Black and white landscape photo of Bryce Canyon National Park with text that says "We need your voice" and "speak up".
We need your voice Speak up for places like Bryce Canyon National Park. © Nick Hall

Policy

Speak Up For Nature: Your Guide to Environmental Issues in 2020

Follow this guide on conservation issues and act for your planet.

How to Use This Guide

Many of us want 2020 to just be over. While that's understandable, who says we have to wait until 2021 to move on?

There’s still time to rewrite what 2020 will mean for future generations – and if we do it right, this can also be remembered as "the year we took action to protect our planet."

It starts with building your understanding of top environmental and conservation issues. No, you don't need to be able to recite the Clean Water Act by heart.

Dig into the topics in this guide until you're comfortable with them. Then, take one (or more) of these actions...

5 Things You Can Do

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    Contact Your Elected Officials

    Local, state and federal, ask your elected leaders to support the things you care about. They are there to represent you, and they can't do it if you don't talk to them. Learn who's representing you in your state.

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    Call or Email Congress

    Weigh in on critical, timely issues. You can call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or send messages on a range of issues through our Action Center.

Black and white photo of a person holding an umbrella against a dark and rainy city street.
Climate Change Heavy rainstorms pick up pollutants off of surfaces like concrete and wash them into waterways. Climate change's rapid warming of the planet is leading to stronger storms and longer droughts. © Greg Kahn

Climate Change

The science is clear: the more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the warmer it gets. The warmer it gets, the higher our seas, the more intense our storms, the less ice in our Arctic and the more stresses on wildlife.

The good news? We know what we need to do.

It comes down to switching to cleaner energy like solar, protecting and restoring natural places that can store more carbon, updating our electric grid (which is older than the TV), and inventing the next great technology.

We put people on the moon. We made supercomputers that fit in your pocket. We are fully capable of doing all of these things.

We can do these things if we make it known that we believe in the promise of clean energy, not only to lessen the impacts of climate change but to support jobs and economic growth.

Take action and speak up for climate solutions today. If you're not in a state like Colorado or Ohio, where climate and clean energy are on the November ballot, follow our 5 Ways to Speak Up. 

Want to Dig Deeper?

Black and white photo of three bison walking through steam at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.
Our Nation's Land and Water Bison walk through steam on the edge of Yellowstone National Park's Grand Prismatic Spring. Our usage demands of public lands currently outpace the resources coming into them. © Jonathan Hey/TNC Photo Contest

Protecting Our Nation's Land & Water

Back in 1977, conservation and recreation made up 2.5% of the federal government's total budget. Today, it's less than 1%. This doesn't make any sense given that our need for healthy land, clean water and open spaces has dramatically increased as our population has grown. 

We’ve had some policy wins (thank you, Great American Outdoors Act), but our usage demands of lands far outpace the resources coming into them. National and state parks alone host around 1 billion visits each year.

That's hikers, hunters and anglers, but also people going to weddings, reunions and summer camp. Throw in city parks with the baseball games and soccer tournaments and visitor numbers go through the roof. 

Outside of being awe-inspiring, public lands clean our water and our air, and they protect us from coastal storms and heavy rains. They also have a massive positive impact on our economy. Outdoor recreation (often on public lands) generates $887 billion in annual consumer spending, directly supporting 7.6 million jobs.

It’s time to better care for the lands that care for us…but how?

There are plenty of ways to put money back into our lands and waters, if we make the right choices today. There's infrastructure investments that include wetlands and trees, not just levees and seawallsThere's tax reforms that incentivize private investment in restoring wetlands and forests or donating land for conservation. But, we need to let our elected officials know this is where we want our money to go. 

Take action and speak up for our protecting our lands and waters today. If you're not in a state like Colorado, Ohio, Michigan or Texas, where they're are on the November ballot, follow our 5 Ways to Speak Up.

Want to dig deeper?

Black and white photo of a doorway with multiple hurricane flood levels marked: Matthew 2016, Arthur 2014, Dorian 2019.
Natural Disasters A locally-owned bookstore in the Outer Banks town of Manteo, NC. As sea levels rise, hurricanes and even rainless windy days can cause the store to flood, forcing the owner to move books to higher ground. Healthy coastal habitat can reduce the risk of damage to nearby communities. © Julia Rendleman

Reduce Risks to Communities from Natural Disasters

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For the past several years, we've seen more frequent, more intense natural disasters ravage communities across the globe. How many “once-in-a-lifetime” disasters must we encounter…in our lifetimes? And what can we do about it?

Because climate change has made these disasters more intense, we have to prevent the worst warming from happening. And, we have to better protect our communities. To do both of those things, we can turn to nature as a part of the solution. Yes, nature!

Healthy forests filter water and can reduce the risk of megafires. Sand dunes, marshes and reefs naturally protect our coasts from the storm surge that arrives with a hurricane. You might be thinking, I see forests and sand dunes all the time, don't we have enough? 

