Sustainable WNC

The Gateway to Sustainability in Western North Carolina

Archive for April, 2007

Sacrifice and the American Dream

Monday, April 30th, 2007

I get so much grief whenever I use the “S” word (sacrifice) in dialogue about how to begin mitigating climate change and transforming our consumer culture into a sustainable culture, that I seldom use this word anymore. Folks just don’t want to hear about cutting back, doing without, or austerity in any form. It is both un-American and bad political strategy. Their approach mandates that we must frame our approach to averting the worst consequences of climate change in economic terms. They want us to believe that the creation of a renewable energy economy will allow us to grow the general economy like it has grown historically. It seems that few people want to acknowledge that we passed the limits of one planet earth about 1984, and that all industrialized countries will need to use less if we are to avoid ecological collapse. Check out the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report at for comprehensive reading on our ecological overshoot. Using less when we are habituated to using more means sacrifice for most of us who are just accustomed to more is better. 

President Bush declared a War on Terrorism. We should be fighting the same war on climate change and environmental destruction. The last time we as a nation faced the probability of such catastrophic destruction was in World War II. At that time there was a human Holocaust against Jews, Poles and Gypsies. President Franklin Roosevelt called on all Americans to make sacrifices which our parents and grandparents were willing to embrace for the greater good of humanity.  Today, do we not need to sacrifice to prevent a planet wide environmental holocaust from happening? Freedom requires sacrifice. It entails responsibility and obligation to the whole, to the commons. John F. Kennedy said it well with his admonition to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  

We need a new personal sense of responsibility to the greater good. We won’t get the kind of leadership we need if each of us is unwilling to do our share. The story is often told about Gandhi. Once a woman walked for 2 days to see Gandhi with her son. When given the audience, she asked Gandhi to tell her son to stop eating sugar, as it was not good for him. Gandhi thought for a few moments, and then told her to come back in a month with the child. The woman was furious and left in a very angry frame of mind. She did return in a month however, and after Gandhi met with her and her son, and told him not to eat sugar, she asked why he couldn’t just have said that on her first visit. Gandhi replied, “I couldn’t ask your son to stop eating sugar while I still was eating sugar. Now I can.”  Once we begin to change our personal habits of destructive violence to the planet and its life giving ecosystems, we will be able to find politicians who will be capable of leading our governmental and corporate institutions into a sustainable society.  For an interesting essay on leadership and democracy check out an interview with Oron Lyons in Orion Magazine

Eco-health, or is this really a community that doesn’t care about its children?

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Each day as part of my routine for uploading news articles for the website, I come across articles about our toxic environment and the actual or possible effects on human health. Depressing is an inadequate descriptor of the feeling state that envelopes me as I try to decide whether or not to post the article. Most often I decide not to post, for it seems that there is often little or nothing we can do to change this in the short term.In a few short centuries and especially in the past 100 years we have made the earth a toxic waste dump. The earth’s atmosphere, soils, and waters have a finite ability to absorb and transform toxic materials. We are long past the point of safety. There is probably no one alive on the planet today that doesn’t have a smorgasbord of toxic chemicals in their bloodstream and tissues. Anytime a scientist studies the placental blood in humans, they are amazed at the quantity and variety of toxic chemicals that they find. Dominique Belpomme, a European cancer specialist, said that “many newborns at the moment of birth are contaminated with more than 200 chemical substances…Up to 75% of cancers are provoked by chemical pollution.”Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, phrased it well when he wrote: “Illnesses do not come out of the blue, they are developed from the small daily sins against nature. When enough sins have been accumulated, illnesses will suddenly appear.      The daily sins of toxic emissions from industry’s smokestacks and discharges into public waterways have become deadly gifts to our children. In the moral struggle to create a healthy planet, environmental activists have been the prime players in the political arena so far. But they are under staffed and under funded compared to the medical establishment. There is a small but growing movement within the medical community to get involved. You can read more about this in an article Beyond the Patient ( in Orion Magazine. In WNC we are at a crossroads, and we are well aware that we have a unique opportunity to actually do something to prevent more toxic pollution. Despite its defeat in Woodfin, Progress Energy still plans to build a new oil burning electric peaking power plant in WNC. 

The direct medical costs from the particulates and other pollutants that will be emitted into our air are estimated to be $57 million dollars over the next 30 years based on an EPA model. We will all pay those costs with our dollars, and if recent history is a guide, the hospital system locally will bear the brunt of lost income as the number of uninsured continues to rise. Of course, there is no way to measure the costs of children’s suffering from asthma, nor their diminished respiratory capacity that lasts their lifetimes. And of course there is no way to measure or quantify the suffering caused by stroke, heart disease, and respiratory disease in adults and elderly. 

We ask all local medical practitioners, the Buncombe County Medical Society, and the Board and leadership of Mission Hospitals to reflect on their duty to preserve the public health. We invite them to demonstrate that they care about the future of our children. We want them to join the public dialogue and convince Progress Energy to find a way to meet our sustainable energy future without burning more fossil fuel.

Step It Up Asheville!

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

The End of Nature, a book by Bill McKibben published in 1989, changed my life. This was the first popular press, widely read book on climate change and other ecological catastrophes written for the American public, and it really altered my world view. Since then McKibben has continued writing on the same themes, which I’ll call a spiritually based critique of human culture that encompasses both traditional ecological concerns and social ecology. The Age of Missing Information, Enough, Hope - Human and Wild, The Comforting Whirlwind - God, Job, and the Scale of Creation, and his latest Deep Economy - The Wealth of Communities and The Durable Future grace my bookshelf. Hope I can find the time to write a review of this book for you, or maybe you want to go to your favorite local bookseller, read it, and write a review. Let me know, and I’ll publish on this website.

Last fall in Vermont McKibben led 1000 people, at the time the largest public demonstration in the USA, to demand action from the Vt. legislature for a sane policy in regards to the climate crisis.

A few months ago he began organizing STEP IT UP 2007! (, a nation wide public demonstration to ask the US Congress to Step it Up and cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. There are over 1300 demonstrations organized in all 50 states where tens of thousands of Americans will gather all across the country at meaningful, iconic places to call for action on climate change. They will hike, bike, climb, walk, swim, kayak, canoe, or simply sit or stand with banners, sing and shout for our call to action.

In Asheville, we will meet at City-County Plaza this coming Saturday at 1 p.m. Mayor Bellamy and Sandy Pfeiffer, the President of Warren Wilson College (a world leader in sustainability education), plus others will speak. Check out our local event at

Better yet, check out Phillip Gibson’s (our regional organizer) blog,  at

More importanyly please show up and become part of the dynamic Western North Carolina Community that is taking democracy back and helping to create a sustainable bio-region.

for Earth Peace, Richard