By Phil Levin, National Nature Assessment Director, Office of Science & Technology Policy

More than half a century ago, 20 million Americans came together to observe the first Earth Day. From diverse backgrounds, they shared a common purpose: safeguarding nature and its many gifts for generations to come. We each, in our own way, recognize the immense value of nature—for our kids, our own well-being, and the resilience of our communities.

As President Biden has said, “America’s natural wonders help define who we are as a Nation. They unite and renew us, a constant reminder of something bigger than ourselves.” Our connection to nature runs deep. Whether we experience this connection in a household garden, a local park, or a distant wilderness, nature feeds us, unites us, inspires us, and links us to our histories and cultures. We each recognize the immense value of nature—for our kids, our own well-being, and the resilience of our communities. Nature also underpins economic vitality and job security for millions of Americans. For instance, in 2022, outdoor recreation supported 4.5 million jobs and accounted for more than $563 billion of the U.S. gross domestic product. And about 22 million jobs (more than 10% of total U.S. employment) were tied to agriculture and food production.

Nature matters to every part of our lives, but we also know that nature is changing.  Climate change, deforestation, pollution, urban sprawl, overharvesting, and many other pressures are threatening the health of our air, lands, waters, and ecosystems. We’ve seen changes to our growing seasons, declines in birds, insects, amphibians, and other species, increases in floods and fires, and the loss or degradation of critical habitats. These and other changes in nature are impacting our jobs and livelihoods, our sense of place, and our safety and well-being, including our ability to confront the climate crisis. 

This Earth Day, the National Nature Assessment (NNA) team will begin crafting the first-ever report that takes stock of nature’s inherent worth, and its contributions to the economy, our health and well-being, and more. It also will look ahead to understand how these benefits might change in the future. This report, compiled by some 150 authors, will build on extensive public engagement and Tribal consultation to better understand the role of nature in the lives of people across the country. It will weave science with traditional ways of knowing and the needs of communities.

The NNA will take a critical look at who is—and who isn’t—benefiting from nature or suffering the consequences of nature loss. Importantly, the NNA will also identify opportunities for nature to help us achieve our societal and economic goals. With an expected completion date in 2026, the NNA will serve as a vital tool for governments, businesses, communities, and leaders across sectors. The NNA will help leaders make decisions about how to safeguard nature, and how to work with nature to meet our nation’s aspirations for a stable climate, robust health, and plentiful opportunity for every person.

The NNA will support the efforts of people inside and outside of government to ensure that nature will be there for all of us now and into the future. It is a call for us to start paying attention to what is happening to nature so we can act before it’s too late. 

Earth Day reminds us that when we come together, we can cultivate a thriving natural world—the keystone of a healthy and prosperous nation.


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