Monday, May 15, 2017 Blog · News

I missed last week so this post is longer. (Sorry!) But it has great things in it!

by Dana Beach


This week we witnessed the next chapter in Google’s effort to withdraw 1.5 million gallons of groundwater a day from the Middendorf aquifer, one of the coast’s deep, ancient and threatened aquatic repositories.  The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control approved a water plan, (despite assurances that they would entertain further discussion before proceeding), and thus set the stage for action on Google’s pending permit.

Mt. Pleasant Waterworks (and the Conservation League) have opposed the permit.  In response to aquifer depletion over the past few decades, the water utility has shifted from groundwater to surface water.

In this piece from National Public Radio, the Conservation League’s Emily Cedzo explains one option available to the internet giant that would preserve the aquifer:

“It’s great to have Google in this region; folks are proud to say that Google calls Charleston home,” Cedzo said. “So by no means are we going after Google … Our concern, primarily, is the source of that water.”

Cedzo notes that in another dry, Southern state, Google is using recycled wastewater at its data center in Douglas County, Ga.  “Google footed the bill for that,” Cedzo said. “So if they’re doing it there, why can’t they do it here?”

NPR: Google Moves In And Wants To Pump 1.5 Million Gallons Of Water Per Day

As these two articles from the New York Times and The Hill report, things in Washington took a surprising turn for the better this week, when the Senate rejected, by one (1) vote, a proposal to reverse rules that reduce methane emissions from oil and gas wells on public land.  Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and huge quantities of it escape every day from leaky wells.

NYT: In Win for Environmentalists, Senate Keeps an Obama-Era Climate Change Rule

The Hill: Overnight Energy: In surprise, Senate fails to repeal methane rule

The vote turned on the brave decisions by three Republican senators – Susan Collins from Maine, John McCain from Arizona, and, I’m proud to say, Lindsey Graham from the now greater state of South Carolina.  Senator Graham has been a constant voice for reason and stewardship of the environment, and especially on climate change, during his tenure in Washington.

His leadership has never been more important than today, as we face an unprecedented level of political polarization and antipathy toward nature.  It would be worth a call to Senator Graham’s office (202-224-5972) to let him know we support him in his efforts to halt the wave of anti-environmental initiatives.

It is also important to remember that the national environmental organizations who led the effort in the 1970s to establish America’s federal environmental laws and agencies are today leading the effort to block their dismantling under this Congress and the Trump Administration.  Like Senator Graham, they deserve (and apparently have been getting!) our support.  Please join them if you are not already a member.

Fortunately, it’s not just the national environmental movement that has mobilized against the current environmental jihad.  In this editorial, George Schultz, who served as secretary of state under President Reagan and treasury secretary under President Nixon, and Ted Halstead, CEO of the Climate Leadership Council, explain that America’s exit from the Paris accord would be an enormous mistake – for business and for the environment.

NYT: Schultz and Halstead Op-Ed: The Business Case for the Paris Climate Accord

The authors report:

In a recent barrage of public letters and full-page ads, Fortune 100 companies are voicing strong support for remaining in the Paris accord. The breadth of this coalition is remarkable: industries from oil and gas to retail, mining, utilities, agriculture, chemicals, information and automotive. This is as close as big business gets to a consensus position.

American business leaders understand that remaining in the agreement would spur new investment, strengthen American competitiveness, create jobs, ensure American access to global markets and help reduce future business risks associated with the changing climate. Leaving Paris would yield the opposite.

Encouragingly, Messrs. Schultz, Halstead and Graham are all exhibiting what it will take to make America great again – principled, thoughtful and firm leadership on one of the most important issues we face as a civilization.

At the state level, the week has been a mixed bag.  This article from the Post and Courier applauds the Legislature for supporting a gas tax increase and overriding Governor Henry McMaster’s insincere veto.  (Insincere, because he could have held the bill for five more days, until the Legislature adjourned, and not been overridden.)

P&C: Editorial: Gas tax gets green light

The problem was not with the veto.  A case can be made that despite the progress toward ensuring that additional funding will be used to fix the existing road network, rather than being diverted to political boondoggles, more must be done.  (I should note that the leaders in achieving said reforms are Senators Tom Davis, Larry Grooms and Vincent Sheheen and Representative Gary Simrill, all of whom deserve our appreciation.)

