America’s natural resources—including our public lands—are a rich heritage that has made enormous contributions to our economy, health, environment, and society. And yet, the nation continues to grapple with how to sustainably steward the nation’s forests, lakes, rivers, wildlands, mineral deposits, and fossil fuels. As demand rises for rare earth minerals and lumber, communities throughout the United States must reconcile strongly held, but sharply differing, views regarding jobs, habitat protection, private property rights, open space, recreation, and cultural values. Similarly, climate change and pollution are having negative impacts on oceans and their ecosystems.
In addition to protecting natural resources, the nation must address new and emerging environmental issues, especially pollutants contributing to climate change. Since the passage of major federal pollution control laws in the 1960s and 1970s, the United States has reduced the release of many pollutants to our air, water, and land. Despite this progress, new health and environmental threats have emerged that must be addressed. For example, while domestic greenhouse gas emissions have generally decreased, this decline is insufficient to avoid significant future adverse effects on public health, ecosystems, and infrastructure due to climate change. Other key emerging issues include the rising levels of microplastics and pharmaceuticals in our food and drinking water from oceans, rivers, and lakes.
As issues related to sustainability, proper use, and the intrinsic value of natural places have become more complex, we must move beyond business as usual to develop new solutions to natural resource management, pollution control, and clean energy development and utilization. Public agencies and administrators have a critical role to play in addressing these issues:
As part of the Grand Challenge to “Steward Natural Resources and Address Climate Change,” the Academy will work with stakeholders to address how to:
This is an illustrative list of topics. As the Grand Challenges campaign kicks off and progresses, other issues can and will be addressed based on stakeholder feedback about critical needs and opportunities.