A comment I am hearing more and more often is how do I choose the most important issue to focus on. There are so many issues, most of us get overloaded and sometimes we become less effective. To help you through this process, I have listed some of these issues here and have pointed you toward ways to help address the ones that resonate with you the most. You don’t have to support them all, but I encourage you to take the actions you can.
Global climate change is our biggest short and long term problem from a security, economic, health, and humanitarian perspective. To combat it, we need to dramatically reduce our use of fossil fuels. This is slowly happening, but we need to speed up the process. 350.org and the Sierra Club are two of the most effective groups pursuing the goal of reducing atmospheric concentrations of carbon to below 350ppm in our atmosphere. It is now at 400ppm. You can help by insulating your home, using less fuel in your cars, and supporting local, state, and federal initiatives to move off fossil fuels and toward alternatives like wind and solar.
Population – The growth of our global population is the major cause of most of our environmental, health, and safety challenges. We need to continue efforts to educate women in all countries because this results in lower birth rates and lower degradation of our planet. Consider supporting groups such as Global Fund for Women and Women for Women International.
Fracking – Although modern drilling and fracking techniques are viewed as the “key to short term energy security”, they can have significant local impacts on water quality and emit a great deal of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The oil and gas industry needs much tougher oversight to reduce methane emissions and damage to water supplies, and larger escrow accounts to repair the damage where it does happen. Currently there are many efforts to ban this practice near population centers. Sierra Club and 350.org are pushing hard to reduce the use of fracking throughout the country.
Air Quality – Coal fired power plants and our internal combustion vehicle fleets contribute particulates and chemicals to the atmosphere that we all breathe. We need to move away from coal now and then wean ourselves from oil and natural gas over time unless the technology improves a great deal. Insulating our homes and offices, improvements in vehicle emission reductions, and the increasing use of mass transit will help us achieve the goal of cleaner air. Better enforcement of the Clean Air Act on a state and federal level will be key to this process.
Water Quality – Improving air quality will help a great deal to clean up our waters (see above) because the contaminants from burning fossil fuels precipitate out of the air and fall to the ground where they are then washed into our water bodies. We will also need to reduce the amount of fertilizer that washes off our backyards and farmland. In addition to using less fertilizer, we will need to capture rainfall in rain gardens or other impoundments and allow it to filter into the ground. We need to create storm water utilities to manage our storm water in a cost effective manner. The Izaak Walton League of America, Trout Unlimited, and Ducks Unlimited are all working toward restoring and protecting the water quality of our rivers and lakes.
Endangered Species – As our population has grown, we have removed the habitat needed for many species to thrive. I have noticed this right in my own backyard, where I no longer hear quail and no longer see meadowlarks. We need to preserve much more habitat in all areas of the planet including our own backyards. There needs to be a balance, so we all can survive. The World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy work on preserving and restoring habitat around the world. Local Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists can help you decide what you can do right in your own backyards.
Take-a-way: There are many things that you can do to help save the places you love. There are steps you can take at the local level and there are groups you can support to effect change on a national level. The trick is to not get discouraged and to keep focused on what is important to you.