Skip links

Executive Director’s Report, Jan 2020

Elevating conservation in the climate change conversation

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

Over the last year and a half, the urgency surrounding the climate change conversation has increased dramatically.

In October 2018,  the IPCC released a report to policymakers  and we saw that climate change is going to be worse than expected, harder to stop than we feared, and happen sooner than we anticipated. We also know that the effects of a changing climate will likely occur even with smaller amounts of warming.

In California, the report was followed only a month later by the Camp Fire and the tremendous loss of lives in Paradise.

In 2019 those stories continued.

It was the second hottest year and data showed that the 2010s were the hottest decade on record. We saw floods in the Midwest that cost billions, and we are now tracking the dramatic wildfire images coming out of Australia. All of this adds to a growing sense of threat from climate change.

On the positive side, we saw Greta Thunberg emerge as an unlikely climate hero (and Time’s Person of the Year). This Swedish teenager gave a direct voice to global youth who will bear the brunt of climate change in the coming decades. We also witnessed climate marches and strikes by millions of young people around the world.

These things were inspiring to watch and should make us all take stock in what more we can do.

To date, much of the policy and media discussion on climate change has focused on the energy and transportation sectors. These are each enormous contributors to climate change and must be mitigated. However, given the need for dramatic changes to our economy and policy, it is important that all sectors elevate their work on climate change.

Many of you in conservation may have come across stories and efforts to tie the protection of wild landscapes to both the mitigation of climate change and as a key adaptation strategy. Famous scientist E.O. Wilson has an initiated an effort to protect 50% of the land and oceans in the world. Leading international conservation groups and scientists recently called for protecting 30% of the planet by 2030. This is in an effort to protect biodiversity, impede growing extinctions, and help stabilize the planet.

As those groups have declared their goals, CalWild is reiterating a number of the overarching goals of our work and how they relate to climate change.

None of this is new in our approach or objectives. But understanding the myriad benefits of conservation in light of climate change is an important insight we all need to share more widely. For more detailed and scientific impacts of climate change and conservation, please visit our climate change page.

CalWild Overarching Goals in the Face of Climate Change

 1. Maintain intact, undisturbed land and water corridors

The permanent protection of these areas provide many benefits including greater resilience in the face of climate change. CalWild is particularly concerned with the effects of climate change on wildlife. We are currently in the middle of the sixth great extinction — the first resulting solely from human activity.

The roadless, pristine landscapes CalWild works to protect provide the space for wildlife populations to adapt as best they can to a changing climate. Well-connected protected areas of wildlife habitat will allow migration around heavily disturbed or developed landscapes.

 2. Improve management practices of public land agencies to protect the land and water ways they manage

We work with the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other federal land managers to improve their decisions of how to manage public lands. We encourage them to prioritize protection and reduce the amount of development allowed.

This is important for many native species as outlined above, but will also provide a number of other benefits to people. Foremost among those benefits is cleaner air and water. The disruption of natural lands increases pollution and run-off, and it also reduces the capacity for ecosystems to retain clean drinking water and clean the air.

 3. Block any and all development that stands in opposition to these goals or would exacerbate the climate change crisis

Making sure that destructive oil and gas, logging, and mining projects aren’t taking place on public lands is an important first step to make sure we aren’t making the climate crisis worse.

From forests that can sequester carbon to cryptobiotic desert soils that hold millions of tons of carbon, our public lands have an enormous impact on how much carbon we emit and how much we can sequester from the atmosphere.

The energy dominance agenda of the Trump administration prioritizes extractive industries that exacerbate our climate crisis and hurt our efforts to protect more public lands. Our public lands currently contribute a fifth of all the United State greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, we believe that protected areas are key to improving human health and providing a place of recreation, inspiration and spiritual renewal. The fact remains that as long as we continue to use our public lands for extractive exploitation we won’t have them to inspire us to be better and more connected with the world around us.

The world that is possible

Protecting large-scale landscapes has tremendous benefits for humans, wildlife, and ecosystems. That has always been true. With each passing day we see with greater urgency why, in the face of climate change, conserving these lands is such a key component of the solution.

At CalWild, we envision the protection of our public lands as an ever more prominent piece of a 21st century climate agenda. That’s why we’re elevating our goals within the climate conversation. A world in which we have more wild places is healthier, happier, and more just.

Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and questions by emailing me at