Monday, June 06, 2005

Urban Environmental Accords

Mayors from around the world on Sunday signed an international treaty calling for increased use of public transportation and drastic cuts to the amount of trash sent to landfills.

These are, of course, nonbinding; let's hope there's some sincere intention on the part of the signatories and not just political posturing.

On the local front, Knoxville's Greenway initiative suggests that there's evidence of "intent to green" here in East Tennessee. They're getting ready to expand the Third Creek greenway by Neyland further into South Knoxville (as the James White greenway), where it will eventually cross the river via James White bridge and continue along to connect with Ijams Nature Center. Metro Pulse has a feature on our expanding greenways in this week's edition.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Of Worthless Rockpiles and Gated Communities

Development or conservation? TVA, Nickajack, John Thornton, and the story of one of the most interesting business proposals of the year.

[Link is to article at, minimal registration required]

"Snails Don't Feed Nobody"

Yet another situation guaranteed to add more fuel to the ecology vs economy debate in rural middle Tennessee:

Development of a proposed limestone mine has been put on hold while the fate of a threatened species hangs in the balance. The painted snake coiled forest snail has been on the threatened species list since 1978, and has not been found elsewhere in the world. Of course, folks are painting this situation as another instance of much needed jobs for humans versus some stupid insignificant critter. Can't eat it, can't sell it, can't get a job from it, so what good is it? In other words, if the instrumental value of some part of nature isn't patently obvious, it must be good for nothing and thereby in the way of progress.

To further complicate matters, there's more than a snail at stake here. The proposed mine would be of the open-pit variety, and would likely have larger impact on the environment than interfering with the survival of one species (aesthetically and otherwise). Further, there are ruins from a previous mining operation in the area, which have been listed with the Tennessee Preservation Trust as among the ten most threatened architectural sites in the state (more evidence that when mining operations are finished, communities are abandoned and workers forgotten). In addition, the man responsible for the quote in the title is mentioned in an AP article (link below) as being disabled with cancer. His father and grandfather worked in the Gager mine (now in ruins); one wonders what the long-term health effects of mining in the area might be.

Also, I'd be curious how the snail fits into the larger ecosystem -- whether other species rely on it as a food source, etc. Species don't exist in a vacuum. They act upon and interact with larger systems of life. They can serve as "canaries," signaling impending doom for other species in the area, as in the case of frogs. The fact is that snails do feed somebody, or somebodies, even though the impact of that feeding may not be as immediately obvious as the impact of thirty jobs (that will last until the limestone is extracted, or that will be given to people outside the community, etc).

What happens to the limestone once it's extracted? One proposal on the table is to sell it to coal-fired power plants.

You can find an AP wire report regarding this situation here.

World Environment Day

June 5, 1972, marked the opening of the Stockholm Conference of the Human Environment. Every year since, June 5 has been recognized as World Environment Day.

CNN and BBCNews both feature stories on the changes in the environment since that first World Environment Day 33 years ago. Now we have the benefit (or the added perspective) of having had satellites with cameras up in our orbit for three decades; and so we can view pictures of the dramatic changes humans have made upon the landscape in that short time.

You can view side-by-side photos on the CNN website, posted with this article on the new "One Planet Many People" atlas:

This year's World Environment Day is focusing on cities (no surprise, given the dramatic changes in urban sprawl evidenced in the atlas photography) and the possibility of sustainable development, or "green cities." Almost half the world's population resides in urban areas. A third of those live in slums and "squatter settlements." The UN estimates that 60% of people will live in urban areas by 2030. Not surprisingly, more urban areas and increased population concentrations in those areas signal increases in pollution and environmental destruction for the natural resources necessary to keep the expansion occurring. You can read the BBC's feature on this at

While at the BBC site, be sure to investigate their sidebars, particularly the Changed Earth links. Here, you can find side-by-side pictures chronicling the disappearance of glaciers in the past century -- photographic evidence of a warming planet. Very dramatic stuff.