Tuesday, January 3, 2017 Blog

2016 was a great year, seriously! China protects elephants. Don’t drain the swamp. The good news: Democracy is alive and well. Take it to the streets!

by Andy Hollis


I hope everyone enjoyed the New Year’s weekend, with delightfully, accurately seasonal temperatures on New Year’s Eve.

It may take years for historians to understand the implications of 2016. (Ordinary people might make sense of it more quickly.) But here are a number of accomplishments we can all celebrate on face value.

As this editorial from the Island Packet reveals, the coast is better off for the passage of an updated beachfront management act. And the threat of offshore drilling vanished when the Obama Administration removed the Atlantic from the leasing program. This can be reversed by the incoming Trump administration, but the process is complex and time-intensive, and we have a powerful citizen’s movement to protect the coast. So we’ll call these both unqualified victories.


Continuing the year’s review, WestRock’s permanent protection of more than 50,000 acres of “East Edisto,” connecting the historic plantations along the Ashley River with the ACE basin, was an enormous achievement, the effort spanning ten years.

I haven’t heard the final 2016 reports from our partners in the land trust community, but I’m guessing they will add another 50,000 acres. That would constitute a glorious year, pushing the protected land base in the Lowcountry to more than 1.3 million acres (which is five times the size of the Francis Marion National Forest).

Speaking of millions, this year marked a milestone for GrowFood Carolina. Over our five year life span, we’ve sold enough vegetables to return more than $2 million to Lowcountry farmers. (That is a LOT of vegetables.) Our sales have doubled year after year, and it looks like the trend – a function of the growing passion for fresh, local food – will continue in 2017.

The effort to extend I-526 to John’s Island has ebbed and flowed, and ebbed and flowed, and… I’m optimistic – I would even say, almost certain – that this foolish vestige of another era in transportation thinking will expire entirely in 2017. One reason is that 2016 marked the passage of the first major state transportation reform bill in eight years.

The new law requires the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank to have its projects approved by the DOT. That means the projects must be state priorities. (I-526 has never been a state priority and ranks poorly even on the Charleston metro list.) This change may seem innocuous, but it is a seismic change in a state where politics have historically diverted billions of dollars in transportation spending away from true needs.

In addition to these achievements, conservationists have worked tireless to reduce plastic pollution emanating from coastal communities. Isle of Palms first banned single-use plastic bags, followed quickly by Folly Beach, who saw IOP’s bet and raised them one, also banning Styrofoam coolers and cups.

As I reported a few months ago, these initiatives clearly inspired France (the country) to ban single use plastic bags. But now, as this article from the Washington Post reports, the state of Michigan has bucked the trend by passing a state law prohibiting local governments from banning plastic bags. This “ban on bag bans” is the same type of legislation we defeated in the 2016 legislative session. We will undoubtedly see a ban on bans bill introduced this session of General Assembly, but we are ready for it!


Speaking of bans, China has grasped the gold ring of conservation, ending all commerce in ivory by the end of 2017. (Let’s hope the poachers don’t move into overdrive in anticipation.)

This is a fantastic, long awaited decision on China’s part. The country is the largest buyer of ivory on the planet, (with imports representing 50-70% of the world’s ivory trade), driving the tragic, precipitous increase in elephant poaching across the African continent. The Chinese ban is widely believed to be the single most important step that can be taken to conserve elephants in the future.


Back in the U.S., the incoming administration has pledged to “drain the swamp.” While we can all agree with the political goal, Adam Rosenblatt, a scientist with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, writes in the Washington Post what those of us who love swamps have been thinking – don’t malign these wonderful, useful places. The metaphor needs to go.

Rosenblatt reminds us of the many essential functions swamps (a.k.a. wetlands, marshes, fens, vernal pools, depression meadows…) perform. It’s always worth remembering that the clean water we drink, the wildlife we enjoy, the air we breath, and the carbon we sequester, exist in large part courtesy of the 100 million plus acres of wetlands that adorn the United States (not including Washington, D.C.).


Coincidentally (or not), this article from a journal called Environmental Monitor reports on a new study by The Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The researchers concluded that coastal wetlands reduced property damage from Superstorm Sandy by more than $625 million. Bottom line, things would have been a LOT worse without swamps. (And swamps would be much the worse without the federal Clean Water Act.)


Not quite finally, this editorial from the New York Times strikes a familiar chord (at least on my guitar). The authors cite, among other sources, a Brookings Institution report about the role states will play in responding to climate change. The summary is that most of the progress over the next four years will not emerge at the federal level. That may seem obvious. But this is an excellent, encouraging piece, placing the responsibility, and the potential, for climate action squarely in the laps of states, cities and citizens.


Here’s one excerpt from the piece:

This month, Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, proposed new rules for power plants and vehicles to make sure the state achieves its goal of a 25 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2020. Emissions are already down by around 20 percent.

Is this a silver lining in an otherwise bleak progression of storm clouds across the sky of cabinet appointments? I think it is. It’s time we stopped waiting for “someone else” to solve the climate problem, or the extinction problem, or the pollution problem. We’ve heard a lot of complaining about democracy over the past two months across the political spectrum. I think it’s time to stop debating the system and start implementing the ideal – the authority, and responsibility, of the people to create a better world.

This video is from National Geographic. In four minutes, it makes the point I’ve tried to make, but worlds better. The narrator is a “spoken word artist,” (who knew there were such people?), by the name of Prince Ea. It’s edgy, but I’m sure you will enjoy it.


Happy New Year! And onward to a triumphant 2017!


Contact Us

[email protected] · 843.723.8035

Stay Up-To-Date

Sign up for the latest news from the Coastal Conservation League and find out how you can get involved in our efforts.