In August of 2016, during the last months of his presidency, Obama used his executive power to quadruple the size of the Papahanaumokuakea (pronounced “Papa-ha-now-moh-koo-ah-kay-ah”) Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Originally created by President George W. Bush, the national monument is now the largest ecologically protected area on the planet at roughly 582,578 square miles of land and sea!
President Obama officially issued his farewell address to the American people this week and many are reflecting on the work that was accomplished during his two terms as president. Among the most obvious priorities of his administration were environmental conservation of ecological areas like Papahanaumokuakea and participation in climate change talks and policies. In the eight years he was in office, the Obama administration halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement at the Paris climate change talks in 2015.
The concern for protecting areas like Papahanaumokuakea comes partially from Obama’s love and appreciation for the environment and especially Hawaii (he was born and raised on Honolulu!) but also from scientists, environmentalists, and local people arguing for more strict protection of ecologically rich or important areas. Although there were groups opposed to the creation of the marine preserve (which closed 60% of the federal waters around Hawaii to fishing, worked to minimize climate change impacts on the area, and prevented destructive activities like sea-bed mining), it’s important to realize the purpose of protected areas like this one. It is not to prevent any one group from using or benefiting from the space, but to ensure that future generations are not robbed of the same opportunity to see, appreciate, and benefit from these lands too. No one explains this better than Aldo Leopold…
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
The ecological world may at times feel full of boundless resources and beauty, but it is not. The land is our community and while many seek to use our natural resources without thought or care to the impacts, conservationists and politicians fight to protect this community and the life within it when they know we, as constituents, care about it. As we bring in new political leaders at many levels this year don’t forget to make your voice heard if you have land that you love and respect!