Speaking Up for Our Lands and Waters
Advocacy is one of the most important ways we can protect nature for future generations.
“I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
In July of 2013, Malala Yousafzai delivered her speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations. Her words focused on human rights and the importance of equality and education. But they also speak to the natural resources that both people and nature rely on, which have no voice of their own, and which it is our job to protect and defend.
In mid-October, thought leaders gathered at the New Founders Conference here in Chicago to discuss the importance of advocacy and how technology can make it easier for people to speak up and share their voices. Representatives from MoveOn, the Women’s March, and other groups were in attendance. It was inspiring to see so many different organizations uniting and sharing ideas that will shape the way we advocate for both people and nature.
During our panel discussion, the conversation focused on the environment, and why now is a more crucial time than ever before to protect it. The truth is that we depend on our Earth for so much: fresh water, food, energy, and places to recreate. But there are barriers to protecting the natural resources on which all life depends. Our environment is a collective resource, which means there are many stakeholders who must take responsibility for it and agree to collaborate and create widespread change. In addition, we have to help people recognize the value that nature provides, especially if spending time in natural areas isn’t part of their daily routine.
At The Nature Conservancy, one of the ways we’re working to break down these barriers is by getting a wide range of stakeholders, including elected officials, to our preserves across the state. Our strong science tells us that people and nature can thrive together, and that protecting the environment is good for both. Through trips to places like our Nachusa Grasslands preserve near Franklin Grove, visitors not only get to see the beauty of these native landscapes and the incredible plants and wildlife that call it home, but they learn that prairies help clean our air, filter our drinking water, and fight the effects of climate change. For example, each year, the amount of carbon that Nachusa Grasslands sequesters is equal to the emissions of 200 cars.
Another way we’re overcoming obstacles to environmental protection is by mobilizing our elected officials and other stakeholders in bipartisan campaigns around major natural systems, such as the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Because these incredible resources straddle state and political party lines, we all share a common goal in ensuring they’re protected. For example, when funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) was threatened earlier this year, Conservancy chapters across the Great Lakes joined forces to educate our members, the general public, and our elected officials about how much this program provides for our lakes and the people who depend on them for fresh water, food, and jobs. We reached tens of thousands of people through our combined social media networks, many of whom wrote letters to their senators regarding GLRI. The good news is that today, GLRI is fully funded at $300 million for both 2017 and 2018. This is thanks to many advocacy campaigns and efforts conducted by organizations, non profits, and community groups around the basin.
To avoid irreparable damage to our Earth, we need to make significant progress on our biggest threats—climate change, habitat loss, the unsustainable use of our natural resources—in the next five years. The sooner we start, the more progress we can make, and that progress begins with speaking up and speaking out. Every day, decisions are made at the local, state, and national levels that affect the health of our lands, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. As Congress considers different legislation regarding the protection and management of our natural resources, you can make your voice heard. Contact your representatives about why nature is important to you. To stay up-to-date on the most current legislation, sign up for our newsletter. Because our lands and waters have no voice, we must be the ones to speak up about their importance to both people and nature. The future of our planet depends on it.
Michelle Carr is the state director for The Nature Conservancy in Illinois.