Conservation for a Cooler Planet
As scientific evidence for human-caused climate change continues to accumulate, so does the advice about ways to reduce your own carbon footprint and help ease the planet’s burden. Insulate your home, install solar panels, ride your bike, drive less, and turn off those lights!
We’re pursuing lesser-known—but powerfully effective—methods for addressing climate change. Our climate conservation projects help grow trees, build parks and greenways, and conserve wildlife habitat. Creating parks and trails can make us more energy efficient by changing how and where we live. And conserving watersheds and natural lands can help people and wildlife adapt to the changing climate.
“We have invested a lot of effort to understand how land conservation can help mitigate climate change,” says Jad Daley, Trust for Public Land director of the Climate Conservation Program. “Across the country, we’re realigning our work to address the climate challenge.”
Our climate change work falls into three categories.
Forests and other natural lands have enormous potential to clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide. U.S. forests alone absorb 15 percent of the CO2 generated in the country every year.
In northeastern Louisiana, we’re helping to capture CO2 by recreating the “American Amazon” of the Lower Mississippi. Cleared decades ago for farming, this area, now part of Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, is being replanted to absorb more than 3 million tons of CO2 over the next 70 years. That’s like taking 626,000 cars and light trucks off the road for an entire year.
We’re also partnering with GreenTrees, a leading carbon project developer, and the National Wildlife Federation to use this reforestation model across a 2-million-acre area. This work will capture millions more tons of CO2, provide critical habitat for the Louisiana black bear and migratory songbirds, and help contain the floodwaters that have devastated local communities in recent years.
Across the country, humans and wildlife are having to respond and adapt to climate shifts already under way. In some regions, drought threatens overstretched water supplies; other places are experiencing too much rainfall and unprecedented flooding, as warming oceans create more volatile weather.
We’ve identified a dozen “adaptation landscapes”, areas where conservation action is needed to protect natural resources, human communities, and wildlife habitat from the effects of climate change. Protecting river valleys, wetlands, and streamside forests helps reduce flooding. Conserving the land around important watersheds helps ensure clean drinking water. And keeping coastal areas undeveloped combats erosion and reduce the impacts of rising sea levels.
Wildlife, already suffering from human actions, face new challenges for survival as their habitat alters or shrinks. In Montana, we recently completed what may be the nation’s most important climate adaptation project for wildlife. At 320,000 acres, the Montana Legacy Project encompasses the Crown of the Continent, the most intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states, providing a remarkable capacity for plants and animals to find places to thrive.
Residents of cities produce dramatically less carbon emissions per capita. Drawing more people to cities and making those cities energy efficient is a potent climate change strategy.
A third of all the CO2 emitted in the United States comes from transportation, and most of that from cars and trucks. We’ve helped build trail networks and greenways like those in Baltimore, Boston, and Chattanooga that encourage walking and cycling. New projects such as the Bloomingdale in Chicago will create safe and attractive options for people to travel on two wheels instead of four.
Cities can also become more efficient through natural cooling. Our work to create large natural areas in and around cities, such as the proposed Hackmatack Urban Wildlife Refuge, will cool the air and reduce energy use. We’re also incorporating natural solutions into city park and playground designs to combat energy and public safety issues such as stormwater control. In New York City, we’re building playgrounds with rain-capture features that help absorb water. And in New Orleans, we’re designing “stormwater retention parks” that provide places to play while providing natural stormwater control.
Slowing climate change, a complex problem decades in the making, will require action on many fronts. Clean and more efficient energy sources are essential. But it’s also important to take advantage of the planet’s built-in climate regulating capacities, by promoting land conservation activities that help reduce greenhouse gases and respond to climate changes in progress.