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How North Carolina Became Nature Positive In 2040:  A Scenario

by | May 16, 2023 | Nature, North Carolina | 1 comment

November 17, 2040

The story of how North Carolina transformed itself from a nature negative to a nature positive state has many twists and turns, but we can pinpoint it beginning around 2025. At that time, NC had two pro-nature provisions in its state constitution – one guaranteeing the conservation of natural resources and one the right to hunt and fish – but they were largely ignored. In fact, North Carolina ranked in the bottom half of states for pro-nature expenditures — only 1.2% of our state budget.

With its growing population and pressure for development, North Carolina was losing 33 square miles of forested land every year. Much more private land was being fenced off and gated for high-end housing developments. Natural wetlands were being drained and replaced by engineered wetlands that failed to provide shelter and breeding grounds for animals. The public seemed apathetic about all of this.

The turning point

By 2025, though, you could hear grumbling about the changes. People started protesting developments that destroyed or fenced off natural areas. Hunters, hikers, and fishermen were angry when they were locked out of areas they had always used. Suburban families were upset about forests and meadows being bulldozed for development around them. People in the cities got organized around a lack of neighborhood parks for their kids and a lack of tree cover to keep summer temperatures down.

When voters are upset, politicians see opportunity. Because concerns about wildlife conservation, access to land, and pollution affected everyone, both parties started competing to be the most pro-nature sometime around 2026. Elizabeth Benson, the ambitious Chair the Environment Committee in the NC House of Representative, got a lot of publicity by holding hearings around the state. The hearings showed how upset people were with the relentless development of “their” natural areas. Not to be outdone, a third of the Governor’s 2026 State of the State speech focused on his vision to make North Carolina the most pro-nature state in the country through “public-private partnerships.”

Political competition heats up

The competition between Benson and the Governor continued for the next couple years, with each outbidding the other on what the state should do to restore its natural heritage. North Carolina’s 65 pro-nature organizations egged them on and fed their staffs with policy ideas. Things came to a head when Benson rode her slogan, “A Nickel for Nature,” to her party’s nomination for Governor in the 2028 election.

“A Nickel for Nature” meant that 5% of North Carolina’s annual budget should be devoted to protecting and restoring natural areas. In their second debate, the Governor called Benson’s “Nickel for Nature” radical because it would quadruple North Carolina’s environmental budget. Benson calmly explained that it meant 95 cents of every dollar in the state budget would still go to human needs and only five cents would go to the needs of nature – but promised that was enough to transform the state.

Her position papers explained the nickel for nature would go to land purchases and contracts with private landowners to keep their properties open to wildlife and the public. It would create protected lands and wildlife corridors. It would restore wetlands, reforest cities, and create parks where there were none. It would fund a comprehensive nature literacy program for the schools. Finally, it would protect private property rights because it would rely on purchases and contracts rather than regulation.

In 2028, Elizabeth Benson won the governorship and her party won majorities in the NC House and Senate. The General Assembly passed “Nickel for Nature” as a constitutional amendment proposal. In 2030, the voters approved the amendment 58% to 42%. As a result, North Carolina spent $21 billion to preserve and restore its natural features during the 2030s compared to $5 billion if it had continued its 2020s trend.

What happened next

Word got out that North Carolina was willing to make direct payments to landowners for environmental services including forest and wetland protection, reforestation, sustainable forest management, and park development. City forestry programs were funded. Teachers embraced the nature literacy curriculum with enthusiasm. By 2040,

  • The state’s forest cover had grown from 48% of its land area in the 2020s to 67%.
  • 41% of its land has some level of wildlife protection.
  • Wetland habitats have expanded from 17% of NC’s land area to 23%
  • 85% of the people can get to a park or natural area with a 10-minute walk.
  • The number of plants and animals identified as threatened, endangered, or declining in the state has dropped from 483 in 2022 to just 23.
  • A higher proportion of families are hunting, hiking, fishing, camping, and birdwatching than at any time since the 1940s.

Could it really happen in North Carolina? Why not?

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1 Comment

  1. RICHARD VANDER VEEN

    What a great example for the State of N Carolina, our Nation and the EARTH!

    Reply

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