A new challenge for town and gown

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday, March 05, 2005

On Feb. 16, 141 nations celebrated the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, an unprecedented global response to the greatest crisis facing the world -- global warming. In one respect, Kyoto represents the culmination of a process that spanned the last century as nations worked to build the capacity to cooperate in the face of global challenges.

Unfortunately, the celebration of this historic moment is sadly diminished for Americans. Alone among the world's great powers, the United States steadfastly refuses to participate.

Reading the various reports and analyses of what one commentator called America's "monumental shame," it struck me that this was a time for local government to truly step into the breach. Symbolic measures, like our towns' occasional protests of national policy, would not be sufficient. Action was needed, the only question being what form that action should take.

Enter Douglas Crawford-Brown. In a presentation to Chapel Hill's Sustainability, Energy and Environment Committee, the director of the Carolina Environmental Program proposed that the town join the Community Carbon Reduction Project (CRed), a British-based coalition whose members pledge a 60 percent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050.

Chapel Hill could become the first U.S. participant in the project. The importance of Crawford-Brown's initiative has not been lost on his colleagues in the UK. Marcus Ames of CRed commented that it "demonstrates that many Americans do not wish to follow their government's unintelligent stance on climate change."

If Chapel Hill proceeds with CRed, CEP will work with the town to build a carbon emissions model. Once the model is in place, various options for emissions reduction can be plugged in and evaluated. Ultimately, it will be important for CRed impact to be incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan so that it can be considered as part of the development review process.

Two of the responses to Crawford-Brown's proposal have been disappointing. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Aaron Nelson expressed the chamber's knee-jerk reaction of worrying about the possible effect of regulations on business. The way the chamber promoted its commitment to sustainability last spring, I would have hoped for a more positive and even an excited response.

Even more disappointing was The Daily Tar Heel editorial that fretted over the possibility of "fewer Carolina North parking spaces than might be needed." This response shows a singular lack of both moral compass and vision. It suggests a troubling disconnect between these students' understanding of the impact of decisions we make today on the future that they will inhabit.

We are in big trouble if the days of student leadership on the environment are over. Let us hope the DTH editors do not speak for their peers.

Crawford-Brown was right when he said that "everything that UNC wants to do out at Carolina North can be done even under these carbon-reduction policies." But I don't imagine that he has any illusions about UNC administrators' eagerness to jump on the CRed bandwagon.

He told the SEE committee that Vice Chancellor Tony Waldrop had expressed displeasure at Crawford-Brown's plan to have his class study Carolina North (check out the syllabus for ENST 006 to see what Waldrop is so nervous about).

The town's interest in CRed makes the upcoming vote on the rezoning of the Horace Williams property all the more important. Maintaining the current, minimally regulated OI-3 zone will allow the university to continue to follow the George W. Bush approach to global warming: Ignore it. The proposed alternative, OI-2, will ensure that the perspectives of environmentalists are brought to the table.

This difference will not be lost on Town Council members. Jim Ward, not known as a critic of the university or its parking plans, said the Carolina North plan "could not withstand the rigors of reducing our carbon emissions by 60 percent or reducing them at all."

Since anyone whose head is out of the sand gets the fact that we must reduce emissions, Ward is in effect agreeing with those who've described this latest Carolina North plan as a non-starter. It will be interesting to see how this affects Ward's vote on the rezoning.

On the other hand, if both Chapel Hill and UNC leaders get on board, CRed holds the potential to provide a big boost to town-gown relations. Rather than butt heads over conflicting planning perspectives, university and community can embrace a common project on which their shared future so clearly depends.

Meanwhile, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels plans to introduce a resolution at June's U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting to create a coalition of cities combating global warming. Chapel Hill, with the able assistance of the Carolina Environmental Program, could be in the vanguard of that movement.




Fortunately there were two letters to the editor from students taking the DTH to task for its narrow view on Carolina North. I don't think a whole lot of people agree with much of what the increasingly conservative Edit Board has to say (it also came out recently against Collective Bargaining)

Tom Jensen wrote:

Board shouldn't ignore the town's development ideals
February 23, 2005


Several weeks ago, The Daily Tar Heel's Editorial Board told students to support green energy so that UNC can be an “environmental trendsetter.” I completely agree, and that's why I was horrified to see the board opine that the town's goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in Chapel Hill by 60 percent is a lower priority than building as many parking spaces as possible at Carolina North.

Being an “environmental trendsetter” means making sacrifices. Maybe the most convenient thing for UNC to do would be build 20,000 parking spaces at Carolina North, but such a move would be irresponsible in many ways. It would be an environmental disaster, helping the Triangle take yet another step toward becoming Los Angeles. It would be a traffic disaster, clogging our roads beyond belief. Those who drive down Airport Road at 5 p.m. right now already know that it's ridiculous — imagine it with 20,000 more cars. And quite frankly, it's just not creative.

