Carol Peden Schilling, Kent E. Agness, Lisa Shover Kackley and Gene D’Adamo
Harrowing scenes of Western wildfires ravaging trees, homes and lives fill our screens. The second-busiest hurricane season on record in the U.S. is being tracked right now over the warming Atlantic Ocean.
Closer to home, increasing rainfall is broadening traditional flood zones in our neighborhoods. One does not need to be an environmentalist to see nature changing in our time; its displays are evident to Hoosiers who are concerned and are calling for action in Indiana.
In keeping with the last wishes of Indiana newspaperwoman and humanitarian Nina Mason Pulliam, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust was established to support the causes about which she cared deeply; one of those was nature.
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In 2017, the trust launched a targeted focus on the environment with multi-million-dollar collaborative grants to protect, restore and maintain critical waterways and wildlife habitat in Indiana. We placed a special emphasis on the White River, which supplies drinking water to 2 million people in Central Indiana and supports thousands of plant and wildlife species.
We also began underwriting environmental reporting at the IndyStar, which Nina Pulliam and her husband, Eugene C. Pulliam, had owned, allowing journalists to undertake thorough reporting about environmental issues affecting our state, and keeping nature top of mind for readers. At the same time, the trust enlisted Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy to conduct a poll to gain an understanding of voters’ opinions and perceptions about environmental topics.
In 2017, the poll revealed Hoosiers had fairly significant concerns about climate change, water quality and supply, clean air and alternative energy development. An updated poll early this year showed that concerns about the environment and climate change are growing among Indiana voters, as is their desire for state leaders and policymakers to address the challenges. Here are a few of the findings:
- Indiana voters rank the environment among their top three priorities for the governor and legislature to address, with improving the public education system the first priority and making health care more accessible and affordable the second.
- 78% said protecting the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of slowing economic growth.
- Hoosiers believe that more should be done to combat climate change. Specifically, 72% said the federal government needs to do more and 70% said the state government should do more.
- 80% feel environmental issues in the state are either serious or very serious and need to be addressed immediately.
- 63% of Hoosiers believe the White River is polluted and needs to be cleaned up.
Because Hoosiers are becoming more concerned about our environment, and because it is clear there are knowledge gaps among our citizens on important topics, it is imperative that we have accurate and timely information to keep informed about the environment (and other issues). Local journalism can best address that imperative.
While national and international media provide perspective and learning on global climate and environmental trends, it’s in regional newspapers and on the local evening news programs and public radio that we learn what state legislators and municipal leaders are doing to address air quality and groundwater protection. It is local reporting that describes impacts of animal feeding operations on river health and community-level risks from coal ash.
And it is through local journalism that state and local leaders learn how Hoosiers want them to act on behalf of the environment.
As advocates for an informed and engaged public, we hope Hoosiers will call for focused conversations about their environmental priorities in the halls of the state capitol, county commissions and corporate offices across the state. We encourage those who want to make a difference in nature today to connect with groups like Conservation Law Center, Hoosier Environmental Council, White River Alliance, Reconnecting to Our Waterways and The Nature Conservancy.
Above all, we hope state and local leaders, businesses, conservationists and citizens will come together to act on behalf of nature in Indiana.
Carol Peden Schilling is chair of the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Kent E. Agness and Lisa Shover Kackley are trustees of the organization. Gene D’Adamo is its president and CEO.
Kent E. Agness Lisa Shover Kackley (To read the full report, visit ninapulliamtrust.org.)