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Charlottes Beauty Drives Me Mad

by Lisa Renstrom

May 8,2009

Spring in Charlotte makes me crazy. The effervescent lime green screams growth and health and hope, and the natural abundance is breathtaking. Yet there is a problem with this glorious beauty. It lulls me into complacency. 

I was brought up to believe that we humans add value. The story I was told was that our ingenuity, vision, democracy and capitalism build better mousetraps: better medicine, better technology, and a brighter future. Some years ago, I began to hear another story, and it propelled me into the environmental advocacy arena. It seems our fine species has been polluting our skies and waters and pushing out other species. This past month, as I’ve watched the sun setting over the 50-year-old hardwoods in my backyard, I can still barely admit that our species has changed the earth’s climate. It’s like shifting the sun’s orbit or altering gravity.

It does not promote mental health to know that everyday my actions contribute to the degradation of our atmosphere. No wonder 45% of American’s deny the reality of climate change. Denial is a far better place to live than guilt. 

I’ve concluded that the solution is for as many of us as possible to collaboratively write a new story. There is an important chapter to be written by Charlotte. When I co-chaired the 1997 Regional Environmental Summit with Bob Friedman of Bell South, it was considered anti-Charlotte to use the word “sprawl,” so we called what was needed in the future “smart growth.” In the NC Emerging Issues Forum this year they used “good growth.” Today light rail is a hit, Charlotte Clean and Green is a mainstream theme, and the proposed Carolina’s Thread Trail is an economic enhancement tool. Development has cooled, banking is being retooled, and there are new opportunities on the horizon. 

Yes, Charlotte has an opportunity and a moral responsibility to lead again – not in interstate banking this time, but by enabling the nation’s third biggest carbon emitter, Duke Energy, to deliver safe, natural, clean sources of energy and to profit from promoting its efficient use.  In their 2008 report on the Charlotte region Curtis Johnson and Neal Peirce suggested that the historic sweep of innovation that led to Charlotte becoming the third largest banking center on the planet should be replicated in another field – the energy front.

Last Sunday, Duke’s CEO Jim Rogers stated on 60 Minutes that the first order of business is our economy.  True, but to compete in tomorrow’s economy Duke Energy needs to shift course and invest in our efficiency, invest in tomorrow’s energy and create new green jobs that we can be proud of. Harnessing the free, never-ending power of sun and wind will give our economy a chance at a stable climate to operate within. 

If you are inclined to be an author of this chapter, donate some time and money to the Carolina Clean Air Coalition. They speak truth to power. Those who own Duke stock or bonds should remind Jim Rogers that stockholders want value and a return in five years, not just next quarter. Invite him to lead the changing dynamics of American energy delivery. Mary Newsome has an outstanding idea for Duke to harness our homegrown ingenuity that I believe she will share soon. Efficiency coupled with investment in innovation, instead of Cliffside power plant, is the chapter waiting to be written. 

Your voice, Jim Roger’s voice, could be the voice that enables America to commit to a new global treaty in Copenhagen this December, at the 15th Conference of the Parties. Every country on the planet will have the chance to say “Yes!” to policy that restores the belief that human beings are a positive force. If the U.S. commits, we earn the moral authority to ask China and India to do their part. The Copenhagen Story can then unfold.

Spring is a time for cleaning out the old, sweeping away cobwebs. Get your broom out - it's liberating. NASA’s Dr. Jim Hansen reminds us that we have under three years to get our houses in order. Download an home energy tune up at http://www.rechargeamerica.org/. Be an author of the new Copenhagen Story so that next year we can celebrate springtime in Charlotte knowing that we are part of the solution.

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