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.

California is faring better than other places, thanks to forward-thinking leaders who listened to scientists. Pictured here: A Carrizo Plain super bloom photo by Matt Carroll.

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.

28 Comments

  1. I appreciate the concern you have for CNPS volunteers and staff. I also appreciate the work you do to raise awareness of the importance of native plants to a healthy ecosystem, promote native plants and planting throughout California, and advocate to preserve sensitive areas. However, I find the political tone of this communication (as well as other recent communications) is very disturbing and offensive. I believe you can fulfill the mission of CNPS without getting political in this way.

    1. I am sorry you feel offended, The sad fact of the matter is that we need sound decisions from politicians to see that the environmental problems get addressed. Just planting a few native plants won’t solve the problems. Habitat preservation is imperative and that does not happen on it’s own. The scenic vistas and wild places we so admire would not exist without the constant study and work to preserve them. Some people do not recognize the intrinsic value of an undeveloped piece of land. And as hard as we might work, it would have little value when it is submerged under rising oceans or covered with unbreathable air.

    2. The issues that Dan Gluesenkamp raises are political, but they are not necessarily partisan. There are elected officials from both parties who have taken action to address the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, and many in both parties who have not, or whose rhetoric has not always been matched by effective action. The need for CNPS to be politically engaged in advocacy for California’s biodiversity will exist no matter who is in power.

  2. I am grateful for this piece, Dan!
    I just wrote a similar letter, encouraging government to create a new “Enlightenment,” to reevaluate the problems at hand with a new resolve for sustainable transformation. CNPS does, indeed, have a special role in its biodiversity emphasis, with the increasing evidence of the link between habitat loss and pandemics.
    Thank you!
    Carolyn

  3. Thank you for your uplifting words. I feel so lucky to be a Californian! I work with Teresa Sholars, Lupinus person. We keep a little herbarium going at Mendocino College Coast Campus. Teresa has been diligently working on her manuscript (just turned it in for editing!) while I have been getting the label data into the CCH2. We have 6500 specimens and I’m not a quarter of the way through yet. I could shelter for a lot longer!

    Some day we would like to get our images on line, but have not secured any money or equipment for that project. We are lucky to have work we can do from home that gives us such a sense of satisfaction. Sorry for those with only Netflicks and jigsaw puzzles.

  4. I support the mission of CNPS, especially when it takes a position of activism and advocacy. If California native plants can survive on serpentinite, we can aspire to be that hardy during difficult times.

  5. Thanks for the update . I hope this gives the staff time to work on other projects like more flora books and other things that this event has forced upon us. Take care and keep the good work up.

  6. Thanks. I think the “political” stuff you said was totally appropriate and am grateful for it. And the Carrizo Plain photo was so healing. Sending in my membership contribution

  7. This gave me goosebumps! Dan Gluesenkamp is Braveheart! Keep fighting the good fight and I’ll do everything in my power to support. Plants save places

  8. Scientist are known for coming to incomplete and impractical conclusions sometimes.
    Scientists have disagreements amongst themselves on the matter of scientific conclusions.
    Conclusions and implementations or understandings are a balancing act.
    Beware of simplistic statements with the ‘science flag’.

  9. Thanks for another well written column, Dan. Your insights into the place of science in society could not be more timely.

  10. Thank you for this thought provoking article. I continue to cultivate my native plant collection and will renew my membership with CNPS as well!

  11. Thank you very much for your adept communication and leadership.

    Your words, “sound science” is key, i.e. science based on rigorous fact-finding and transparency, and uncompromised by greed, dishonesty, and complacency.

  12. Thank you for the strong expression of support for science and facts. Your words are just what we need to hear right now — and continue to use to guide us through the recovery and the years to come.

  13. I find your comments on the CNPS Mission and staff inspiring and am also thankful our Governor listened to scientists and acted so swiftly and decisively. But when you venture from,science into pure politics, such as immigration policy, you really are not speaking for native plants or the Mission. And I could very well agree with you on that, but it’s a completely separate issue. Keep up the good work though.

  14. The issues that Dan Gluesenkamp raises are political, but they are not necessarily partisan. There are elected officials from both parties who have taken action to address the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, and many in both parties who have not, or whose rhetoric has not always been matched by effective action. The need for CNPS to be politically engaged in advocacy for California’s biodiversity will exist no matter who is in power.

  15. Thank you for your powerful words. I feel so invigorated by the surge of clean air, the lack of noise pollution, the renewed presence of neighbors and children visiting my garden. People are genuinely appreciating and admiring the natives stretching themselves after all the rains. People are asking for seeds, looking for monarch caterpillars, little ones are marveling at a bee taking a jacuzzi in a poppy; learning not to fear their sting, but understanding their mission. These are trying times, but the connection that is forming in our community is grand. We are united in the face of a common enemy that is a shape-shifter. I am grateful for California’s strong leadership to act and follow solid scientific advice.I also appreciate the willingness of her people to do what is difficult to guard our collective health and the systems that support it.

  16. I’m so glad to be one of the “newbie” CNPS enthusiasts. Tonight, CNPS helped me explain to my son that the azure penstamon called “Sierra Beardtongue” is not really called ‘beautiful little blue baby’ and he’ll be much cooler now when he takes friends out on hikes. 😉

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