• Wendy Guzin/Meg Paskal

GCA NAL Conference - Climate Change Solutions

The theme of this year’s Garden Club of America National Affairs and Legislation Conference was Climate Change Solutions. What we choose to do in the near future as individuals in our community, state, and nationally will have a monumental effect on our planet. There is an urgency to reverse damage done by humankind and to write a new story of green energy solutions. We learned at the NAL Conference that Governor Newsom has recently announced that California will become the first state to commit to the goal of 30 x 30, which preserves at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans by the year 2030. This is an encouraging and hopeful development toward climate success. The most important step we can take statewide and nationally is to pass new laws protecting our environment. Over the course of the conference, we learned how we can inspire change as a club and were presented with the five legislative priorities of the GCA.

The first of the five priorities, The American Transportation and Infrastructure Act (“ATIA”) directly addresses infrastructure as a climate change issue. Over the last 100 years, the United States has relied on infrastructure that is almost wholly dependent on the combustion of fossil fuels. Infrastructure legislation must focus on the transition to clean energy in our homes and businesses to reduce carbon pollution and make our communities safer and more resilient. ATIA is comprised of five key components that, if enacted, will equitably address the impacts of climate change especially in underserved communities and lead the United States to a clean energy economy at a scale to significantly reduce emissions in line with global targets. In keeping with the guidance of the Clean Air Act, the bill aims to help lower transportation emissions and improve our aging infrastructure to ensure that it can better withstand the impact of extreme weather events. The hope is to achieve these goals by building out the electric, natural gas and hydrogen vehicle fueling infrastructures across the U.S. The bill’s objective is to establish a program to perform much needed maintenance, repairs and improvements to national infrastructure. The bill addresses coastal and wetland degradation with the intention to utilize native plant material to build up our greatly depleted wetlands.

The second priority relates to our oceans, crucial to our existence and in dire need of climate change solutions. These massive bodies of water contain more than a million diverse species of plants and animals. All humanity recognizes the inherent value of our seas and coastlines, which provide incredible beauty, wildlife habitats, food sources worldwide and economic revenue. The current problems in our oceans are profound. There is legislation which is modeled after the Ocean-based Climate Solutions Act in the House, H.R. 8632, from the previous Congress which addresses the multifaceted problems in our oceans. The focus of this bill includes promoting offshore renewable energy, protecting blue carbon (the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the oceans through plant matter and buried organic matter in the soil), supporting sustainable fisheries, expanding marine protected areas and generally improving ocean health. If this legislation passes it could put America ahead in a leadership role to combat climate change globally.

Planting trees and sustaining national parks and public lands is the third priority essential to addressing global warming. The well-being of our planet relies on preserving our treasured trees, forests and natural habitats. We need to bring about change to the current state of disregard for our life sustaining forests and trees. By doing so, we can reverse biodiversity collapse, sequester carbon and stabilize temperatures globally. There is bipartisan legislation based on the Trillion Trees and Natural Carbon Storage Act, S. 4985, which addresses preserving forests, wetlands, grasslands and coastal habitats. By sustaining these precious habitats, we will ensure their benefits in countering climate change. The legislation also includes “carbon accounting” expansion for all of the above ecosystems which will provide a measurement of sustainability for carbon-related decisions regarding these delicate ecosystems.

Federal agricultural policy affects the safety and security of our nation’s food supply. More than 40% of the land in the United States is farmed. The need to restore degraded soil and conserve healthy soil has never been more important, the fourth priority. Widespread implementation of best practices in farming such as no tillage, planting of cover crops or perennial forage and the rotation of crops will go a long way in helping mitigate climate change’s negative impact on our precious topsoil. The Growing Climate Solutions Act is bipartisan legislation with a limited government approach to addressing climate change. This legislation empowers farmers, ranchers and private landowners to voluntarily implement agricultural and farm practices that will reduce carbon emissions. Although a system exists to match market demand for carbon emissions reductions with a supply of carbon credits, no federal entity exists to certify protocols. This has resulted in farmers and ranchers not being able to adequately tap these markets. This bill directs the USDA to create a carbon market and certification program to provide farmers access to private sector capital. By moving to climate-friendly, sustainable farming practices, a significant amount of emissions could be eliminated and massive amounts of existing carbon can be sequestered.

In North America, a native plant is defined as an indigenous grass, shrub, vine, tree or herbaceous flora species present in a habitat or ecosystem prior to the arrival of European settlers on the continent. The Garden Club of America recognizes that native plants are the building blocks for biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, clean water, clean air and carbon sequestration. The fifth priority, the Native Plants Bill will establish a five-year pilot program in our National Parks to encourage the use of native plant material to combat invasive species, protect against erosion, minimize water and maintenance requirements and reduce the usage of pesticides and fertilizers. The date from this study can further be applied to aid in the mitigation of coastal erosion, loss of topsoil, and increase awareness in the general population of the protection and promotion of native plants.

There was an optimistic tenor at the conference this year. Our nation is currently positioned to accomplish the necessary goals to begin combatting climate change on a massive scale. We all need to do our part to help bring forth the changes required for reversing climate change. One of the most important things we can do is contact our legislators and let them know what we think about environmental issues. The Conservation Committee will follow up with part two of Climate Change Solutions next month. The upcoming article will delve into the next steps we can take to advocate in accordance with the GCA. Overall, we became empowered and inspired by the conference and we look forward to sharing that will all of you.

Learn even more on the GCA website.

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