a political independent. “It is not a right or a left issue.”

Lois summed it up most eloquently.

“Conservation is for me a commitment to my children, my grandchildren and their children and grandchildren,” she wrote from New York. “We do not own this earth; we hold it in trust for those who come after us.”

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Welcome from Audubon CEO David Yarnold

How could you not be fed up with the partisan gridlock that has completely polluted an idea as priceless as conservation?

The spin-obsessed suits in Congress and in statehouses across the country have turned conservation from the great unifier that it once was into a wedge used to divide Americans.

It’s driven Republicans – the party responsible for creating much of our national park and refuge systems and the Clean Air and Clean Water acts – to the margins of public debate over environmental concerns.

It’s even made some Democrats hesitant to get involved for fear they’ll be labeled tree-huggers.

It’s time to try something new; time for Americans to take the fight for clean air and water personally. What’s at stake? Just the health of our families, our communities and protecting lands for our birds and wildlife.

If you don’t want to think about this as a fight to save the planet, fine; this is a fight to save the neighborhoods where we live and the open spaces and waterways where we play and work. With 470 chapters and 50 educational centers across the nation, plus offices in 21 states and in D.C., the conservation organization I lead works in communities from Texas to Connecticut, from Wyoming to Florida. We’re not outsiders; we’re your neighbors.

And because we know that the status quo is broken, the National Audubon Society, one of the most trusted conservation brands in America, has joined with ConservAmerica, conservation-minded Republicans who aren’t afraid to care. Together, we’ve created something altogether new, the American Eagle Compact.

This compact soars above partisan politics. It’s a commitment to work together and to move beyond the politics that divide us: Common sense approaches to care of our wild spaces and waters, a strong commitment to future generations, and a shared love of nature. Whether, for you, that’s a neighborhood park or a place far from cell phone connections, we can all take this personally.

I invite you to sign on www.eaglecompactusa.org  and to join the conversation at American Eagle Compact blog here. Your ideas, suggestions and insights will help us give the next president—regardless of party—a people’s conservation agenda that transcends politics and partisanship.

Let’s get back to the point where a President can say: “Preservation of the environment is not a partisan challenge. It’s common sense.” That was President Ronald Reagan.

We need an atmosphere in which our political leaders can:

  • Confront the realities and threats of climate change in our communities and our states and make sensible decisions on how to deal with it.
  • Develop energy in smarter ways that balance our energy and job needs with safeguarding our air and waters and avoiding harm to sensitive landscapes, vulnerable birds and wildlife and the health of all Americans.
  • Preserve and protect our wild spaces for the benefit of people and wildlife.
  • Protect America’s birds and wildlife, keeping common species plentiful and protecting and restoring those species imperiled by human activity.

There is no question that Americans care about the environment. Love of the outdoors is not based on party labels. Outdoor recreation is the fastest growing pastime in America. A new U.S. Department of Interior survey shows that nearly 40 percent of all Americans hunt, fish or watch birds.

Conservation should not be an issue of the left or the right. It’s common sense. You can call it caring for your kids’ legacy, caring for creation, caring because you respect your neighbors — all of those reasons ring true. But please take the time to show you care by signing the compact at www.eaglecompactusa.org

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