Weekly Letter: Earth Daydreaming

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It was Earth Day on Monday, and I started my day as I often do, reading historian Heather Cox Richardson’s daily Letters From An American. In it, I learned about moments in history when Americans rose up in outrage about human destruction of our planet’s natural resources, and things that the federal government did in response. 

The first Earth Day in 1970 engaged 20 million Americans, and was fueled in part by an oil spill. Eight months later, Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency at the request of President Richard Nixon.

Humans argue plenty about environmental policy, and when we do, it gets fierce. It gets fierce because, like all living organisms, we are programmed to fight for survival, and many of us have rightly concluded that our survival depends on oxygen, water, food, and other things that only nature can provide.

Some of us experience a connection to nature in a way best described as spiritual. I am among that group. The intense feeling of being connected that some find in a house of worship, I have experienced alone in the woods, on mountains, and on the water. Fighting to protect the ecosystems of those places just feels like the right thing to do. The fact that so many people in our county feel the same way makes governing here more privilege than work.

But my passion for the cause does not prevent me from owning a chainsaw and using it, from driving a car, or from promoting construction of housing that is accessible for humans at all income levels. When I read about strategies to bring the Chesapeake Bay back to life, I question whether they’ll get the job done or just shift economic benefits to another industry. 

But I do believe that our species has evolved to the point where our impact on nature can destroy many forms of life on the planet, including our own. In my view, that justifies pushing back against free market and libertarian arguments that government should not regulate to protect nature. Most people agree.

As the current steward of the local government tasked with protecting the 588 square miles of land and 530 miles of coast where we live, I feel pretty good about the following.

We have amazing local nonprofits, and local government supports them and listens to them. They include Watershed Stewards Academy, Arundel Rivers Federation, Magothy River Association, Severn River Association, Annapolis Green, Growth Action Network, Chesapeake Conservancy, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Blacks of the Chesapeake, and a bunch of others that hold us accountable and get work done every day.

Our Plan2040 includes seventeen policy initiatives to implement four ambitious goals within its Planning for the Natural Environment section. Implementation is well underway and being tracked by a citizens committee and annual reports. The Green Infrastructure Plan goes into more detail, and our Citizens Environmental Commission monitors progress. 

Our Director of Planning and Zoning is the recognized state expert in preservation, and she recently hired a new Agricultural and Woodland Preservation coordinator with decades of experience in the field.

Our first-in-the-nation multi-jurisdictional Resilience Authority isn’t just bringing in tens of millions of outside money to address impacts of climate change, but is also pushing and guiding us to implement our goal of 100% renewable energy for county use by 2030, our fleet electrification plan, and mapping our county to ensure that we do solar without sacrificing precious forests and ag land. 

Our new Environmental Sub-Cabinet has brought together Public Works, Inspections and Permits, Central Services, Planning and Zoning, Recreation and Parks, the Resilience Authority, and Office of Law to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks as we evaluate new legislation, organize a county-wide war on invasives, and actually implement the goals we’ve set in our plans.

Oh, and then there’s Anne Arundel River Days, the true public water access events that allow families to get out on the water at no cost, to experience each of the magical rivers that connect our land to the Chesapeake Bay. We launched them last summer and are expanding to five locations on five weekends this year, so that our people, especially our young people, get a taste of what we’re fighting for. 

Governor Moore told an audience at Wye Island last summer that growing up, he didn’t have a relationship with the Chesapeake Bay. As an adult, he saw it through the eyes of his son and daughter, their sense of wonder and belonging when they experienced it, and that moved him to action.

Nature not only keeps us alive, but it brings out the best in us. Thanks for being on board for the work to protect it.

Until next week…

Steuart Pittman

Anne Arundel County Executive