[Editor’s Note: The following op-ed was written by Paul Gilbert, Executive Director
of NOVA Parks, Fairfax Station, Virginia.]
The new administration has ordered silence from various federal agencies involved with issues of climate change, including the National Park Service. This raises the following questions: Is global warming a partisan issue? Does political ideology factor into this issue at all?
The fact that earth’s average temperature has been increasing for decades, glaciers and ice caps are melting, and extreme weather events are on the rise because of these changes is not up for debate. These facts are no more political than the orbit of the moon: they simply are. How we approach the solutions may differ based on ideology but not the fundamental problem.
Conservative parties in Europe and around the world accept global warming for what it is. It is only in America where some feel a need to cast this scientific problem as a partisan debate.
I understand why many would like to ignore this issue and hope it goes away. We do not know exactly where the global tipping point is. The solutions are elusive and will likely require changes in our behavior. This requires long-term thinking that goes far beyond the next election cycle. All of this makes global warming an unattractive issue for politicians to address, but no less real.
With our base of natural resources and focus on outdoor recreation, park systems are among the first to be impacted by extreme weather. We are the canary in the coal mine. We have already seen the devastating impacts of these extreme weather patterns, and the pace of these events will likely accelerate, particularly if the problem is ignored.
President Teddy Rosevelt, who founded the entire park movement 100 years ago, said, Of all the questions which can come before this nation...there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.
As park professionals, our job is to protect the environment and to educate the public about natural sciences. Global warming is an issue of science, not a political debate. Our nation and our communities need us, as trusted sources of nature education, to deal with the subject matter of global warming as objectively as any other natural science issue.