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Executive Director’s Report, August 2021

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

For many years, environmentalists have built a reputation as obstructionists. The reality is much more complicated as the environmental movement fights to stop the forces of destruction from polluting our air and water and stripping our natural landscapes of their beauty.

Despite that reputation, the broader public has remained supportive of environmental efforts. According to the Pew Research Center, significant majorities of Americans believe the government is not doing enough to protect our water and air, reduce the impacts of climate change, or protect wildlife and their habitats. A growing number of those surveyed over the past decade support the notion that protecting the environment should be a top priority for the president and Congress. That is true even in more independent western states where support for prioritizing open space even at the risk of closing land to development holds a strong majority. (Conservation in the West Poll) An impressive 77% of western voters in the west support the ambitious goal of preserving 30% of America’s land and waters by 2030. (Colorado College State of the Rockies Poll)

Given the importance many of us place on environmental issues it would be easy, and understandable, to take a hardline stance. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends and colleagues talk about how “X% of Americans support Y policy”. That majority opinion provides cover for one’s own righteousness on an issue and a belief that these majorities should drive all policy and the politics around it.

The reality of implementing these environmental policies is much more complicated and their impacts on communities and individuals harder to navigate. As environmentalists, we should take comfort in the fact that majorities of Americans believe in our work. However, that support is not a reason to refuse to engage with others with different priorities or perspectives.

For nine years, CalWild and other environmentalists in the desert worked with renewable energy advocates, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, rock hounders, and even some mining interest to develop the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). The DRECP (which we’ve written about repeatedly here, here, and here) encompasses over 10 million acres. It sets aside areas for recreation and conservation including almost three million acres as National Conservation Lands. The final plan also identified 388,000 acres eligible for expedited renewable energy development.

That process was long and hard, and not without its continued challenges as Assistant Policy Director Linda Castro outlined in her article about the Oberon solar project. At its core, the DRECP was trying to resolve two worthy goals: 1. Protecting the biodiversity and sensitive landscapes and 2. Accelerating the development of new renewable energy projects to combat climate change.

The issues that California will face in this changing climate will inevitably put into conflict equally worthy goals. Wildfires, sea level rise, and drought are going to challenge us in ways we haven’t experienced. These challenges will push us to be more open, confront our assumptions about our solutions, and talk more clearly with those whom we may disagree. Or into greater division and conflict. There is no doubt, the engaged and more open approach is harder. And the more politically and culturally divided we are, the more difficult it becomes.

I often return to the DRECP, perhaps because I learned about it from afar, as an important example of what work planning and negotiating for the long-term rather than focusing on immediate conflicts can achieve. As the changes from climate change accelerate, we need to prioritize that openness and outreach early and often to reach outcomes that will lead to better futures for all of us.


Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and questions by emailing me at cmorrill@calwild.org.