Tuesday, August 2, 2016 Blog

Fewer bags. More wolves, and flytraps. “We have run out of ammunition, so we must think (and operate traffic lights with plungers).”

by Andy Hollis


Last week I described the news as a mixed bag. This week I’ll describe it as a (literal) bag.

In this excellent overview by the Post and Courier’s Abigail Darlington, you will learn that single use plastic bag bans in South Carolina are attracting national attention.


This comes both from conservationists and coastal communities concerned about the rising tide of plastic in the ocean and the terrestrial environment, and from the plastic bag industry, who believe that plastic bag bans threaten jobs in the US. (I’ll refrain from citing the litany of horrors from plastic pollution in the ocean, the total mass of which scientists predict, by 2050, will exceed the biomass of all the oceans’ fish. I’ll refrain from noting that we could, sadly, replace a thousand jobs worldwide that might be lost, but probably wouldn’t, to a ban on single use plastic bags, with hundreds of thousands of jobs cleaning up the massive plastic “garbage patches” in the Pacific and the Atlantic. I’ll refrain from elaborating on these points because the jobs argument is so ridiculous that it simply doesn’t deserve a response.)

So… good for Isle of Palms, the first town in the state to pass a bag ban. As thisABC News 4 article notes, Folly Beach is following close behind, with the City of Charleston in hot pursuit. (Thank you, Folly Beach, and Mayor Tecklenburg and City of Charleston staff.)


On the other side of the issue are Speaker of the House Jay Lucas, from Hartsville, and Representative Eric Bedingfield, from Belton. These two state house members, on behalf of Hartsville-based bag manufacturer Novolex, introduced legislation this year to prohibit local governments from passing these bans. They believe that curbing the power of local communities to protect their environment is justified in order to protect the inalienable right of companies like Novalex to destroy ocean life on the planet. (I admit this is a slight overstatement, but the concept holds.)

For every one trillion plastic bags on the planet, there might be one Venus flytrap. South and North Carolina are uniquely graced with the presence of this fascinating carnivorous plant, which occupies just a few places, like the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve in Horry County (the site of the raging debate over a proposed road project and a population of coastal black bears).

This article from the Washington Post reports that a poacher who stole 970 Venus flytraps — three percent of the entire extant wild population on the planet — from a preserve in North Carolina was sentenced to serve six to seventeen months in prison. Whether this punishment is commensurate with the crime is a question worthy of debate, but it will definitely get the attention of potential future poachers, which is the main point.


Another highly endangered species limited to North and South Carolina is the southern red wolf. This beautiful animal once presided, along with eastern cougars, as an apex species in the Southeast. Today, red wolves exist in the wild only in the Alligator River Refuge on the coast of North Carolina. Bull’s Island had a small population in the 1990s.

This Post and Courier article by Bo Petersen reports that a half million people have signed a petition urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to, basically, follow the law and establish additional wild populations of red wolves. The Service has abandoned the wolf by inertia and inaction, and thereby, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, violated the Endangered Species Act, which requires them to expand the population. What a wonderful testimony it would be to the stewardship of our generation if we were to restore this animal to its rightful position in the biosphere of the Southeast, and how encouraging that half a million people agree.


Finally, no week would be complete without a transportation article. This one, from the Post and Courier, explains that the city of Charleston has begun operating the traffic light at the corner of Maybank Highway and River Road by hand, (using a “plunger,” which certainly conjured up a fascinating image.) That is, an actual human being — in this case, a City of Charleston employee — watches the traffic flow and manipulates the light for maximum “throughput.” (A logistics term.) Charleston County Council member Joe Qualey had recommended this approach a few years ago, but was rebuffed.


I had the privilege of spending a week in Bhutan seven years ago with my daughter Nellie. One of the many delightful aspects of that country, which measures progress with a “national happiness index,” (vs., say, the number of metal boxes that move through a port,) are the traffic coordinators, who stand on stools in the major intersections and direct traffic, wearing white gloves. So it is possible, in Bhutan and on John’s Island, to humanize transportation decisions.

Again, good for the City of Charleston and Mayor Tecklenburg for this interim step in relieving a congestion problem that has always been easily avoidable by modest improvements, (not including the extension of I-526).

Maybe this week’s theme is that it comes down to people who care, to make intelligent decisions about traffic lights, red wolves and plastic bags. Accepting the status quo, relying on bureaucratic processes and deferring to political leadership holds no hope for the future of our communities or for the environment.

Have a great, humanized, week!


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