Wednesday, February 1, 2017 Blog

Power players for food. Respecting ocean power. Planning for climate change. Safer roads. Powerful governors. Powerful presidents. Representing pelicans.

by Andy Hollis


There has been a lot of news this week about power – the power of nature and of people, for good and for ill, on its use and abuse, and on its limits. To begin with, what better application of power could there be than promoting local, healthy food?

This article from the Post and Courier identifies the power behind the (local) fork. It turns out that two of the 25 local food power brokers are GrowFood Carolina’s general manager Sara Clow and downtown development impresario and Conservation League board member, Steve Zoukis.

In the poll position is Chef Mike Lata of Fig, who serves on our GrowFood Advisory Committee. I’m also proud to say that I know and admire virtually every one of the remaining 22 localistas. Collectively, they have transformed Charleston’s food landscape. That’s real power!

In spite of its messy aftermath, Hurricane Matthew was a relatively benign reminder of the power of nature. This editorial from the Post and Courier urges coastal communities, and particularly, Edisto Beach, to take a soft approach to restoring its beach.

The author quotes the Conservation League’s Katie Zimmerman, who reminds us of the unintended and unwanted consequences of piling rocks on shifting sand – starving down-drift beaches and threating the survival of loggerhead turtles – not to mention the futility of trying to hold barrier islands in place. This is a lesson that becomes more important every year as the planet warms and the oceans rise.

Coping with these changes will require vision, leadership, advance planning… and a lot of money. In this next piece, also from the Post and Courier, Abigail Darlington reports that the city of Charleston has appointed a “resilience director” to coordinate the city’s climate agenda.

This is a good start, but it raises the question as to whether Mark Wilbert, who is the city’s emergency management director, will have the time, and the power, to take on another full-time job in addition to his current responsibilities. City spokesperson, Jack O’Toole says that additional resources could be added in year two or three, “depending on requirements and circumstances moving forward.” The sooner the better, I say.

Money is a form of power. (Sometimes more than it should be.) Christie Hall, the S.C. Department of Transportation director, wants to deploy $50 million worth to make the state’s rural roads safer. She advocates adding that amount on top of the proposed increase in taxes and fees the Legislature will debate again this year. Secretary Hall notes that this would allow the Department to improve 1,957 miles of rural roads with wider shoulders, rumble strips, guard rails and cables. Three thoughts on this point:

1. It makes sense.
2. The cost of these improvements, for the entire state of South Carolina, represents less than 7% of the price tag for the proposed extension (8 miles) of I-526 to John’s Island. Draw your own conclusions…
3. A large percentage of the accidents on these roads involved speeding and “impaired” drivers. Assuming this means drunk drivers, (it could also mean “texting impaired”…) a missing, and cost effective, safety component is more aggressive enforcement of traffic laws.

By history and design, South Carolina’s governor has less power than any other governor in America. But that’s not to say she, or he, is impotent. Over the past 300 years, skillful governors have used their relatively limited power to accomplish great or terrible things.

With Governor Haley’s appointment as head of our United Nations team, we have a new governor, Henry McMaster. As this article from the Post and Courier reports, Governor McMaster is no stranger to politics in the state, having served in more political positions, and run in more statewide elections, than almost anybody else in the arena.

So how will Governor McMaster perform on conservation issues? John Tynan, the head of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, thinks we have reason to be optimistic, citing McMaster’s role as attorney general in defending state waters and as Lt. Governor for opposing offshore drilling. I agree. But like every elected official, Governor McMaster will wield his power, in part, on issues about which he believes his constituents and supporters feel strongly.

Now is the time to let him know how important we believe a healthy environment is to our future. Governor McMaster will fill out the remaining two years of Governor Haley’s term, and the primary for the next election is a little more than a year away. This places a great deal of power in the hands of voters.

Someone should be (and undoubtedly is) studying the psychological implications of the Trump presidency. I can’t remember a time of greater anxiety about the use and abuse of presidential power. And my primary reference point is only the field of environmental protection.

The steady stream of bomb-throwing cabinet appointments, culminating with the latest guy to oversee the transition at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), from the far right, ideologically impaired Heartland Institute, has really shaken people up. (To be fair, the nominee for Secretary of Interior sounds like a reasonable fellow. We will soon find out…)

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked what President Trump and his appointees can and can’t do to harm the environment. On the subject of the limits to executive power, the New York Times reports that the answer is a mixed bag. Some Obama initiatives can be easily undone, like executive orders, while others, like the Clean Power Plan promulgated by the EPA, (which is one climate measure that actually has teeth), will not be easy to reverse in one term.

In every case, in spite of the complexity of the system, the power to protect the environment still resides where it always has – with the voters. Now is the time to weigh in on the proposed environmental rollbacks. Two almost final thoughts:

1. The national groups working on climate change, air and water pollution, and species and habitat protection at the federal level have never been more important.

2. The local and state groups working on climate change, air and water pollution, and species and habitat protection have never been more important.

Finally, as if to remind us how far we have come and where we need to go in the application of power, this delightful article in the Island Packet reports on the wonders of the brown pelican, an animal whose presence we take for granted as we explore the beaches and marshes of the Lowcountry.

But we shouldn’t. In the early 1970’s, pelicans were on the verge of extinction because of the widespread use of DDT. No pelicans remained on the Gulf Coast. South Carolina was a relative stronghold, with 600 nests in the state.

Because of environmental activism followed by decisive action by Congress and the Nixon Administration, banning DDT and placing the bird on the newly enacted Endangered Species Act, brown pelicans have recovered – in 2013 there were more than 5,000 nests – and once again are icons of the Lowcountry and the coastal Southeast.

This is the perfect week to enjoy and admire brown pelicans and the array of other species that, except for the vigorous deployment of power on behalf of the environment, could easily have flickered out of existence.


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