Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sustainability: Can Charlotte sustain enthusiasm?

What will the Charlotte region be like in 2030? "Charlotte 2030: A Sustainable Vision for our Region," released on Monday by the nonprofit Sustain Charlotte, paints an idealistic image of sustainability nirvana. It's a 16-page wish list put together after a gathering last spring, and includes envisioned goals in 10 different areas. Examples:

• "The region is a national leader for clean energy and green jobs,
which include research, design and manufacturing of innovative

• "Energy usage per person is reduced by at least 20% – or 1% per year."

• "Acres of parkland per person meets or exceeds the national average."

• "Economic growth is not viewed as dependent on infrastructure

• "New development takes place near existing development
or on previously developed sites (re-development)."

• "Buildings are designed for reconfiguration to accommodate
changing needs."

Now comes this pundit's commentary: Obviously our city, region, state and nation need to get a lot smarter about our energy use, develop new sources and learn to better conserve what we produce. We need to transition into a way of life that isn't so wasteful of our land, our resources and our public money. The Charlotte 2030 vision would be grand, if even half of it comes to pass.

But if I had $10 for every laudable "envision Charlotte" brochure or pamphlet or website produced in the past 20 years I'd be blogging at my leisure from the south of France between glasses of the local red while I live off my accumulated wealth. Will this effort be The One to succeed at changing the behavior of businesses and people? I confess to skepticism. I'm writing this on an election day when experts predict a takeover of Congress by a party that rejects the idea of carbon limits ("the energy tax"), vows to stymie the EPA at every turn and holds many members who cling to the notion that global climate change is a hoax perpetrated by all the world's climate scientists except a brave few. (I personally cannot envision a group of people less easily herded into a global hoax than a large collection of scientists and academics, many of whom relish bursting conventional wisdom bubbles and try their best at revisionist history.)

These are the people that a majority of voters are going to give our government to? This doesn't bode well for much action at the national level beyond continued mountaintop removal (see photo above), offshore oil spills, declining air and water quality.

So it will be up to cities, and a few states (but not likely North Carolina). Will Charlotte be one of the cities that rises to the occasion? Hard to say. Many of our elected officials are happy to be environmentally friendly until it means they actually have to displease any businesses or spend any government money on the notion.

But I'll end on a modestly cheerful note: Sustain Charlotte drew a crowd of about 60 to its launch at Trade and Tryon uptown, and is drawing on a lot of people relatively new to the region and enthusiastic about the mission. Plenty of things are happening at the small, local level regardless of what happens in Congress. And for now, that will have to suffice.

Photo: Kayford Mountain, West Virginia, victim of coal mining that removes the mountaintop. Credit - Observer file photo/AFP/Getty.


J said...

Your prejudice against the Republican Party is very obvious. I feel compelled to correct you on a few things:

* - It's not climate change that is the hoax, but the idea that human activity, and only human activity, is the cause, and that the one and only solution is to tax any business that emit any greenhouse gases to a punitive level.

* - On that same subject, some environmentalists are also guilty of needless sensationalism that erodes theri credibility. The best example is the commercial with the polar bear sitting on a tiny piece of ice, as if it needs to be rescued. Polar bears are, in fact, superior swimmers who regularly swim through the arctic waters to find food.

* - The opposition to the EPA is not born out of a desire to destroy the planet. The current EPA desires to basically legislate regulations on any industry they see fit. The only people I want issuing legislation are legislators, who are elected, not EPA bureaucrats, who are usually buddies of politicians from the party in power, and citizens have no power to remove them.

* - Finally, you state that "many of our elected officials are happy to be environmentally friendly until it means they actually have to displease any businesses or spend any government money on the notion." Where is that government money going to come from? At some point, we have to start spending less than we take in through taxes or the USA is going to go bankrupt. Those of you of the liberal view always propose "more taxes on the wealthy." Well, the top 5% of income earners in the US already pay 50% of the taxes. You simply can't count on more "soak the rich" taxes to pay for everything.

Don't get me wrong; I like the idea of more sustainable living practices. I just don't see how we can increase government spending any more right now.

Anonymous said...

"You simply can't count on more "soak the rich" taxes to pay for everything. "

Thatcher had told the world that very thing for years....

Anonymous said...

Very nicely put, J.
Mary, I'm sure you are well aware that many readers have noted how viciously anti-Republican the editorial board of this paper has been, with the viciousness increasing over the past few years. I have been attributing this to Taylor's direction of editorial policy; however, after reading your Republican bashing in this particular blog and your obvious disdain for the electorate's decisions, I am beginning to wonder if you are the one who is responsible for the terribly divisive tone of the editorial pages. I would be curious to know if you honestly believe that you are serving the community well by being so openly hostile to those you don't agree with.

Mary Newsom said...

Dear anonymous:

I'm not sure which Observer you've been reading. The editorial board almost always endorses both Democrats and Republicans - this time please note Andrew Murray, Jim Pendergraph, Ruth Samuelson, Sue Myrick, among others.

And we kick around people in both parties that we think deserve it.

If you're not in total agreement with our positions, join the club. Plenty of readers think we're too liberal, others think we're too conservative. We don't come up with our positions as part of a marketing strategy, but because they're what we believe is in the community's best interest. We're somewhat to the left of center, but nowhere near the far left.

The board's opinions are drawn up as a group, not dictated by the editor of the editorial page. That's been the case as long as I've been on the editorial board. When we disagree, we work through the disagreements to find common ground.

And while "J" may not believe that climate change is a hoax, trust me when I say there are plenty of others who do. We hear from them.

Arielle said...

You say that you come across brochures for new visions of Charlotte like they're a dime a dozen and that you could never write about each and every one. Why this one then? If it's equally doomed to fail like these others in your opinion, is it even worth writing about? It seems to me the Sustain Charlotte effort must have more momentum behind it already or your pessimistic told-you-so attitude expressed in this editorial would have caused you to pass on writing it in the first place.

It's hard enough to effect real change in our community as it is. It would be nice if those who are on the same side as groups like Sustain Charlotte would likewise show their enthusiasm also, instead of declaring it a failure a day after its launch.

Anonymous said...

"Many of our elected officials are happy to be environmentally friendly until it means they actually have to displease any businesses"

Truer words have never been said and Charlotte's so called liberals prefer vanity projects (lighted buildings, Jumbo trons running 24/7) as opposed to being true to convictions.

There are no true liberals in Charloot!