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National Parks Are Our Highest Incentives to Curb Greenhouse Gases

by Audrey Peterman

If a person with $51 billion in the bank suddenly lost it all and was down to zero, they might understandably have a mental breakdown. The world would hear about it, and a lot of people would have all kinds of things to say.

Now I just learned that humans need to go from 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases emitted every year to zero, to save ourselves from the effects of climate change. I didn’t know those numbers until I read a friend’s post on Facebook and started reading Bill Gates new book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.”

How is it possible that as a dedicated environmentalist, I wouldn’t already know those numbers? When I don’t know I wonder how many other people who don’t have the environment as their primary focus may not know either? But one thing is for sure – we cannot get there with only a few people working on it. This is fundamental societal and world change we’re talking about.

To put this shocking development in context, I took it to the national parks, the repository for my angst, and the source of my joy. All I could think was that we need more forests, more of the pure oxygen; the purest water protected in our national parks. And we need more people to see and experience them so that they know that level of protection is possible. (You can tell how delighted and free I feel in Rocky Mountains and Zion Canyon National Park in the images above.)

The people we’ve taken to Zion and Bryce and Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park first breathe out a long “wow!” at first sight. They find it hard to believe these places exist in the same world they inhabit day by day that looks used and bruised in comparison.

The 63 National Parks that form the nucleus of the National Park System epitomize the highest and best qualities of the environment on this continent. Even the 360 other units of the System including rivers, seashores, battlefields and historic sites in as pristine a shape as they can be maintained, do not have the superlative natural values that the national parks possess.

So it is obvious to me what we have to strive for. Losing 51 billion would be devastating, but the person could at least start over. Failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 51 billion tons a year could leave us without a planet we can live on.

I often think that one of the greatest misunderstandings that people have about the effects of climate change is that it's the planet that will suffer Wrong!! Planet Earth has been here for untold billions of years and it is not going anywhere. The planet changes, adapts to whatever is happening. We see it adapting now in burning and melting; shaking and groaning that dramatically affects our lives, but it remains in tact and given time, it repairs itself.. Climate change makes it more and more uncomfortable for humans to live here (look around you) and ultimately could make it impossible for us to survive. Breathing in flames instead of oxygen is not a good model for us.

The complete lifestyle changes that will have to be undertaken for us to escape the most drastic effects are going to be challenging. It cannot be accomplished without a national and worldwide reawakening. I believe that if people know what’s really at stake they will be inspired, if only to save ourselves. Sadly, too many people also believe that it will not happen in their lifetime and don’t seem disturbed by the idea of passing on devastation to their children and future generations.

But before we can embark on change at the scale required, we have to know. If we embrace the idea of sharing the national parks as the best that we can achieve in environmental protection, we could develop a coherent national view about what we are striving to accomplish. In this model every curriculum would focus on what could be done to restore the atmosphere in the surrounding community to the standard of our most pristine national park; how to restore the water to that standard and make it potable. Every scientist and communicator and artist and business person, every effort would focus on engaging the imagination and participation of every American to be a part of this solution..

This is my dream. Since I can dream it, I know it’s possible. I’m praying that the urgency of the moment will wake us up to the reality that our current relationship with nature and each other is broken. Our healthy national parks can help restore it all. I hope you’ll join me and work toward the fulfilment of this dream and necessity - from 51billion tons to zero. We have to start before we can get there.

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