By Audrey Peterman, Earthwise Productions, Inc.
As someone who has been privileged to visit more than 180 places in America’s National Park System, plus scores of national forests and wildlife refuges, I am overjoyed by the Biden-Harris administration’s proposal to conserve 30 percent of our country’s land and oceans for the enjoyment and sustenance of the public.
Their goal of accomplishing this by 2030 may seem distant, but it almost makes me tearful to recall the meetings called by Florida Gov. Bob Graham at the turn of the 21st century to find ways to get more lands protected and meet the needs of our exploding population.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how desperately people need access to nature. I have the beauty of such stupendous places as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Everglades National Park imprinted on my soul, so I can draw upon those memories for comfort and inspiration as we ride it out.
It is my abiding desire to make sure that all Americans get to see these national treasures that are protected “for the benefit and enjoyment of this and future generations,” as the archway into Yellowstone reads. But I am also grateful for the network of state and local parks around the country that may be more easily accessible.
Parks nurture our physical and mental health, and doctors around the country are prescribing walks in nature and time spent in the outdoors as a way to minimize some of our most chronic health issues, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
As advocates for connecting all sectors of the American population to parks since the 1990s, my husband Frank and I have reveled in the looks of wonder and amazement in the eyes of children and adults alike as they take their first walk on the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park, for example.
Along with other community leaders, we’ve helped raise the profile of the African American Jones family that owned Porgy Key in Biscayne Bay since 1897, and who were instrumental in the creation of Biscayne National Park. I can never forget the tears of shock that sprang to the eyes of Athalie Range, Florida’s first black head of the Department of Community Affairs, when we took her there in the 1990s and shared that story.
The twin perils of a deadly pandemic and accelerating climate change make it urgent for Americans to protect our environment to protect our people.
Time and again, development in Florida has destroyed communities, turning historic Black neighborhoods into expensive high-rises and gated communities. Many politicians have prioritized growth over the needs of community members, even going so far as limiting input and access in the democratic process. It’s time to counter the scales that developers have long tipped in their favor.
We welcome President-elect Joe Biden’s commitment to support climate action and conservation efforts. Biden’s climate plan includes a focus on protecting biodiversity, slowing extinction rates and helping leverage natural areas to reduce climate impacts.
That goal is shared by major national and global advocacy groups, including the League of Conservation Voters, The Nature Conservancy and the National Parks Conservation Association, which aspire to protect 30% of our land and oceans by 2030.
The 30×30 campaign is a wonderful opportunity for the U.S. to be a worldwide leader for conservation. Local, state and national leaders have a part to play in global conservation and I encourage them to show their support for this bold goal.
With so much trauma, loss and unaccustomed confinement caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are looking to the great outdoors to find solace. Transformation is on the horizon.
We look forward to the day when parks and green spaces are readily accessible in every neighborhood, and every Floridian has an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the sustainable growth of our communities.
Audrey Peterman is President and Co-founder of Earthwise Productions, Inc., and in 2014 co-launched the Diverse Environmental Leaders Speakers Bureau. She lives in Fort Lauderdale with her husband, Frank.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state. It is supported by a grant from the Environmental Defense Fund.