08/09/2013 09:34 am ET Updated Oct 09, 2013

Going on Vacation With Climate Change

Perhaps you have noticed the new seasonal indicator: Millions of Americans are flocking to Facebook and Instagram to post photos of their favorite summertime places. I have seen gorgeous shots of local beaches, national parks, and Griswold-like tours of distant landmarks. I even uploaded my own pictures from a family gathering in Minnesota. At the start of the trip, I thought I would be eaten alive by black flies but I fell in love with the calm lake waters and tree-lined vistas, and I happily posted my Boundary Waters photos when I returned.

Wherever your travels take you these days, you might notice that the mixture of sunny skies and vacation time brings out the beauty in our country. From the tide pools of Point Reyes to the dunes of Cape Cod, our nation sparkles in the summer. But there is a storm brewing over the horizon.

Climate change is threatening many of the places we love so much. It is making beautiful beaches like Hilton Head erode in the face of sea-level rise. It is causing Glacier National Park to lose its namesake glaciers. It is making famous fly-fishing spots like the Yellowstone River too warm for large numbers of trout and salmon. It is contaminating Lake Erie coastline with dangerous algae blooms. In short, it is undermining the sandy beaches, mountain peaks, scout campgrounds, and desert trails where we have made treasured memories with friends and families.

If you care about the places you visit this summer, then come back from vacation ready to demand climate action.

Everyone knows all politics are local, so make global warming local. Help lawmakers connect the dots between carbon pollution and the destroyed landscapes, lost tourist dollars, and damaged property they are seeing in their own districts.

Those connections are clear outside of Austin, for instance. The pretty lakes that dot the countryside usually draw plenty of swimmers and boaters. But now that Texas is in the grip of a severe drought, business is drying up. Rusty Brandon told USA Today he can't attract customers to his Hi-Line Lake Resort because that there isn't enough water in the lake for boating or fishing. Brandon, who had to file for bankruptcy, said, "I'm literally on the front line of experiencing climate change daily."

Many local leaders are trying to protect valuable destinations from climate change. In Rhode Island, officials are trying to figure out how to prepare the Block Island ferry terminal from sea-level rise. The city of Phoenix calls on golf courses to use treated wastewater on their grounds to preserve freshwater resources in the midst of prolonged drought.

There are similar adaptations going on around the nation, but some influential community members don't yet recognize that climate change is endangering their local treasures. The NRDC Action Fund recently interviewed prominent Michigan residents and learned that while they are concerned about climate change, they want to put their energies into protecting the Great Lakes. They saw these as two separate issues, when in fact they are one and the same.

I understand why people work to restore the Great Lakes. These waters nurture ecosystems, attract millions of visitors, and generate enormous economic growth. But preservation efforts could be short-circuited if we don't also confront what climate change is doing to the Great Lakes -- from algae blooms to loss of lake ice.

People often prefer to think in terms of places rather than issues. If you say climate change is a worldwide problem, they might nod their heads. But if you tell them climate change is undermining their favorite beach, they will be more motivated to do something about it.

Political winds could start to shift when more constituents start talking about local climate impacts. Right now, opponents would have a tough time defeating Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) on climate change alone. But if we can show that Upton is an enemy of the Great Lakes because he continually obstructs efforts to confront climate change and all the damage it is doing to the region, then he suddenly becomes more vulnerable for failing to protect a place of great importance to voters.

What place matters most in your community? What vacation spot do love the most? Whether it is a local swimming hole or a distant mountain trail, tell your lawmakers you want to protect it from the hazards of climate change.