By Michele S. Byers
It’s hard to be optimistic in the face of climate change. For instance, just this past week we learned July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Rapidly melting glaciers in Greenland are adding billions of gallons to sea level rise and wildfires are burning out of control in the Arctic.
But new legislation with a visionary plan for slowing climate change through natural solutions is being introduced in Washington, D.C.
On Aug. 8, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced his plan to introduce the Climate Stewardship Act of 2019. The bill focuses on natural solutions to reduce carbon, including planting billions of trees, improving soil conservation on farms and restoring coastal wetlands.
The bill would also re-establish the Civilian Conservation Corps – originally created in the 1930s as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal – to carry out conservation projects and provide jobs and training.
Here are some highlights of the Climate Stewardship Act. It would:
• Plant more than four billion trees by 2030, and more than 15 billion trees by 2050, on federal, state, local and privately held lands. More than 100 million trees would be planted in urban areas;
• Offer incentives for farmers to implement voluntary stewardship practices on more than 100 million acres of farmland, using existing U.S. Department of Agriculture programs to improve carbon storage in soils;
• Restore or protect more than two million acres of coastal wetlands by 2030 to absorb carbon and reduce coastal flooding;
• Re-establish the Civilian Conservation Corps, providing hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
“The Climate Stewardship Act is the most ambitious legislation in our nation’s history to mobilize America’s forests as a climate change solution,” said Jad Daley, president and CEO of American Forests, a national nonprofit founded in 1875 to protect and restore forests.
Reducing carbon in the atmosphere to slow the impacts of climate change is the focus of many international efforts, including the 2016 Paris Agreement.
Although much of the emphasis has been on reducing fossil fuels, it’s estimated that forests, soils and wetlands currently capture and absorb more than 10% of all United States carbon emissions – and have the potential to absorb much more.
Over their lifetime, 15 billion new trees can sequester more than 13 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That’s equivalent to more than two years of our nation’s emissions.
With more farmers implementing farm stewardship practices – like planting tens of millions of acres of cover crops and rotating grazing lands – the ability of soils to store carbon would be greatly boosted. It’s estimated that expanding existing voluntary U.S. Department of Agriculture programs can reduce or offset emissions from agriculture by one-third by 2025.
In addition to slowing climate change, the Climate Stewardship Act would also help protect drinking water, prevent flooding and protect wildlife biodiversity.
Many proposals for addressing climate change are under debate in Washington and most are focused on fossil fuels. The Climate Stewardship Act acknowledges the vital role of natural resources in reducing emissions and makes the case that protecting and restoring our forests, soils and wetlands is critical to addressing the climate crisis.
This new proposal lays out a comprehensive strategy to store carbon and reduce emissions on federal, state, local and private lands throughout the nation.
Urge your elected officials at the federal and state levels to take action to address climate change, including investing in natural solutions to protect and restore our forests, soils and wetlands for the many benefits they provide.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. She may be reached at email@example.com