You have to get out of shouting range of the politicians in Washington to appreciate what's really important to Americans. Americans like Barbra from Arizona: "'Environment' is not a swear word, but too often it is treated like one in the halls of our legislatures."
Barbra is one of thousands of Americans -- Republicans, Democrats and independents -- who have joined a national grassroots conversation aimed at taking the politics out of conservation and returning preservation of our wilderness land, waterways and wildlife to its original roots as a unifying, rather than divisive force in America.
Judging from responses from all across America, perhaps we are not a nation as divided as our political leaders would like us believe. We've heard from angry Republicans. "Since when did breathing clean fresh air, drinking pure clean water and protecting our precious natural resources and environment become something that only Democrats should value?" wrote Lorrie from Pennsylvania.
"Too often now I hear key Republicans ridicule people that care deeply about the environment as over-zealous crazies. It makes me feel almost embarrassed to be a Republican."
But the frustration knows no party.
Mark from California speaks for many Americans when he says, "I sure would like to be hearing candidates even mention the environment during their campaigns. There's a lot of talk about the deficit and the burden it will place on future generations. Think of the burden placed on them if their world is deprived of clean air, clean water and an abundance of wildlife and wild places."
We at the National Audubon Society, one of the nation's most trusted conservation organizations, and ConservAmerica, a grassroots organization of conservation-minded Republicans, have joined in a ground-breaking movement called the American Eagle Compact.
The compact's purpose is to rally Americans around these shared values, remove the politically loaded rhetoric, and hold our elected leaders accountable for responsible stewardship and common-sense conservation. We call on the next administration and the next Congress to detoxify the conversation over clean air, clean water, protecting the health of American families, preserving our wild places, seeking energy independence, and saving endangered birds and wildlife.
"All Americans must get over the hump that divides half into thinking that economic progress is at odds with environmental protection and the other half into thinking that we actually have the luxury of time to wait for everyone to agree," California's Mark also wrote us on our website (www.eaglecompact.org)
Politicians need to realize that outside Washington, this is not a debate over the existence -- or not -- of man-made climate change. It's debate over preserving our national heritage, clean air and water, and protecting the love of outdoors that binds Americans together.
"I grew up half a block from the railroad, and remember Mom's clothes on the clothes line getting dirty from the soot of the passing locomotive," Bob wrote from Nebraska. "We never thought about health hazards from the soot, we just wanted clean clothes. We were pleased when diesel locomotives replaced the coal-burners -- no more dirty clothes!
"We didn't care whether Republicans or Democrats were behind the change. We just saw progress."
One of the most poignant stories came from Carrie in New Jersey.
"Although my father and I hold vastly different views on a great many subjects, a gift he gave me when I was quite young was the love of nature, and in particular, the birds outside our window.
"To this day, in his advancing age and humbling physical decline, I can share a moment with him about a bird I've seen in my own yard's hedge or my daily wanderings, and I can see the old spark of interest and curiosity in his eyes that has inspired me," Carrie wrote.
Let's bring together both parties to understand that we are dependent on a healthy atmosphere and strong laws to protect it for the sake of Carrie, her dad and all Americans.
The above Op Ed appeared in 24 newspapers across the country, beginning with The Miami Herald on October 5.