There is a famous Native American saying: "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." With a responsibility to leave our planet in as good shape as we found it, what is the role of public park and recreation agencies when it comes to global warming?
The National Parks Conservation Association recently released a study called Unnatural Disaster: Global Warming and Our National Parks. This study looks at the effects of severe weather and changing habitats as a result of global warming, saying, "Impacts of global warming already are being documented in our national parks, and the challenges grow daily ... There is growing scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions will need to fall by at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 to avoid some of the most catastrophic effects of climate change."
Responding to this issue, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) became the first independent park agency to formally commit to reducing greenhouse gas by adopting the Cool Counties Resolution in the fall of 2007. Hundreds of local governments across the country have made a commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through the adoption of either the Cool Cities or Cool Counties resolution, a program developed by the Sierra Club. Both resolutions call on local governments to reduce their emission of greenhouse gas substantially by 2050, implement programs to achieve these goals, encourage Congress and the administration to implement market-based limits and incentives to reduce emissions, promote the strengthening of national fuel-economy standards and educate the public about how they can become a larger part of the solution.
This new active role in reducing the causes of global warming was a natural step for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which has a history of being a conservation agency. "This organization has been rediscovering its environmental roots over the last couple of years," says Bill Dickinson, chairman of the regional park authority.
"We were founded as a conservation-focused park agency almost 50 years ago, principally to acquire and manage much of the region's key watersheds and most important habitat areas," Dickinson says. "A few years ago, we hired an executive director who formerly ran a conservation land trust, and we have adopted an environmentally focused mission statement and strategic plan. The public looks to the regional park authority as a conservation agency, so it makes sense for us to take on global warming."
Working with the Sierra Club, Fairfax County, Va., King County, Wash., and Cook County, Ill., developed the Cool Counties Initiative. In Virginia, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly was instrumental in promoting the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions both regionally and nationally. Under his leadership, Fairfax County, with a population of more than 1 million, has built two new LEED(Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified fire stations, invested in many more hybrid vehicles, and committed to planting more trees on county-owned land.
"Trees help curb greenhouse gases, reduce pollution and cut energy costs," says Connolly. "Every 1 percent increase in tree canopy also reduces mid-day air temperatures by up to 2.88 degrees. Mitigating the heat island effect reduces ground-level ozone during the summertime."
But Connolly is not the only Virginia government leader to also be an environmental advocate. Paul Ferguson, chair of the Arlington County Board, led his urban county of nearly 200,000 to take on the causes of global warming. The Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE) targets a 10 percent reduction in emissions by 2012, increased use of wind and solar power, LEED certification for all new county buildings, significant tree plantings, tax incentives encouraging residents to buy clean-fuel vehicles, such as hybrids, and works with other local governments to educate the public. …