Rising global temperatures are causing major physical, chemical and ecological changes to the planet. These climate changes are primarily driven by emissions of greenhouse gases as the result of human activity and are impacting how communities live, work and play. In particular, climate changes are impacting the health, safety and security of our communities — nationwide, people are experiencing more extreme weather events, as well as mass flooding, extreme temperatures, and worsening air and water quality. NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information estimates the cost of 273 weather and climate disasters in the United States since 1980 exceeds $1.790 trillion. However, that figure fails to account for fatalities as well as the short- and long-term physical and mental health impacts of these disasters.
People across the country are feeling the effects, and the majority are concerned about climate change. In particular, survey data from Yale University reveals that people who are Black and/or Hispanic/Latino are the most likely to join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming. Yet, because of current and historical discriminatory practices and policies, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), as well as people living in lower income communities face the greatest impacts of a changing climate and receive less resources and support to prepare for, respond to and recover from extreme weather events. NRPA seeks to address the systemic inequities and injustices that exist nationwide and harness this desire to confront the realities of climate change by leveraging the power of parks and green spaces as critical and adaptive community infrastructure accessible to all.
Park and recreation professionals plan, manage, program and maintain 11 million acres of public parks and green spaces across the country, and are poised to bring community-driven climate solutions that build a healthy, more resilient and more equitable future for generations to come. They are catalysts for positive change in service of equity, climate-readiness, and overall health and well-being. As key innovators of positive change, NRPA is elevating the essential role that park and recreation professionals play in advancing upstream solutions and dismantling the systems that perpetuate climate and health disparities, in order to build stronger, more vibrant and resilient communities where everyone thrives.
Park and recreation professionals are constantly delivering essential services, adapting to challenges and driving community-based innovation. Working side by side with their local communities, park and recreation professionals prepare them to adapt to a changing climate by:
- Implementing multi-benefit green infrastructure solutions that improve water quality, reduce flood risk, lessen urban heat island effect and clean the air
- Creating habitats for pollinators and other wildlife
- Connecting children and adults with the life-enhancing benefits of the outdoors
- Expanding access to local and fresh produce through farmers markets and community gardens
- Preparing and responding to climate-related disasters with essential services, like emergency shelter
- Connecting community members to social resources and food distribution
- Assessing and closing gaps in high-quality park and recreation access
- Reducing the environmental footprint of their facilities and operations
At the federal level, NRPA advocates for substantial increases in infrastructure investment and the prioritization of local projects; projects that will help our communities get beyond the cycle of disaster response and recovery and into approaches that design and build climate-ready solutions into the natural infrastructure of parks and green spaces. These solutions will create ongoing resilience to climate change impacts. In support of this and to ensure equity is centered in all that we do, NRPA is working to prepare our more than 60,000 park and recreation leaders to build community resiliency by providing:
- Climate resilience planning and action
- Training and certification opportunities, including community engagement workshops, a sustainability school, climate literacy and advocacy training, and green infrastructure certification
- Research and tools focused on the intersection of the health impacts of climate change, equity, sustainability practices, and park and green-space solutions
- Strategies to improve access to high-quality, climate-ready parks
- Resources for environmental education programs and ways to increase youth and adult engagement with the outdoors and the stewardship of our environment
- Recruitment tools and workforce development strategies that diversify the field of parks and recreation and build economic opportunity
- Methods for reducing environmental footprints
- Technical assistance, innovative funding mechanisms and investments for demonstration projects to drive systems-level change and scale best practices
As an organization, NRPA is dedicated to reducing the environmental footprint, increasing the sustainability of our own operations and ensuring that equity remains at the center of these efforts. NRPA’s headquarters has implemented environmentally friendly business policies and practices, including sustainable land management that preserves wetlands, energy efficiency measures, waste reduction, and a flexible telework and remote work policy. As host of the largest park and recreation conference in the United States, NRPA has made significant strides to shift to more sustainable practices that align with the host city, including use of a conference app, reducing food and paper waste, donating or recycling exhibit hall materials, and purchasing bag holders and tote bags made from recycled materials. Over the next three years, NRPA will be working on strengthening the sustainability and equity practices of our annual conference and overall operations to further align our practices to our mission and values.