One key word with forests is "healthy." We’ve suppressed natural fires in some forests, making them unhealthy tinderboxes. And while we may have some sandy coastlines, we’ve bulldozed our natural sand dunes and oyster reefs that were our first line of defense for our coasts. 

Nature can bounce back if we give it the chance. Just like we must invest in bridges and roads, we must invest in restoring forests and sand dunes. Nature IS infrastructure. Nature IS investment. Nature IS a solution.

And the best part is while nature reduces risk for us, it also cleans our water and air, gives wildlife a home and gives us great parks to visit. We need to ensure consideration of nature and nature-based solutions in community infrastructure projects. 

Take action and speak up for our natural infrastructure today. To get started, follow our 5 Ways to Speak Up. 

Want to Dig Deeper?

Black and white photo of the Escalante River winding through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Escalante River An aerial view of the Escalante River, the last free-flowing river in the West. The river flows through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was designated under the Antiquities Act. The monument has since been ordered to reduce its size. © Chris Crisman

Safeguarding Core Environmental Laws

Before Congress passed environmental laws in the 1960s and 1970s, our air was more polluted than ever and rivers had so many pollutants that they actually caught fire.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle decided that our health and the health of our natural places were basic values. They worked together to create laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and others.

Air and water in this country dramatically improved. Species came back from the brink. And generations of Americans have benefited.

Our country’s successful, bipartisan environmental laws are increasingly under attack. Many proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Clean Water Act have no basis in science and would erode the laws’ fundamental protections. 

Take action and speak up for core environmental protections today. To get started, follow our 5 Ways to Speak Up. 

Want to Dig Deeper?

Black and white aerial photo of a mountaintop coal mine in West Virginia, showing degraded land surrounded by forest.
Advancing Clean Energy Aerial view of mountaintop coal mining in West Virginia. In most parts of the U.S., new renewable energy is cheaper than coal. A transition to wind and solar would create new jobs while helping the planet avoid the worst effects of climate change. © Kent Mason

Advancing Clean Energy

Humanity has been burning fossil fuels (coal, petroleum and natural gas) at an accelerated rate for around 140 years. Scientists have known for many decades that these forms of energy emit greenhouse gases that are unnaturally warming the planet. In 2018, fossil fuels were responsible for 93% of human-caused carbon emissions in the U.S.

Transitioning to clean energies like wind and solar would make an enormous difference in helping the planet avoid the worst effects of climate change, such as extreme droughts, stronger storms and crippling coastal flooding. And yet, renewables make up less than 10% of the nation's energy mix. 

Over the last decade, the cost of solar has dropped 92% and wind turbines by nearly 50%.  In most parts of the U.S., new renewable energy costs less than coal. The time is right to make the switch.

To quicken and ease this transition, we need to make our power system more reliable by modernizing our century-old electric grid and advancing energy storage. And we need to put those turbines and panels in smart places. We don't need to knock down more forest and prairie; there's enough land already developed to meet our clean energy needs 17 times over.

The benefits of a clean energy shift go way beyond stopping climate change. The shift gives us cleaner air, more consumer choices and more jobs.

Take action and speak up for clean energy today. In some areas, like Columbus, OH, you can directly support clean energy on the November ballot. Otherwise, follow our 5 Ways to Speak Up. 

Want to Dig Deeper?

Black and white photo looking up at a power line tower from the bottom center.
Modernizing our Grid A transmission tower, part of the nation's physical power grid. Much of this grid is over 75 years old and was not created with renewable energy and the internet in mind. If we modernize our power grid, we can use energy more efficiently, ease the transition to cleaner energy, and create jobs. © Cameron Karsten

Modernizing Our Electrical Grid

Our electric grid is the physical network that sends power to our homes and businesses by connecting them in real time to energy plants scattered around the country. This network, much of which is over 75 years old, wasn't built for the technologies our climate-threatened future depends on, like scattered wind turbines and rooftop solar panels. 

It's also not efficient or reliable enough for our needs. It doesn’t take a natural disaster to shut the power off. Currently, something as small as a squirrel can cause an outage that ripples into a larger blackout. 

Technological advances like the internet allow utilities and consumers to relay real time info about energy supply, demand and cost. This is a trove of useful information but its value is held back by infrastructure older than the television. We can build a modernized electrical grid that turns that information into smarter, more efficient choices that let cleaner energy sources shine.

Small changes to how and when we use energy can save us money and make a huge dent in the carbon emissions that cause climate change. 

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates they need an additional $100 billion to fully modernize the grid. That's a lot of money, but those upgrades would save consumers $2 trillion over the next 20 years.

With the current grid causing economic losses of roughly $150 billion a year, there’s never been a better time to start. Let’s bring cutting-edge technology to the grid so it pollutes less, lowers costs for customers and creates jobs.

Take action and speak up for smarter energy today. To get started, follow our 5 Ways to Speak Up. 

Want to Dig Deeper?

Your Voice is Critical

If you have a voice, you have a choice. And together, our voices are powerful. Speak up for nature, and for us all.