Our national parks vital to fighting climate change

Merced Sun-Star

As President Barack Obama visits Yosemite National Park with the first family this weekend, we hope they find an opportunity to unwind, heal and connect directly with our nation’s rich outdoor heritage – as countless Americans before them have done in one of America’s most celebrated national parks.

But as President Obama clearly understands, our national parks and other public lands aren’t just a place to heal and enjoy the beauty of nature; they’re also critical for mitigating and adapting to the growing impacts of climate change.

Climate change is wreaking havoc on places across the globe – from ocean acidification that’s devastating Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to melting the permafrost throughout the Arctic Circle to contributing to California’s extreme drought.

Montana’s Glacier National Park could be without a single glacier in just three decades due to climate change. California’s Joshua Tree National Park could lose virtually all of its iconic trees by the end of the century for the same reason.

Large protected landscapes such as Yosemite help keep dangerous carbon pollution out of the atmosphere by absorbing it in trees, grasses and soil. The large landscapes allow threatened wildlife a better chance to adapt to a changing climate.

At a time when we are losing a football field’s worth of natural area in the west every two and a half minutes, it is clear we should prioritize protecting more places. That’s why we have been proud to support President Obama’s conservation achievements every step of the way, including his historic actions to reduce the pollution causing climate change.

When it comes to our national parks and other public lands, President Obama gets it. Since taking office, he has protected more land and water than any other president in history. From the Los Angeles urban escape of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument to the new national monuments in the California desert to significant cultural sites like the César E. Chávez National Monument that tell the story of America’s diversity, millions of acres of land and water in California and across the nation are now conserved for future generations because of this president’s leadership.

Unfortunately, the climate deniers who run the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are dead set on undermining any reasonable action on climate change, which threatens our parks. To make things worse, there is a strong contingent of climate-denying members of Congress who are part of the so-called anti-parks caucus who work against efforts to conserve America’s special places for future generations.

As we gather to celebrate the centennial of our National Park System, climate deniers in Congress are already lining up to declare their support for what’s been called “America’s best idea.” But you can’t say you support our national parks on one hand while on the other fundamentally denying one of the biggest threats that our national parks face – climate change.

If we don’t address the threats from climate change, our national parks and public lands will continue to face extreme pressures that jeopardize the very qualities that make them what they are.

As President Obama and his family explore the treasures of Yosemite, we thank him for his efforts to leave this world in a better place than when he took office and hope he will continue protecting special places in the months to come.

Gene Karpinski is president of the League of Conservation Voters; Sarah Rose is CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters; they wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.