Now that Congress and the Obama administration are returning to Washington, we know they'll be looking over a fiscal cliff. But the skies above that landscape look different since we met Superstorm Sandy the week before the election. That punishing storm reminded us, as Business Week screams on its cover, "It's Climate Change, Stupid."
A single storm isn't "climate change." But then, we aren't talking about single events any more. Sandy was part of a growing and disturbing pattern, whether it's called Sandy or Katrina or Snowmageddon or a nationwide heat wave that broke 3,215 high temperature daily records this past June.
By overwhelming numbers, Americans want to tackle the urgent conservation and environmental issues facing our coasts, our air and water, and our birds, wildlife and natural places.
How do we know that? In our grassroots campaign calling for an end to the partisanship that has paralyzed political action on conservation and the environment, the National Audubon Society and our Republican partner, ConservAmerica, asked folks a critical question that was never posed in any of the presidential debates:
What should be the top conservation and environmental priorities for the next administration?
Democrats, Republics and independents responded from across the country. Their answers and the priorities they assigned offer a valuable roadmap for President Obama, the Congress and other elected officials.
No. 1. Promote the development of clean, renewable energy sources to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and foreign sources.
This was by far the most frequently listed priority, from writers in Hawaii to bloggers in New York City. Debrah Roemisch echoed the concerns of many when she wrote, "Developing clean energy sources will help the environment, provide jobs and help us be independent..."
No. 2: Protect air, water and land from pollution.
"Clean air and water...Take the politics out," demanded Corrine Carter of Prattville, Ala. In comment after comment, folks across the country expressed dismay that conservation - once one of the great unifying issues in America - has become a victim of drive-by partisan politics.
No. 3. Be cautious with the Keystone XL pipeline, offshore drilling and hydrofracking in environmentally sensitive areas.
"Drop forever the Keystone pipeline project and replace it with a national smart grid (a heck of a lot more jobs,)" wrote Mark Ford.
"Put a moratorium on fracking in the U.S." said Rosann Strum of Bloomington, Ind. "Stop deep water drilling."
We believe our elected officials can find common sense solutions for well-managed energy development that protects sensitive areas like the Arctic while helping to meet America's energy and employment needs.
No. 4: Protect national and state parks and open spaces.
"We need to restore and keep full protections for our wilderness, wildlife, national parks," said Barbara Eaton of Allenstown, N.H., expressing the concerns of many respondents.
Just as Hurricane Katrina before her, Superstorm Sandy demonstrated the short-sightedness of draining, paving and building atop our natural storm barriers - marshes, seashores and other wetlands.
Without the protections nature provided, the storms slam into populated shorelines full force with no buffers to slow winds or water surges.
No. 5: More environmental and conservation education.
Educating our youth to care for the communities and the planet they will inherit leave to their children was a recommendation repeated multiple times.
A strong common thread linked the environmental priorities Americans offered the next administration and Congress. In message after message, Americans of every political stripe said they were fed up with the do-nothing partisan politics that has infected virtually every environmental issue.
Ms. Eaton from New Hampshire summed up the real challenge for America's elected leaders: "Both parties must realize that our Earth and wildlife are not battlegrounds."
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This essay first appeared in The Miami Herald November 23, 2012, and is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.
2012 National Audubon Society