December 3, 2019

700 Words On Crossnore And Climate Change

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The City Council debated giving the Piedmont Land Conservancy $200,000 to help them buy an easement to protect Crossnore/Children’s Home’s land from development for weeks. During committee meetings and two meetings of the full City Council, the question was, should the City help fund a land conservation project, or would tax dollars be better spent maintaining parks throughout the city?

But none of the eight members of the City Council or Mayor Joines mentioned climate change during the Crossnore land conservation debate. Our local paper hasn’t done any better. The Journal didn’t mention climate change in the plethora of articles it published on the subject. (I did appreciate Scott Sexton’s piece, citing redevelopment/gentrification in Boston-Thurmond as a reason some members of the City Council were opposing this project.)

Climate Change is a problem of such enormous magnitude; it’s easier to ignore it than to grapple with its far-reaching implications. If we don’t de-carbon our lives soon, we’re going to pass the point of no return. Politicians on every level, even at the municipal and county levels, must make preventing catastrophic climate change their business.

That’s why I’m disappointed with our City Council for not mentioning climate change during the Crossnore land conservation debate. Ninety-two acres set aside as green space with walking trails at the intersection of Boston-Thurmond and Buena Vista would be fantastic. I don’t understand why a city with a nearly $500 million annual budget couldn’t give the Piedmont Land Conservancy the $500,000 that they originally asked for. In the end, the City Council approved $200,000 for the “urban sanctuary.”

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Councilmember Dan Besse mentioned that the Piedmont Land Conservancy would be coming back to the City Council for financial assistance with parking and trails for the property (assuming they are able to purchase an easement from Crossnore).

The City Council should work with the PLC in the future. But they need to expand their vision and use the Crossnore/Children’s Home land to help address climate change.

Preventing development won’t be enough to prevent climate change. We need to plant trees. Earlier this year, researchers in Zurich released an important study arguing that “the restoration of forested land at a global scale could help capture atmospheric carbon and mitigate climate change.” Planting trees on a massive scale, around-the-globe on existing land, could be our first step in avoiding catastrophic climate change. Locally, that effort should start at the Crossnore/Children’s Home property. Planting trees isn’t a perfect solution, but God knows that we need to do something.

The City owns other properties suitable for reforestation. Also, the City is frequently offered properties by families unable to maintain inherited property. The City could start an ambitious tree-planting land bank program in Winston-Salem relatively quickly if it has the political will to do so.

The City of Winston-Salem has a moral imperative to address climate change. Winston-Salem, home to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (now Brittish American Tobacco), was a participant in a massive, decades-long corporate conspiracy to mislead the American public about the dangers of cigarette smoking. For their crimes, R.J. Reynolds and other members of Big Tobacco signed the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998 and agreed to pay nearly $30 billion for their crimes. The entire city bears some responsibility for all the evil R.J. Reynolds has done over the decades.

The “Tobacco playbook” (public relations trickery that denies and minimizes corporate responsibilities) has been successfully used for decades by Exxon Mobil and other carbon polluting corporations to deceive the American public about the dangers of climate change.

Winston-Salem, a town synonymous with Camel cigarettes, must act now to address climate change that is happening locally and globally. Climate Change must be at the forefront of the City’s agenda. Aggressively planting trees in a community that aggressively cultivated tobacco production in decades past would be an excellent first step.

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