The South Gets Greener 

Two leaders say we really have no choice

Eleven states in five days. Even a Rolling Stones tour doesn't move that fast.

But this tour had no roadies or truckloads of equipment — just a box of books and two men with a message. This was the Better South tour, featuring columnist and social entrepreneur Andy Brack and state Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter), the man who should be lieutenant governor. And they wanted to say one thing loud and clear: It's time for the South to go green.

The last stop on this whirlwind tour brought Brack and Leventis back to Charleston, where they met environmentalists and members of the press at the offices of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League. There they handed out copies of the little book, Getting Greener: Progressive Environmental Ideas for the American South by L. Edward Moore. Brack published the 161-page volume through his Charleston-based organization, Center for a Better South (www.bettersouth.org).

Like a couple of latter-day Johnny Appleseeds, they spent the week of Aug. 20 traveling the 11 states of the South, handing out copies of Getting Greener, meeting local media and environmental leaders.

Getting Greener is a blueprint for living smart, offering 15 policy recommendations for state and local leaders and providing a dozen ideas for consumers on how they can be greener in everyday living without government action. Among the suggestions are such simple things as changing incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs; conserving water by keeping toilets and faucets repaired; eating locally; keeping cars and trucks tuned up; planting trees, and buying energy-efficient appliances.

"These are ideas that are working elsewhere," Brack said at the CCL offices on August 24. "This is about taking proven things that are not hard to do and applying them here." South Carolina has plenty of room for improvement.

"South Carolinians use a whopping 55 percent more electricity per capita than the national average," Brack said. "In fact, the state ranks fifth nationally in home electricity use and has the nation's seventh highest residential electricity bills.

"State lawmakers can help to ease power burdens on people across the Palmetto State by enacting some common-sense, proven strategies to reduce power usage," Brack said. "For example, if South Carolina's legislature passed standards to require businesses to sell more energy-efficient appliances, the state could avoid peak power usage of 142 megawatts — a savings that would total about $469 billion by 2030."

Holding up a copy of Getting Greener, Brack said, "Check this out. This book has 280 footnotes. You can say we're a bunch of whacked-out liberals if you want, but this makes sense."

Brack was an aide to former Sen. Ernest F. Hollings; he was the Democratic congressional candidate for the First District in 2000. Today he edits and publishes. S.C. Statehouse Report, a weekly legislative forecast and syndicated newspaper column. He founded the Center for a Better South in 2004. The Center describes itself on its website as "a pragmatic, non-profit think tank dedicated to developing progressive ideas, policies and information for thinking leaders who want to make a difference in the American South." Last year CBS published Doing Better: Progressive Tax Reform for the American South.

Leventis is a retired brigadier general in the Air National Guard. As a fighter pilot, he flew 21 combat missions over Iraq and Kuwait in the Gulf War. He was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2002.

Referring to Getting Greener, Leventis said, "This is a guide to good citizenship. This is not a Democratic or Republican guide. This is a common-sense guide."

Brack and Leventis returned from their 11-state tour with good news and good ideas for getting people working together and focused on the real issues. They met Randy Brinson, head of the Alabama Christian Coalition, who has signed on to the program outlined in Getting Greener. Brack quoted him saying, "It's time for the Christian Coalition to mature and adopt environmental ideas."

In Chapel Hill, N.C., Brack said he saw schools using cisterns to hold rainwater collected from roofs. The "gray water" is used to flush toilets and irrigate school property. The school saves about 2,000 gallons of treated municipal water a week.

In Kentucky, Arkansas, and other Southern states, universities are constructing major buildings to green standards to save energy. The University of South Carolina, which has the world's largest green dorm, is saving thousands of dollars a year in energy and water costs through green design.

"Southern policymakers have generally been timid in leading the way in adopting proactive environmental policies," Brack said. "Without a broader effort to meet the most basic environmental challenges, we won't make a growing South greener. Only by doing something fresh can Southern leaders ensure that we continue to live in a region that respects the land we love while continuing to grow responsibly."

To learn more, go to www.GettingGreener.info.


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