An Opportunity for Enduring Change
A Message from CNPS Executive Director Dan Gluesenkamp
How are you doing? It’s a standard greeting, but these days you are probably saying it to everyone you phone, with more focus and genuine concern. It’s one small part of the new experience we are all sharing together, separately.
A month into the dramatic collective action of social distancing, our lives have been turned upside down. It’s hard but it could have been worse. We are fortunate that California’s leaders listened to the scientists and took swift and decisive action. Thanks to the early stay-at-home orders, the latest data suggest the toll on California may be less severe than other places. While we all wait to see how the coming weeks will play out, I find myself thinking about three things: how do we care for our community, how do we continue to advance our mission, and how do we advance the revolutionary goal of applying sound science to making the right decisions?
Our fellow citizens are coming to understand that ignoring science is a damn lot more expensive than acting rationally, and in this moment there is real opportunity for enduring change.
In some ways, caring for our community, our Society, is the easiest of these three goals. Because of our people – our volunteers, members, and staff – I’m lucky to be able to report that CNPS is strong. Too many businesses and organizations will not survive the economic turmoil of this pandemic, but we are taking action to make sure CNPS volunteers, staff, members, and community are cared for and supported. We are used to adversity, and accustomed to caring for each other when it is most needed. In my years at CNPS, I’ve seen evidence of this daily, from the thousands of CNPSers stewarding local wildlands and teaching others how to grow native plants, to individuals who check in after wildfires and hip surgeries. Thus, CNPS has the privilege of focusing on advancing our mission, even as other organizations are struggling to survive.
Advancing our mission is essential, now more than ever. As you see in the headlines, people everywhere are appreciating nature as a source of solace and wonder right now. Gardening or a simple walk to see the flowers are among the only forms of recreation available. This is a unique moment to welcome others into our Society. We can enjoy powerful virtual spring growth as the natural world blooms around us. On the other hand, we see opportunists using this tragedy as cover to weaken environmental laws and fast-track harmful actions; for the moment, CNPS may be one of relatively few organizations able to assertively stand in their way. As the government fights economic downturn with stimulus funding, we will face an increasing number of bad ideas turned into terrible projects. We will need to work extra hard to make sure CNPS scientists and activists are there to question plans, insist on science, and ensure the flood of stimulus money advances solutions of the future rather than a reversion to the destruction of yesterday.
Because of our people – our volunteers, members, and staff – I’m lucky to be able to report that CNPS is strong.
Finally, we need to fix our society. We need to say “enough!” and insist that decision makers listen to scientists. This is a revolution that has been underway, in fits and starts, since at least the Enlightenment: The universe can be known, there are tools for advancing that knowledge, and that knowledge will make life better for everyone. This is a revolution that in this unique moment has a chance to advance: As we shut down our society and economy to suppress a microbe, costing thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, we wish we had listened to the scientists. As we worry about sea level rise, increased megafires, and global warming heat deaths, we wish we had listened to the scientists. As we witness the loss of insecta, amphibia, birds and bats, we wish we had listened to the scientists. Our fellow citizens are coming to understand that ignoring science is a damn lot more expensive than acting rationally, and in this moment there is real opportunity for enduring change.
In California we see a little bit of the benefit. Because our governor listened to people who can do math, thousands of Californians will see another summer, and millions more will enjoy fresh air while other Americans are indoors watching webcasts. California is not afraid to take action – even when federal or global leaders are ambivalent or inactive. From the Clean Air Act and CEQA to our more recent commitments to the Paris Accord and sanctuary cities, California stands up for science, for diversity, and for what we believe to be right. California values are strong, and our recent actions around COVID-19 remind me of that. This leadership is part of the California story, and it makes me incredibly proud to be a part of a California-wide organization.
For now, the CNPS office is closed, and staff are working from home — our newest hires haven’t even met their coworkers! Senior leaders are working long hours to ensure staff and volunteers have what they need. Chapter leaders are quickly moving toward virtual events, reaching out to include even broader and more diverse audiences. Like the native plants and places we so enjoy, we are all adapting and turning our faces toward the sun.
It won’t be easy. We will need each other more than ever, so I’m asking you now to stand with us. Share your ideas and inspiration, and encourage others to be part of this movement.