July 14, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
As Americans, we pride ourselves on the beauty and variety of our nation’s outdoor spaces. And, as we look to the future, we ought to make significant investments to protect these spaces from the growing threat of climate change. Our local, state and national parks are places where people can get outside, take a deep breath and enjoy the great outdoors while boosting local economies and supporting millions of outdoor industry jobs. Simply put, ensuring the outdoors can continue to provide economic and cultural benefits for all of us requires immediate climate action.
Outdoor companies like REI Co-op are already feeling the impacts of climate change on our businesses and on the outdoor spaces in which we operate. Just this past month, in our home state of Washington, we’ve experienced a record-breaking heat wave and early-season wildfire warnings that have forced businesses to temporarily slow down and critical infrastructure to wobble. That’s why we are taking action as a company to reduce our emissions and be part of the climate-friendly economy. While we’re proud to take significant climate action, if we want to truly address the growing threat of climate change, the government must provide its muscle.
Fortunately, President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan is laying the groundwork for a historic investment in the future of the outdoors. It recognizes that climate change is a serious challenge to both the health of our environment and our economy. This plan is a roadmap for climate action, and while some of the provisions in the American Jobs Plan are a part of the bipartisan infrastructure agreement, there are even more that should be considered through reconciliation or through other legislation.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more Americans, including more women, people living in urban areas and diverse communities, have turned to the outdoors to experience the physical and mental health benefits of spending time outside. So, as the world starts to open back up, it is important to make sure the outdoors remain accessible to these new participants.
Policymakers should also prioritize protecting and restoring nature-based infrastructure like public lands, coasts, wetlands and waterways. And as we address climate change, we must also recognize the hardships faced by traditional energy communities during this transition. The outdoor industry can be a part of the solution through new jobs and opportunities in the outdoor recreation economy, but a significant investment in research and development and clean energy manufacturing is needed as well. This targeted and intentional approach will be important to ensuring everyone can benefit from the clean energy economy.
Environmental justice and equity are also critical. For decades, disadvantaged communities have been negatively impacted by high levels of pollution in their air and water. To address this, federal support is essential for advancing infrastructure projects in underserved communities and establishing a clean electricity standard to cut electricity pollution.
One of the most important provisions of the American Jobs Plan would be the $10 billion investment in a Civilian Climate Corps. A CCC would create thousands of new jobs, make public lands and waters more resilient to climate disasters like wildfires and floods and advance our country’s post-pandemic economic recovery. It would also provide the jobs and people needed to implement the Great American Outdoors Act, an important bill passed last year that provides funding to restore and conserve federal lands and waterways.
There is no silver bullet to solving the problem of climate change. However, the combination of innovative solutions outlined above – not to mention countless other commonsense policies under consideration at the federal and state levels – would enable us to start tackling these challenges immediately. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get this right — to protect our families, our economy and our planet. We’ve got to get to work.
Matthew Thurston is director of sustainability at REI Co-op and Marc Berejka is director of community and government affairs at REI Co-op.
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