UNC has emerged at the forefront of the nation's public universities by coming up with creative solutions to the problems it faces. We need to integrate public transportation into our Carolina North plans in innovative ways, including the incorporation of Triangle Transit Authority so that employees coming from outside Chapel Hill have an alternative to driving and parking. It might not be the easiest thing for us to do, but it would be the trendsetting thing to do.

I have frankly been disappointed with the DTH's repetitively condescending tone toward the town when it comes to development issues, and particularly about Carolina North. The town and the University need to have a partnership, and that means the University has to cooperate with the town's goals. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is an admirable goal, and I hope that UNC will make sacrifices to help the town reach it, just as the town has repeatedly sacrificed to help UNC attain its goals.


Mac McCarty and Becca Sowder wrote:
Good planning will attract people to Carolina North
February 24, 2005


In the editorial, “Too big a trade-off,” it is argued that a reduction in parking spaces at Carolina North, with the aim of reducing the town's carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent, is too big a trade-off for the inconvenience that it would create for residents and employees. Such an argument implies that quality of life will inevitably be compromised by efforts to improve the quality of the environment.

The editorial claims that planned improvements in the region's public transportation system will never adequately address the future transportation needs of Carolina North. However, it is not difficult to imagine an efficient light rail transit system that would connect the town to the currently planned Triangle Transit Authority regional rail system. Another very real possibility is an express bus line connecting the satellite campus with UNC's main campus. By concentrating future development in areas where public transportation is easily accessible, the dependence on personal vehicles for transportation would be diminished further.

Such improvements in the local public transportation system would result in a reduction in carbon dioxide and an improvement in accessibility to Carolina North for citizens and the University's employees.

When Carolina North is finally completed, and the University sets out to attract some of the nation's best and brightest academics to live and work there, let us think what will attract them to our great town. A well-planned development that stresses quality of life, a clean environment and accessibility will be much greater attractions to newcomers than will a parking space.

Yay for Doug Crawford-Brown! He was my advisor when I was an undergrad (many many years ago).

Dan, I agree wholeheartedly with your critique of the DTH editorial staff, but I believe it's your knee twitching with your Chamber critique.

Sustainability is not simply about the environment, it's also about economics. The CH-C Chamber isn't representing Halliburton. For the most part, they are representing the Chapel Hill Tires, Weaver Street Markets, and Carolina Breweries of the world.

Without an economy based on local business, any notion of sustainability in Chapel Hill/Carrboro will be hollow.

With retail competition increasing from national big box retail, going up at a frenetic pace across from New Hope Commons (and thus would not be subject to any Chapel Hill policies) -- the threats to our local businesses from the most unsustainable business models in the world are very real.

When we talk about sustainability, this diagram is a decent reference point to begin discussion:


Ignoring the economic portion of sustainability is as equally problematic as ignoring the environmental or equity components of sustainability, and undermines progress towards this goal.

That said, do the towns have any partnership programs with businesses that could help? A revolving low-interest loan program to install bike racks and transit shelters, for example?

Patrick, apparently you feel the need to fashion a straw man to argue with. You will not succeed in doing so with my column. I wrote nothing about the relationship of local economy to sustainability. I did critique the Chamber's knee-jerk reaction to the CRed proposal.

I have always recognized economy as key component of sustainability. Indeed, the latter concept is meaningless without the former. You cannot have human society of any sort without its economic component and, as we have seen, economy is a major factor in shaping that society.

I would love to see a local organization composed of locally-owned business that could constructively engage in these questions. I might even join it. Unfortunately, the Chamber of Commerce is not such an organization. For now, let me merely point out the prominent role of non-local corporations in its affairs. Today, you need go no further than the Chamber home page to find the following:

Please join us for Business After Hours... sponsored by SunTrust Mortgage, Inc.

SunTrust's website lists corporate offices in Virginia, Maryland, and California. For the Chamber, this type of sponsorship is quite typical. Those who know the track record of our Chamber recognize that it regularly goes to bat for such interests (sponsorship has its rewards) and that sustainability is rarely a consideration when it does.

[By the way, there is also a US Chamber of Commerce which supports Bush' “Clear Skies Initiative” and opposes Kyoto.]

I would encourage anyone who looks for a more environmentally progressive role from the Chamber to check out CRed-UK to see how businesses there are proactively engaged in the carbon reduction campaign.

This is a great idea! It is the sort of visionary policy that 'blue' cities and regions should be engaging in, without waiting for the political climate in the entire US, or even the state, to improve. Some friends at UNC assure me that the DTH is consistently boneheaded on environmental issues--don't use it as a gauge of student environmental opinion. Patrick does have a point--environmental policies will eventually have to be regional (not to mention statewide, national, and global) to be effective. But you have to start somewhere, no?

Time for Chapel Hill to catch up!

Three UNC students from the Carolina Environmental Program (CEP) made a presentation last Monday (their capstone project) on what Chapel Hill needs to do to reduce atmospheric carbon (CRed). They did a wonderful job. I didn't take very good notes, but they said that the largest factor on increased carbon load in Chapel Hill is development. They had some good modelling data to support the following recommendations (the only ones I recall) 1) moving the town fleet to biodiesel; 2) encouraging alternative energy sources, and 3) supporting light rail. Although these sound like the same old same old, coming from them with their supporting data it sounded much more innovative. A new group of students will be picking this project up in the fall and continuing on.

