Chattanooga as Microcosm: Sustainable Earth?

So having gotten a few immediate home fires merely smoldering now, I’m coming back to my SEJ notes to tease out what’s notable. Since I have no one to tell about this but my diary here, I’ll try to put up some fragments of those conversations, concurrent sessions, field trips and revelations here as bread crumbs to follow my way back. Maybe a pulled thread will lead somewhere worth going.

The conference theme was “Sustainable Cities” and that was the focus of the first plenary session on Friday morning. Here’s what that panel looked like: 

Moderator: Steve Curwood  Host, Public Radio International’s “Living On Earth”


Jim Frierson  Vice Chair, Chattanooga Green Committee

Dodd Galbreath  Executive Director and Assistant Professor, Institute for Sustainable Practice, Lipscomb University

Denis Hayes  Developer, The Bullitt Center (and organizer of the first Earth Day)

Sharon Kneiss  Chief Executive Officer, Environmental Industry Associations

I made note to come back to Hayes and Galbreath, who seemed most to speak from values that resonated with me. Let me spend a few minutes pulling the Hayes thread.  

Hayes, at 26, was tapped by Senator Gaylord Nelson to organize the first Earth Day. He now heads the Bullitt Center in DC, whose new facility is billed as the “greenest commercial building in the world.” 

The 250-yr lifespan of the building created consternation in the banking side of things that finance for a 40-yr obsolescence. The clean water created internally by UV light treatment, was, in the end Hayes told the audience,  required by unavoidable regulations to be chlorinated because there is the remote possibility (and rare cases where it has happened) for pathogens to come in from the faucet side back into the pipes. So much for that great idea.  

At any rate, if you’re in DC, this six story building is a story unto itself, and probably worth a gander–or a pre-arranged tour. 

So I enjoyed listening to Hayes, given his direct involvement and long exposure to the earth-issues that continue to challenge and perplex our species. In the process of learning more about him, I ran across a 2009 documentary, “Earth Days” that I found complete for viewing online.  

Which leads me to mention SustainFloyd’s upcoming movies this fall–one of which will be “Fierce Green Fire” narrated by Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and other notables. It is scheduled for showing on November 9 (at the Floyd Country Store). This film chronicles the history of environmental concerns, activism, successes, failures and ongoing urgent issues. From what I hear, it will kick me in the pants.  

So I challenge you and encourage those few of you who could use a kick in your own personal pants, who are inert because you are unsure we have made any difference for good over the span of our generation, to spend two minutes watching the Green Fire trailer. Then, dive into the longer history of our divorce from reasonable human self-interest and care for the natural world; remember the ways, fumbling as they might sometimes be, we have sought successfully to treat Earth is if our lives depended on it.  

And local folk, mark your calendars for November 9 and join the discussion. 

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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