The problem with Governor McMaster’s veto is 1) he didn’t really intend it to be upheld (as explained above) and 2) he justified the veto by saying the system needed to be reformed.  The truth is that the Governor can advance reforms immediately by appointing the right people to the DOT commission and to the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) board – no new legislation needed.  Yet he has done exactly the opposite.

The only other action Governor McMaster has taken on transportation has been to remove STIB board chair, Vince Graham, who actively promoted a more transparent and rational spending program for that agency.  Graham’s term had not expired.  Yet the Governor has allowed Commissioner Mike Wooten, from Myrtle Beach, to remain on the DOT board, now eleven weeks after his term ended.

As this article from the Nerve reports, Wooten has been anything but a voice for reform:

His tenure has been arguably bumpy. Last year, The Nerve obtained emails showing that Wooten had “used his position to have DOT staff and elected officials pressure a local government entity engaged in a dispute with an agency over a $1 million contract of which Wooten’s firm” — DDC Engineers, of Myrtle Beach — “was a subcontractor.” Further reporting showed that Wooten’s firm, as a subcontractor, had benefited from projects that DOT helped to fund.

So, Governor McMaster has been, at least, hypocritical in his treatment of the gas tax proposal, at a time when the state badly needs honest, firm leadership.

Leadership we are getting on offshore oil drilling, from Representative Leon Stavrinakis, who introduced a bill this week to withhold state support for land-side oil infrastructure.  As this editorial from the Post and Courier reports, it’s a start, but it will be a difficult sales job in Columbia.

P&C: Editorial: Hold line against offshore oil

This brings us back to our governor, who was against offshore exploration before taking office, but has become considerably more equivocal since then.  One thing we know is that he has President Trump’s ear.  Now is the time for him to let the President know, unequivocally, that South Carolina is firmly against the president’s offshore initiative.

Devolving (in an undisparaging use of the term) to the local level, the Charleston City Council this week approved a 6-month moratorium on new apartments on James Island.  This op-ed from the Post and Courier, by me, explains why this is a bad, or at least an inconsequential, idea.  The subsequent article explains what the council did.

P&C: Dana Beach Op-Ed: Apartment moratorium wrong for James Island

P&C: Charleston City Council: No more big developments on city land in James Island — for now

Most of James Island is built out already.  The real need is to make infrastructure investments to support the development that is there now and on the way, the moratorium notwithstanding.  The city has consistently failed to follow through with even the most basic improvements – like crosswalks, a few new stop lights, bike lanes and such – and they have completely dropped the ball on the bigger challenges – like increasing the “connectivity” of the road system and advancing better bus service.

Far be it for me to oppose planning, but we just don’t need any more of it on James Island.  We have an excellent Rethink Folly Road plan, along with a template for better circulation at the large new developments.  In six months, we will find out whether any progress has been made on the infrastructure side, or whether the moratorium is just a political gesture to divert attention away from doing the real work.

The West Ashley commission got a preliminary look at the plans for revitalizing that area.  This mini-article from the Post and Courier reports on that meeting.

P&C: First illustrations of revitalized West Ashley to be revealed at open house with Charleston officials

Like Rethink Folly Road, this work has gone remarkably well, with record numbers of citizens participating in the workshops and broad support for the concepts.  I continue to read how important repetition is for making a persuasive case, so I’ll repeat my comment about James Island.  The key to these plans – there are literally dozens lying on shelves throughout the region – is implementation.  And yet the historical evidence is against it.  Now is the time to hold our elected representatives responsible for making sure this doesn’t happen with James Island, West Ashley and Lady’s Island.  The mantra has to be, “Show me the money (for the infrastructure).”

Now for the good stuff!  This article from the Island Packet reports on the CEO of the Hilton Head Discovery Museum running across (almost literally) a king snake killing a copperhead.

Island Packet: King snake takes on copperhead on Hilton Head

The Island Packet also reported on the king snake on the boat landing a few weeks ago.  Good for the Packet!   But I do not agree with the CEO’s comment:

“While the situation may be startling to some, it is an example of a “good” snake getting rid of a “bad” snake, he said.

I understand the lesson he was trying to teach, but copperheads are not “bad” snakes, even from the human perspective.  They are striking looking animals (so to speak) and even if you insist on an anthropocentric view, they also eat rats and mice.  Is this “bad?”   (It depends on whether you are a rat, a mouse or a copperhead.)

