These are momentous times. Our planet hangs in the balance.
We see accelerating impacts of climate change in deadly megafires, droughts and flooding across the world and here in Washington. Global science reports show us the loss of species to extinction is accelerating wildly, with profound implications for people and our ecosystem. Meanwhile the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the deep inequities that have wracked society for generations. These crises are inextricably connected — foreseeable and requiring a global response.
But this is also a time of tremendous opportunity. The first Earth Day resulted in the passage of landmark environmental laws. Fifty-one years later, we have our own historic opportunity to rebuild the bedrock environmental laws protecting clean air and clean water, and to build intersectional climate and environmental solutions that center our most impacted neighbors while energizing our communities and economies. We can learn from Indigenous people who have stewarded Earth’s lands and waters since time immemorial.
The new presidential administration is rejoining international efforts to confront the climate crisis and embedding a commitment to environmental justice in all its work. Bold new infrastructure measures will invest trillions of dollars in renewable power, energy efficiency and electrifying transportation.
In Washington state, the Legislature is poised to finish its 2021 session having made remarkable strides for climate action, as well as taking steps to address the impacts pollution and climate change have on front-line communities — those living closest to sources of pollution and facing disproportionately high health risks due to generations of racist zoning policy, exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
Both the House and the Senate have passed the HEAL Act, SB 5141, which incorporates environmental justice principles and practices into the functioning of state government. The bill is on its way to the governor’s desk. This is a significant step toward ensuring all Washington’s people can breathe clean air and drink clean water. The Legislature is committing strong levels of funding for restoring our rivers and estuaries, and has committed to fully funding a new Forest Health and Wildfires program that provides for training, forest treatment and community preparation for fires.
These state programs will set Washington on a clean and prosperous path for the future, investing in urban, rural and tribal communities from Spokane and Yakima to Grays Harbor and Seattle. The Nature Conservancy is committed to working with the broadest coalition for a hopeful, equitable and sustainable future.
For Earth Day 2021 — this Thursday — we’re asking you to reach out to your elected representatives and urge them to support bold action to address these issues. While each of us can make green choices in our own lives, to fix the problems facing our planet requires action at the scale of the problem.
Let your state and federal elected officials know that you care about our planet and the people who live here. Tell them to think big and take immediate action to address environmental justice, to care for clean air and clean water, and to confront the climate crisis.
This is a generational window of opportunity. With the stakes this high, there’s no time for delay and no time for half measures. Please speak up for our future.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.