As we approach Earth Day 2021, it’s time to talk about “30 by 30.” No, although we value STEM education, we’re not asking you to relearn your multiplication tables!
For several years now, conservation and climate scientists around the world have recommended setting a conservation goal of protecting 30% of all land and inland waters and 30% of all oceans and seas by 2030. The proposed 30 x 30 strategy would help to slow and reverse the rapid loss of biodiversity around the world, and also allow natural ecosystems to help mitigate climate change impacts, just as healthy forested watersheds filter carbon dioxide out of the air and slow and purify snowmelt and rainwater runoff.
Currently only 12% of the United States land area has been conserved through national and state parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, conservation easements, and similar designations, while 26% of its ocean areas are protected from intense extractive uses.
Maintaining the status quo, however, will not halt nature’s precipitous decline. In May 2019, the United Nations found that 3/4 of the earth’s lands and 2/3 of its marine environments have been “significantly altered” by human activity, with approximately 1 million plant and animal species facing extinction within the next few decades due to habitat loss, overuse, climate change, and pollution. The World Wildlife Fund reports that since 1970, there has been a 68% decline worldwide in birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and reptiles, with North America alone having lost 3 billion birds and 30% of its plant pollinator network.
As distressing as species extinctions are, they are signs of a much bigger problem: the unraveling of ecosystems around the world, with dire consequences for humanity. The earth’s ecosystems sustain us with clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, nourish us with food, and provide us materials with which to build and make fabrics and medicines with which to heal. They fill our hearts and minds with beauty and wonder.
In Executive Order 140008, “Tackling Climate Change at Home and Abroad,” issued just one week after his Inauguration, Present Joe Biden directed Administration officials to work with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, and other key stakeholders, to recommend steps that the United States should take “to achieve the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.” 86 FR 7619 (Feb. 1, 2021). President Biden’s commitment to a 30 x 30 conservation goal represents a great start to rebuilding our relationship with nature.