For 10 years, I organized the annual Southern Energy & Environment Expo, educating thousands about sustainability while generating an economic impact estimated at more than $5 million. Recently, however, I decided to pull the plug on the event.
The decision wasn’t easy, but I did it because I’m convinced that, like the nation as a whole, Western North Carolina has reached a critical crossroads. While common sense dictates that our survival depends on the natural environment, the majority apparently still hasn’t connected with this basic fact. And whether this is due to lack of education and information, political ideology, a drive for short-term profits or simply not caring, the harm caused is immense.
When I began advocating for sustainability, the assumption was that education and logic would do the job: Provide facts, explain options, and people would make informed decisions. By and large, this worked for decades as, incrementally, we took positive action.
Now, however, we’ve hit an inexplicable resistance to education, logic and even common sense. It’s only a slight majority of people — but democratically, that spells trouble. If a small minority believes the Earth is flat, no problem. But if even a slight majority votes that the Earth is flat, who programs the GPS satellites and draws our maps? How can we reconcile common sense with irrational beliefs?
Dismantling environmental protections while supporting fossil fuels and nuclear power is irrational, amounting to a flat-Earth mentality. Yet legislative and corporate efforts to accomplish this very thing are proceeding at the state and national levels.
Economically, this approach will cost our region more money we don’t have to pay for things proven to be at the root of our economic problems in the first place — all while further threatening WNC’s natural capital. More coal and mercury emissions, nuclear-waste shipments, unrestricted new development, “re-classifying” trout streams … the list goes on. At best, it’s delusional economics; but if we include environmental and spiritual considerations, it’s outright social suicide.
WNC is nationally acknowledged as a “green” region, arguably the best in the South. And our regional efforts — green building, clean energy, local agriculture, land conservation and rational economics— clearly lessened the Great Recession’s local impact while showcasing proven, positive solutions. Yet despite thousands of active participants, the message is still being essentially ignored by the majority. So where do we go from here?
Regionally, we need a “way to go” to protect us from the shortsighted lunacy now playing out in Raleigh and Washington. No region is an island; it’s not “us or them.” We have to work together.
So how do we reach people who sincerely believe that nuclear power is safe, coal is clean, unlimited population growth is irrelevant, climate change is a hoax, or destroying God’s creation is merely the inevitable price we pay for a healthy economy? Whatever happened to the idea of an informed electorate? Why are people no longer swayed by facts, morality or basic common sense?
Since ending the S.E.E. Expo, I’ve received about a hundred emails, many from people agreeing that we need to find a new way, a new approach. But meanwhile, the clock is ticking: There’s little time left to prevent the worst consequences of current policies and mitigate the ones that are already inevitable.
WNC has a reputation for self-reliance; based on what I’ve seen, we also have the highest per capita concentration of conservation activists, green builders, clean-energy companies and aware citizens in the South. Leading by example, we’ve begun implementing sustainable solutions, but we need to do a lot more to find the way forward.
Perhaps a “WNC Crossroads Summit” to hatch environmental, energy and economic strategy? Or maybe a series of community-based “town hall” meetings? No single person can do it alone, but working together, guided by common sense, for the common good and for future generations just might do the trick.
Email me your ideas. I will gladly reply to all rational suggestions as we share our collective local wisdom.
— Henderson County resident Ned Ryan Doyle hosts “Our Southern Community” on WNCW-FM and teaches, organizes and advocates for sustainability across the region. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.