We can ensure our kids and grandkids are left with a vibrant, equitable and healthy home, and can tell their own stories about how nature shapes and enriches their lives.
EACH one of us who lives here has a story about how nature has made our lives richer and our families happier. For some it’s regional food, a clean lake to swim in or a beloved urban park. Others might say it’s the ties to working farms, forests and ranches, or our magnificent public lands.
For centuries, our region has relied on the diversity and productivity of nature for our livelihoods, our sense of identity and our way of life. From native tribes who fished for abundant salmon, to 20th century growth fueled by our water, land and forest resources, to today’s high-tech boom that relies on our Northwest quality of life to attract workers, nature is at the heart of our prosperity and well-being.
This Earth Day, on Friday, we must seize the opportunity to ensure that nature continues to sustain us in the 21st century. As we collectively write the next chapter of our region’s history, we must answer the call to tackle the great challenges facing us, including growth, transportation, education, human health and our relationship with the natural world.
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From pulling invasive weeds to discovering the value of reusing and recycling household textiles and clothing, here are lists of events:
Rapid growth and increasing demands for resources, exacerbated by climate change, put our water, food, recreation, safety and well-being in jeopardy. Our growing urban environment is stressing Puget Sound to its limits. Record-breaking forest fires, drought and flooding are impacting communities and businesses.
Yet there is reason for hope amid these challenges. Just as nature has historically been at the core of our region’s foundation and prosperity, it can and must be at the heart of how we meet this new era. We already have powerful examples of how caring for nature directly sustains people and communities.
The last two years have each set a record for wildfire in our state, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, destroying homes and business, damaging our health, water resources and habitat, and, most tragically, claiming human lives. But we also have proof that the work of local forest collaboratives in Central and Eastern Washington is effective. Accelerating restoration and fire suppression safeguards communities, ensures the health and productivity of our forests and creates a wide variety of benefits for people and nature.
Our state’s rapid urbanization also presents a tremendous opportunity to make our region more livable through sustainable urban development that deploys natural solutions to manage urban runoff, protect Puget Sound and other waters, mitigate the effects of a changing climate and increase opportunities to connect personally with nature.
To turn the challenges of growth and climate change into opportunities, we must pursue solutions at a large scale. Across the region, we see innovative approaches that work. Now we must find the social and political will to roll these out in a big way.
For example, a diverse coalition has come together to restore critical floodplains, proving we can keep communities safe from flooding while improving natural systems, creating habitat for salmon and wildlife, and allowing more clean water to flow to Puget Sound. There are now a number of demonstrated successes, significant state funding and projects under way that will protect more than 25 communities across the state. This is an example of innovation, modeling and going to scale. Imagine the same thing happening with the toxic stormwater runoff that flows into Puget Sound.
As we solve at scale, we have the opportunity to ensure this work is done with equity and environmental justice as a priority. Underserved communities bear a disproportionate impact of environmental threats, but we can level the field and tackle these issues for all communities and people.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have the opportunity to lead the nation in tackling climate change. Our approach must be twofold: Limit carbon emissions and employ natural technology to adapt to changing conditions.
We are already pioneering natural solutions to climate change. For example, on the Washington coast, communities are investing in forest and river restoration that increases resilience in the face of climate change. The Legislature is serious about investing in forest health and community preparedness for wildfire and drought. And the floodplains work that protects water, habitat and communities also improves our resilience to changes in climate.
Not only can we do this, we must do this.
At pivotal times in our history, our best leaders have crafted both a vision and a strategy for how we work together to tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges. These leaders have inspired and compelled us to be our very best. We must work together as a community — with passion, joy, and determination — to tackle the significant challenges facing us today.
Together, we can ensure our kids and grandkids are left with a vibrant, equitable and healthy home, and can tell their own stories about how nature shapes and enriches their lives.