As legislative and administrative solutions to climate change are being debated in Washington D.C., I encourage Congress and the Biden Administration to step back and consider the larger challenge so that we accurately define the problem, and intelligently craft solutions to achieve our goals.
The big picture is our need for ecological sustainability, of which climate change is just one of four dimensions. The three other key legs of the ecological sustainability stool in the United States are controlling invasive species, managing range and forest lands, and striking the right balance between extensive and intensive food production. Unless we take a comprehensive approach to all four of these challenges, we will lose the ecosystems that feed us, keep us healthy, and provide the natural resources we depend on for our physical and psychological well-being.
Invasive species are organisms like kudzu, Burmese pythons, and spotted lantern fly that are non-native to the US and that create economic, environmental or human health problems. They cost the U.S. economy in excess of $130 billion per year and are at least partially responsible for the plight of more than 42% of the organisms on our endangered species list. Congress and the Biden Administration should promptly take the following actions:
The most dramatic manifestation of our historically inadequate management of our range and forest lands is the ever-increasing threat to lives, air quality, property and ecosystems from wildland fire. The summer fire season is now a year-round fire threat. The intensity, size, duration and frequency of wildland fires continue to worsen. To save lives, property, and our range and forest ecosystems:
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Finally, we need to appreciate that industrialization of agriculture has brought the expanded use of machines, technology, infrastructure and chemicals that allows us to dramatically increase per-acre yields, so that more food is produced in a smaller area using less water, which leaves more land in natural condition for wildlife. There are ecological trade-offs between modern intensive agriculture and the growing interest in more “natural” foods produced “free range,” and without fertilizers, pesticides or other chemicals. Such less intensive food production requires more land cleared and therefore less habitat for fish and wildlife.
Only a holistic approach that addresses climate change, invasive species, forest and rangeland management, and a thoughtful approach to agriculture will allow us to achieve ecological sustainability for generations of Americans to come.
Scott Cameron, former acting assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget at the U.S. Department of the Interior and former principal with the National Invasive Species Council, is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.