Terri, your participation is unreal. Thanks for the heads up.

I've asked for the Town's yearly gas and diesel usage with an eye towards a targetted reduction (%5-%10) to save money on this years budget. I thought some of the savings could be used to reward those departments employees that reduced consumption most with the rest being per cost reduction. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten the numbers yet to see how much a %10 reduction adds up to (though at $2.15/gal I imagine it could be quite a bit).

I was also hoping that the unit price on diesel the Town was currently purchasing was close enough to Pittsboro's BioFuels Coop prices to aggressively shift to their fuel. My understanding is that besides burning cleaner, you get more umph per gallon (to use a technical term ;-) ) and thus make up for a slightly higher per unit cost. Did the students mention this?

Will--if you go to the Town of Carrboro's website and search on biodiesel, you should find numbers to use as a reference. Carrboro uses B20 biodiesel fuel in its public works vehicles. This link should get you started:

From behind the great firewall of the N&O (when will they learn?), Matt Dees reports on Town-n-Gown cooperation on S. Columbia

Mayor Kevin Foy, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser and UNC Health Care System CEO William Roper had a letter delivered to the state Board of Transportation on Monday urging it to move the $4.4 million project ahead.

"Completion of the planned improvements along South Columbia Street is important to promote safety and maintain access to the campus of the University of North Carolina and the facilities of the UNC Health Care System," the men wrote.

It's not that I doubt that a well-connected powerful UNC trustee or insider could get whatever he wants from DOT, but I can easily believe that UNC had nothing to do with the road improvement delays other than making the mistaken assumption that municipalities all over this state make: that DOT will deliver sooner rather than later. Does anyone have evidence that UNC stonewalled South Columbia road improvements or is this undeserved bashing?

WillR, the CHT buses run on kerosene. This is cleaner than diesel but not as clean as biodiesel. Probably in the middle on cost as well. I don't know what the other Town vehicles use.

Now that this thread has been bumped:

I'll be serving as the DTH editorial page editor come this fall. Maybe now isn't the right time to post this, but what the heck -- I'm at work, waiting for my story to be read, so I've got a bit of time to kill.

At any rate, I've just got a quick comment. I've seen multiple references on OP to "DTH editors" when they discuss the editorial board, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The DTH editorial board comprises the editorial page editor, his assistant, and five members of the DTH staff who are not editors and not reporters. In fact, once you've gone to the back page, you can never return to reporting for the paper. It's the same way it works at most newspapers -- the news folks have nothing to do with the editorial section. And the DTH even has the benefit of being its own publisher, which actually gives us more back-page freedom than any professional newspaper I'm aware of.

As far as folks' critique of past DTH edits, I'll keep mum because I wasn't on the board. But do stay interested. I'd keep an eye out for this summer's editorial board, which is led by the very competent and passionate Derwin Dubose, and I can let y'all know ahead of time that I'll welcome community feeback starting in August when I get back to town. I've tried to pick an editorial board that's representative of student interests, and I can guarantee you that we won't always agree with this year's board. But ultimately, please just keep in mind that that's what it is -- a board of 7 people and the nonvoting DTH editor. All opinions in board editorials reflect their views.

Oh, and we'll have a blog. Keep an eye out for it, and hey, if you've got any ideas, my e-mail inbox is perpetually open.

Robin Cutson had an editorial in yesterday's Chapel Hill News. She challenged Doug Crawford-Brown's assertion (from a Council presentation) that young trees are more efficient at removing carbon than are large trees. I assume from the weight of the evidence she presents challenging that assertion that she is concerned that Dr. C-Brown is suppporting clear cutting as part of CRed. I wasn't at the council presentation, but I heard the same assertion in a student presentation immediately beforehand. The impression I had at that presentation was that more study needs to be done; not that he was recommending any kind of policy on trees or clear cutting.

In fact, through email with Dr. C-Brown afterwards, I asked how he balanced out the carbon reduction value of small trees with the pollution/water quality control mechanisms of mature trees (mature trees are very effective and efficient at stormwater control). His response was "Trees do MANY more things than participate in the carbon cycle, almost all of them vitally important. This one project focused only on carbon dioxide and global climate change, so these other natural services of trees were not explored in this project. But those other services would be considered in some larger municipal planning exercise." (quoted with permission)

About three weeks ago, Doug Crawford-Brown gave a
presentation about the carbon reduction project to the
Horace Williams Citizens' Committee. The presentation
was very nice and he explained well its general principles.
Yet when a number of us asked him, based on his experience
with other towns, to reduce these
principles to practice at a level that local government
leaders could act, he couldn't do it. He said that these things
are not yet defined. Whether to clearcut trees is one of
many implementation issues that aren't ready for
prime time yet.


Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.