Speaking of snakes, on Friday a remarkable art exhibit opened at the Gibbes Art Gallery.  It has three superb snakes in it!

As this article from the Island Packet reports, the exhibit features 44 of the original watercolors by British naturalist Mark Catesby that were the source material for his 18th century scientific and artistic masterpiece, “The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands.”  DO NOT MISS IT!  It’s on all summer.

Island Packet: How a British naturalist captured the beauty of our Lowcountry

Gibbes Museum: Artist, Scientist, Explorer: Mark Catesby in the Carolinas

During the Saturday symposium on Catesby, Gibbes director Angela Mack said, somewhat jokingly, that the Catesby “Natural History” was an example of art preceding science.  And she was right!  As I have commented before, there is abundant research that in every cognitive endeavor, including science, we rely first on intuition and emotion (David Hume said “moral sentiment”) and then progress to the rational realm.

The worst example of this is the current political climate, where emotion drives conclusions (“Climate change is a fraud…”) and the concluder cherry picks the facts to support his point of view.  But even in cases when the analysis that follows is logical and based on an honest review of the facts, emotion provides the underpinning and motivation for our mental processes.  (E.O. Wilson calls our love of nature “biophilia.”)

So, I couldn’t agree more with Angela.  And the product of Catesby’s fascination with birds (like Audubon 100 years later) was a remarkable life’s work that illuminated to Europeans (and to recently arrived Americans) the extraordinary diversity and beauty of the southeastern part of North America.

Speaking of the intersection of emotion with science, a friend of mine asked recently whether I was familiar with “forest bathing.”  I was not.  But, coincidentally, this week the Wall Street Journal ran an article on the subject.  The basic concept is that immersing oneself in a forest is not only an enjoyable experience, but that it has therapeutic benefits.  I think anyone who has spent time hiking, hunting or birdwatching would readily agree.  Here is an excerpt:

Don’t call them hikers; they’re “forest bathers”—people who swear by the therapeutic effects of trees. The movement is gaining popularity from Japan to Hollywood, and includes fans such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Justin Bieber. 

If you subscribe to the WSJ, you can read the whole article.  If you don’t, you can watch the video, which is very good!

WSJ: Tree Therapy? ‘Forest Bathers’ Say It Helps

This, of course, begs the question – where?  Fortunately, the coast of South Carolina has more than 1.2 million acres of protected land, much of which is publicly accessible, from the Savannah River to the North Carolina border.  So, there are endless forest bathing options.  But certainly, one of the best forests to bath in on the planet is the Congaree National Monument, home to state, national and world record trees.  This season it is maximally alive with birds, frogs, insects and other non-human residents.  This article from the Washington Post recounts the author’s recent visit to the Congaree.

WaPo: At South Carolina’s only national park, paddle through some of the country’s oldest trees

All of which leads me back to a familiar theme – the importance of living and advocating with a local orientation, both because of the potential benefits (more protected land, better development, more efficient use of energy…) and because, for most people, it just makes sense.

This excerpt from an article by a fellow named Paul Morrain (I know almost nothing about him) does a good job of making the case for “localism” and points out the pitfalls of a national environmental movement that becomes too technical and too utilitarian, and loses sight of what really motivates most people.  Mr. Morrain says:

…Maybe the green movement was asking for it. For some time, mainstream environmentalism has demonstrated a single-minded obsession with climate change and technological solutions to it, to the exclusion of other concerns. Its language and its focus have grown increasingly technocratic and scientistic. I would guess that most people have a love of nature in some form; but few of them love arguing about whether nuclear power is better than gas. Any campaign to protect the wild world which avoids acknowledging our intuitive, emotional relationship with it will leave itself open to the kind of heartless ideological assault it is now receiving from the neogreens.

Global campaigning for an abstract “environment” does not appear to work. What does work is engaging with nature on a human scale. Perhaps the best rejoinder to those who believe the world is a giant spreadsheet is an engagement with its messy, everyday complexity. A kind of vernacular environmentalism; an engagement not with “the environment”, but with environments as we experience them in lived reality. Perhaps it’s time to go back to basics.

The emphasis is mine.  But, the point is not to abandon the national and international levels.  It’s really the opposite – to use the motivating power of nature, at a level that makes the most sense to ordinary humans, (local and personal), and deploy that energy to make the changes that need to be made at every level – local, state, federal and international.

So, get out and start bathing!


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