The Green Scene

Life, liberty and breathable air

For the third straight year, The Canary Coalition is gearing up for the long haul. Beginning Friday, Aug. 18, a group of volunteers from the Sylva-based nonprofit will embark on a 100-mile, round-the-clock trek along the Blue Ridge Parkway to call attention to the region’s air-quality problems.

For 24 hours, teams of Relay for Clean Air participants will bike, jog and walk the 36 segments linking the Parkway’s Newfound Gap entrance (near the Tennessee/North Carolina border) with downtown Asheville. Each leg of the journey has a designated mode of transport, and participants can choose which part they want to do.

The event will commence at 7 p.m. on Friday and wrap up with a 6:30 p.m. rally at BioWheels bike shop on Saturday. Speakers will include Michael Shore of the nonprofit Environmental Defense, Asheville City Council member Robin Cape and Buncombe County Commissioner David Gantt.

The Canary Coalition maintains that the haze, health issues and environmental damage resulting from worsening air quality are really a civil rights issue. “We all have the right to breathe clean air,” declares Avram Friedman, the group’s executive director. “People — especially children — are suffering severe health consequences throughout this region. Millions of trees are dying. The tourist economy is being hurt. The people who live here are not happy about these circumstances, and this demonstration is a manifestation of that feeling.”

The smoggy Southeast

In a recent electronic newsletter, Asheville City Council member Robin Cape reported a compelling statistic concerning the Southeast’s greenhouse-gas emissions: “If we here in the Southeast were a country, we would be the sixth most polluting country in the world,” Cape wrote. Curious to know more, Xpress set out to chase down the source of the info.

Cape had learned about the region’s ranking among greenhouse-gas producers at a climate-protection conference in Chicago — during a presentation delivered, ironically enough, by Asheville’s own Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. According to SACE, if eight Southeastern states — Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas — constituted an independent country, it would spew enough heat-trapping gases from all sources (283.83 million metric tons of carbon equivalent, to be exact) to earn fifth place on the list — just ahead of India. SACE got its figures from the book Statehouse and Greenhouse: The Emerging Politics of American Climate Change Policy (Brookings Institution Press, 2004) by Barry G. Rabe, a professor of public and environmental policy at the University of Michigan.

Cape also reported that if North Carolina were a separate country, it would be the world’s 13th-biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions. To check on that one, Xpress went straight to the source by calling Rabe. The professor, who based his 2004 analysis on 1999 data, said those figures would have placed our state 28th — not 13th — worldwide (emissions, of course, have gone up since then). North Carolina would, however, rank 13th on yet another list, supplied by the nonprofit Environmental Defense, that compares all 50 states’ greenhouse-gas emissions. And if the Lone Star State were still a republic, Texas would be the world’s No. 7 greenhouse-gas polluter — surpassing the U.K. and Canada, among many others — said Rabe.

In any case, Cape’s real point is the need to take Asheville’s contribution to climate change seriously. “It is a huge responsibility for us to recognize that we have a big impact on the world,” she proclaimed, “and for me it brings home the importance of acting locally as a part of the larger global community.”

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