Ecology + Justice + Culture in the American South

Climate deals, Gatlinburg, & drones

This week, I sent an email to Alabama’s state climatologist, John R. Christy, about his data on climate change. He sent me back a couple of emails with studies showing his research on the cooling trend in Alabama, and ended it by saying: “So, the theory of climate change has been falsified for our region.”

I hadn’t read much about him before emailing, but once I did, I realized he has long been one of the handful of climate scientists who continually refutes the facts of climate change. DeSmog Blog has a running list of his public statements on the benefits of fossil fuels and his misleading claims about how carbon dioxide and human-caused global warming work. Last year, he testified before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, saying that “the real world is not going along with rapid warming. The models need to go back to the drawing board.” The role of state climatologists is becoming more relevant, and over the years, governors of several states, including Virginia, have fired climatologists with these views on climate science. That probably won’t happen in Alabama anytime soon, though.

That interaction — and persistent anti-climate science rhetoric in the U.S. — became even more relevant yesterday when sources close to President Donald Trump said he will be pulling the nation out of the Paris climate agreement, which brought nearly all countries together to undertake ambitious efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. The U.S. joins Nicaragua and Syria as the only three nations that will not participate. According to the New York Times: “Still, faced with advisers who pressed hard on both sides of the Paris question, Mr. Trump appears to have decided that a continued United States presence in the accord would harm the economy; hinder job creation in regions like Appalachia and the West, where his most ardent supporters live; and undermine his ‘America First’ message.”

There are many Southern communities and lawmakers infamous for their climate denial and reluctance to adapt to the changing energy market. But quite a few state leaders in this region have recently vowed to move forward with clean energy, sea level rise adaptation, and climate change mitigation whether Trump’s administration does or not. Terry McAuliffe, governor of Virginia, said this week he’s “not going to wait for the federal government” when it comes to clean energy. He plans to regulate power plants and add more solar farms. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been advocating for renewable energy in his state and across the country lately, denounced Trump’s decision, calling it “bad for the party, bad for the country.” A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Florida pleaded with the president to keep his seat at the table. One representative said: “In my home state of Florida, the environment is our economy and we feel the effects of climate change on a daily basis.” Large utility companies in West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky are also looking for more renewable energy opportunities, despite the administration’s attempts to halt them. Appalachian Power president Chris Beam recently said: “‘Look, I’d like to see you guys build another coal plant,’ [Beam] recalled the [West Virginia] governor saying. And our answer was: ‘We’re not going to build another coal plant.’”

Nearly everyone — world leaders, fossil fuel executives, tech companies, conservative politicians, the majority of Americans, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — advises against pulling out of this agreement. Even typically red, fossil-fuel-dominated states are finally pushing for a clean energy economy, albeit slowly. If Trump announces at 3 pm that the U.S. is leaving, our future might hinge on smaller-scale issues like the Alabama state climatologist being funded to deny climate science or utilities refusing to invest in coal. It still may not make a dent, but more pressure will be on these states to act, quickly, before it’s too late.

Stories worth your time

Garden & Gun has a gut-wrenching moment-by-moment account of the night of the Gatlinburg, Tennessee wildfire last November, which killed 14 people. Slowly, the town is rebuilding: “Beyond the new construction in the sunlight, even with everything turning green again, there were still these black empty spaces all along the sides of the mountains.”

A strong women’s movement has blossomed in Buckhannon, West Virginia, a place dominated by Trump supporters. One woman told PBS Newshour: “At first we all felt like we were little creatures crawling out from under rocks, just reaching out to each other. Then we found a few, and a few more.”

Ben Burkett, a fourth-generation farmer in Petal, Mississippi, discussed local food, farming, and activism in the Deep South with Civil Eats.

News flying under the radar 

Environmentalists and artists are using a drone to get aerial footage of mountaintop removal mining sites and coal waste pollution in West Virginia.

The American Chemistry Council is proposing to make Appalachia a hub for petrochemical supply and manufacturing, with “underground cavern storage facilities and an 800-km pipeline for ethane, propane, ethylene, and propylene.”

State officials in Louisiana and elsewhere are worried about the price of a Zika vaccine developed by the Army: “If there were a local outbreak, [Louisiana] would want to ensure that every person of childbearing age got vaccinated. And today, there are about 540,000 people of reproductive age on Louisiana’s Medicaid rolls.”

On June 16, I’m headed to New Story, an innovative media conference/festival/workshop in West Virginia. I’ll be on a panel about new media outlets, talking about Southerly. If you’re interested in attending or want to know more (it’s free!), check it out or shoot me an email.