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Op-Ed: Coming Together to Protect Arkansas’ Environment and Natural Beauty

Arkansas

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.

It’s no secret that the political divide in the United States grows wider each day. Bipartisanship is a rarity, and where it does exist, it’s frequently portrayed as a weakness rather than praised as a compromise. However, there are a few issues in which the divide is slowly closing, and one of those areas is the environment.

A 2018 poll done by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication shows that the majority of American voters believe in climate change, see it as a crisis, and understand that we need to take immediate action to counter environmental changes. This is a substantial step forward, as the only way to make significant policy changes is to utilize bipartisanship.

The giant steps taken to protect the environment from the ‘60s through the ‘80s were due to Republicans and Democrats working together to ensure Americans had access to clean air and water with the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the establishment of a federal agency in 1970 tasked with creating and enforcing environmental regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency.

In more recent decades, the rift became too significant — very few new policies were created, and many older regulations were stripped to bare bones. But as evidence of climate change has become increasingly prevalent and scientific research has become more accessible to the public, we are entering a new wave of environmentalism that has the potential to effectively combat and mitigate climate change.

Climate change will affect, and to some extent is already affecting, every corner of the state of Arkansas. As global temperatures rise, Arkansas moves closer and closer to becoming beachfront property. According to Dr. Claire Connolly Knox, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida, every forty-five minutes the state of Louisiana loses one football field of land from its coastline. Each year our state’s weather sets new records, sometimes even 500-year records like the flood of May 2019.

Extreme weather like droughts and severe thunderstorms will become more frequent, damaging, and deadly according to findings by Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  Just because Arkansas is not on the coast (yet) doesn’t mean that we will not be significantly affected by changes to the global climate. As temperatures shift, so will agriculture. Arkansas has always leaned heavily on its agricultural industry and has been a prime location for planting soybeans, but with the land-use changes associated with shifting climate, Jacob Bunge with the Wall Street Journal has documented that soybean industry is already encroaching into new areas of Canada increasing competition.

Pests will also become significantly more prevalent in the state as warmer weather will last longer, allowing for an increased amount of insect breeding cycles and warmer winters will lower the winter mortality of pests according to a report by the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program. Agriculture is Arkansas’ past and present; we can’t afford for it to not be our future.

Climate change is not the only environmental force threatening Arkansas. With increased development and lack of enforcement of environmental regulations, corporations are harming our land. Our watersheds are being polluted, our lands are being permanently scarred, and our native species are declining

Hunting is one of the most common sports in the state, and every year, access to hunting locations becomes increasingly competitive as land is lost to development. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has reported that 37 threatened or endangered species live in Arkansas, most of which are endangered partially due to habitat loss or damage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and numerous other organizations work year-round to protect natural areas and regulate harvesting, but the lack of enforcement is a critical concern.

Arkansas is home to some of the most beautiful natural areas in the world and we are working tirelessly to keep it natural. Tourism is a $7.3 billion industry in Arkansas which has been constantly growing for years. Ecotourism and hunting are two of the largest segments of our tourism industry. People inside and outside of the state realize the beauty and adventure that lies within Arkansas, and Arkansans need to do all that we can to preserve and protect our state’s environment by enacting and enforcing the best environmental policies for Arkansas.

This Friday at Pulaski Technical College, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, along with the Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra Club and Audubon Arkansas will host the 4thAnnual Arkansas Environmental Policy Summit, where we will discuss current environmental issues in the state and ways in which we can improve our water, air, and land. The $15 cost to participate includes lunch, and registration links can be found on any of the hosts’ websites. We hope that you will join us at the summit and support positive environmental practices in our state.

Margaret Young is an Environmental Organizer at the  Arkansas Public Policy Panel.

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