By: Sam Valentin
Thursday, March 2, 2023
This blog post was written for and originally appeared on the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast’s blog, Gaining Ground.
What does land conservation have to do with climate change you ask?
Great question! Saving land, whether it be tidal wetlands, mangrove forests, or inland ranches and marshlands, is our best natural defense against flooding, and a powerful tool to help protect communities against the impacts of our changing climate.
But what exactly is climate change and why is it a problem?
When humans burn fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil for energy, we create what’s known as “rampant” carbon dioxide. Regular carbon dioxide is used and created by normal life processes, but the rampant carbon dioxide we create by burning fossil fuels is building up in the atmosphere and ocean. The atmosphere acts like a heat-trapping blanket surrounding the earth, and when rampant carbon dioxide is added, it thickens the blanket. The thicker the blanket gets, the more heat is trapped beneath.
This trapped heat is causing all kinds of problems for the earth’s climate and ecosystems. For example, the additional heat warms the ocean, causing water to expand and ice sheets at the poles to melt. As a result, sea levels are rising. The increasing temperature also affects the strength and ability of hurricanes to produce rain. Warmer air holds more moisture, which in turn leads to more rain.
So now that you have a better understanding of climate change and some of its impacts, how does land conservation come into play?
When humans pave over natural areas, the land cannot hold or store water as it is meant to, and instead with nowhere to go, floodwaters rush through our cities and towns. Stronger storms with more intense rainfall, combined with increased storm surge due to sea level rise, all too often leads to major flooding and devastation. This is a serious problem for coastal regions like ours and low-income and marginalized communities who are already more likely to be impacted by flooding and rising sea levels.
Conserving land helps reduce flooding by protecting and restoring the natural floodplains, coastal marshes, prairies, and forests that naturally absorb and hold water. Protecting these natural areas also prevents the carbon dioxide they store from being released and ensures their capacity to continue absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. When we conserve land, we are taking steps to safeguard our communities, both now and in the future.
Need an example?
Consider Conservation Foundation’s protection of the Bobby Jones Golf Complex, a nearly 300-acre property located in the middle of a densely populated urban area. When it rains, enormous volumes of stormwater from as far away as University Town Center flow through this property. Because it has not been developed or paved over, the land is able to store stormwater and protect surrounding areas from flooding.
This historic property was conserved in early 2022, thanks in large part to the dedication and advocacy of a group called Conserve Bobby Jones Now. Initially formed by five neighbors sitting in a driveway talking about their concerns, Conserve Bobby Jones Now made a difference that will be felt throughout the community for generations to come.
Tackling climate change is no small task, so how can you help?
The key to restoring the proper function of the climate system is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and the first step toward that reduction is talking about the problem. So let’s talk about it! Conserve Bobby Jones Now started with a few friends and went on to do great things. When we talk to our neighbors, family, and friends about climate change, we can do the same!
Whenever you can, help others understand how and why climate change is happening. Explain the difference between regular and rampant carbon dioxide, or how the atmosphere acts like a heat-trapping blanket and when we burn fossil fuels, we’re thickening that blanket. The more people understand the more likely they are to take action and work together toward collective, community-level solutions. Just as Conserve Bobby Jones Now educated the community on why Bobby Jones should be conserved, we can educate our communities on the causes and impacts of climate change. Then together, we can take practical steps to protect the people and places we love, now and forever.
To learn more about land conservation and the impact of our work here in Southwest Florida, I encourage you to explore our website at conservationfoundation.com.
In May, 2020, the 27.8-acre Felts Audubon Preserve in Palmetto, Manatee County, was protected with a conservation easement. Manatee County Audubon Society owns and manages the land, we can’t do it without your support.