In 1963, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall published “The Quiet Crisis,” a book detailing the threats facing the nation’s wildlife and natural resources at the time.
Nearly 60 years later, the planet is facing a rapidly worsening climate and extinction crisis ― and that man’s son, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), is sounding the alarm.
“The crises aren’t so quiet anymore,” Udall told HuffPost in a Tuesday interview. “We have a sixth mass extinction, with 1 million species threatened because of human activity. In New Mexico, we recently saw one of the largest migratory bird die-offs in recent decades. The U.S. is losing a football field worth of nature every 30 seconds.”
At 72, Udall says he’s still optimistic we can stem the disasters ― but a “troubled optimist.” He’s retiring from Congress after 20 years because, as he’s put it, he wants to try out something else in public service. He is reportedly on President-elect Joe Biden’s shortlist to lead the Interior Department, the federal agency responsible for 500 million acres of federal land, or roughly one-fifth of the country’s landmass.
As someone born into a family of conservationists and who has spent his career championing environmental causes, Udall said it’s been painful to watch President Donald Trump spend the last four years gutting environmental rules, dismantling public land protections, abandoning U.S. climate action and undermining Native American tribal sovereignty.
On top of all that, his actions have tanked morale among career public servants, including the 70,000 who work for Interior.
“They’ve taken a wrecking ball to the Interior Department,” he said.
But after years of Trump’s efforts to cut regulations and boost fossil fuel production in a quest for so-called “energy dominance,” Biden is pledging to put the U.S. on track to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and make massive investments in clean energy research. Biden is also vowing to not only restore the national monuments that Trump dismantled but establish new protected sites to safeguard ecologically important landscapes.
“The best thing that could have happened for the planet was Joe Biden getting elected president,” Udall said. “Our planet really couldn’t have survived four more years of Trump.”
The Democratic senator has high expectations for the Biden administration to right the wrongs of the Trump era ― regardless of whether he ends up with a Cabinet spot.
“Who wouldn’t want to serve in President Biden’s administration?” he said of the speculation that he is up for the job. “I think he’s heading in the right direction.”
Udall’s conservation vision is already part of Biden’s plan. The president-elect has committed to signing a Day One executive order to conserve 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030 ― a target in line with the United Nations’ plan for protecting biodiversity. Udall has championed the “30 by 30” plan in the U.S., introducing a resolution last year to make it a national goal.
That target should be the “organizing principle” of the incoming administration, he said, and if Biden is serious about achieving these conservation and climate goals, he’ll have to work closely with Native American tribes.
“We know there is a very intimate tie with tribes and nature,” he said. “Their traditions around the usage of land are something that we can really learn from. There’s a lot of wisdom there.”