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DSC 0179 Last month the Chatham County Line featured six articles and two advertisements that focused on or mentioned the impending Chatham Park development. Six of these could be considered “Flat Earth Society” presentations.

These include the writings of the gentlepeople at  the Chatham Economic Development Corporation and the Chatham Chamber of Commerce, plus three honorable gentlemen: Randy Voller, Jeffrey Starkweather and, yes, Julian Sereno. The articles by Deepa Sanyal and Sarah Wood are two exceptions. So, what is the difference between the six articles/ads  and the other two?

Climate Change

Remember Lot’s wife?  According to the book of Genesis two angels urged Lot and his family to flee Sodom, head for the hills and not look back so as to avoid being caught in impending disaster.  Lot’s wife, however, ignored the warnings and wise counsel, looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.

Our six “Flat Earth Society” presentations resemble Lot’s wife in that they use backward looking, 20th century assumptions. Specifically they deny or discount the increasingly clear message concerning climate change.  The message is this.  Climate change is here, and the only question is whether the results will be catastrophic or only dire.

DSC 1796 Written by Al Cooke

Among the outstanding characteristics of Chatham County are the pleasant visual aspects of the countryside variously referred to as bucolic, rustic, scenic, pastoral, or rural.  Our rural scenes include an abundance of trees. Approximately 63% of Chatham County land is forested. That’s more than 262,000 acres.  Statewide, 86% is in the hands of private landowners. These forests provide both valuable environmental (non-commodity) resource benefits and valuable natural (commodity) resource benefits.

Environmental benefits include:

•    Reducing storm water runoff and associated costs;
•    Erosion control;
•    Protection and purification of both surface water resources – ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers – and ground water resources;
•    Temperatures lowered by evapotranspiration and shade;
•    Reduced air pollution;
•    Storage of carbon and toxic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium;
•    Releasing atmospheric oxygen we breathe; and
•    Habitat for wildlife (enhancing tourism).

Natural resource benefits of forest lands include pulp wood, saw timber, and wood pellets. In 2012 the value of these commodities totaled $8,300,000 in income to Chatham County landowners and slightly more than that to both the professionals who managed the harvest and those who cut, loaded, and transported the timber for processing.

wralistvmeeting by Gary Simpson

This is the 10th in a series of articles sponsored by ConnectChatham, a network of civic groups working to create a better future for Chatham and the planet (see ( In this series we seek to define true “prosperity” in a 21st century world. We’ve boiled it down to a (not so) simple equation:

Prosperity = (N+E) ÷ P x (T+W).

In other words, prosperity is the product of natural resources (N) plus environmental resources (E) divided by population (P) times technology (T) plus work (W).

However, the popular view of prosperity more often equates simply with wealth and an economic system that perpetuates and is dependent upon the mass consumption of natural/environmental resources to produce non-renewable “stuff”. Because this system reinforces the business-as-usual disparity of wealth among the world’s population, it is both unsustainable (untenable) and unjust (immoral). As such, the current system that drives America’s and the world’s economy is not a high road to success (prosperity), but rather a low road to failure (austerity). It is a dead end street.

Chatham Park Logo1 By Jeffrey Starkweather

Forty-one years ago I drove down a two-lane blacktop from Chapel Hill to Pittsboro to check out a more than 100 year old Victorian house that would soon become my family’s home. I felt like I was entering a National Forest.  I chose Pittsboro because I wanted to live, work and raise a family in the type of small town where I was raised in California.  I immediately fell in love with Pittsboro and its people. A year later I began running a weekly newspaper and soon developed the same love for rural Chatham.

Recently, I attended two public hearings on the proposed rezoning  of 7,120 acres  for a mixed-use, planned development called Chatham Park  that could bring 55,000  to the county seat. Based on the many citizen presentations made I was delighted to learn that most people who migrated to the Pittsboro area love it as much as I do, and for the same reasons including  small town  comforts and agrarian beauty.

But all of this could be at risk unless the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners makes the right decisions in response to the Chatham Park rezoning proposal. The right decision involves the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners requiring Chatham Park to be a 21st century development that achieves four goals. These include  (1) enhancing  the prosperity of local residents,(2) protecting the Haw River and Jordan Lake – Pittsboro’s and Chatham County’s drinking water supplies, (3) protecting the beautiful, steeply rolling  Chatham Park landscape  and (4) designing a community that  acknowledges new realities including especially a changing climate that promises to drastically alter our local environment.  Creating this type of development will require cooperative, land use planning involving Pittsboro, Chatham County and Preston Development Company of Cary – the developers of Chatham Park.

by Roland McReynolds

Last month atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration levels in the calm air above the Pacific Ocean hit 400 parts per million (PPM), the first time Earth has experienced such a reading in 800,000 years.  Mid-Pacific air masses are considered the benchmark for CO2 measurement because gases in the air there have had several days’ time to mix, smoothing out most of the CO2 variability encountered in more dynamic air masses around the globe.  These levels represent a 42 percent spike over measured CO2 levels during the period 1000 to 1800 C.E.; and a 20 percent increase since 1980.  There is ample evidence to suggest that once CO2 reaches 450 PPM, climate change effects will be drastic and long-lasting even if humankind drastically reduces carbon emissions.  The upshot of this recent milestone is that stopping climate change is not really the question anymore.  Rather it is how humankind adapts to a rapidly changed climate.  And nowhere is that question more pressing than in agriculture.
Food production after all is the foundation of human society, and is utterly dependent on the weather.  Vegetables, fruits and grains need steady supplies of moisture and stable temperatures to produce abundant crops.  Livestock need grass and grains year-round to grow and be healthy.  Soils must be rich in minerals, nutrients and organic matter to feed livestock and crops.  Yet those components are easily eroded away by droughts and floods.

by Lyle Estill

The notion of preserving our prosperity is daunting … and depressing. This is true because natural resource depletion, environmental degradation, and population growth seem to overwhelm the critical factors that will underwrite prosperity in the 21st century. Below we consider one of these critical factors - emerging energy technologies. Here we examine why we must recalculate the costs and benefits of energy production and why prosperity in the 21 st century will continue slipping away until we get all the costs right.

One of the weaknesses in our current energy paradigm is that we have externalized the true costs of our “prosperity.” That is, we have measured it by using the wrong yardstick. As each generation boasts to have been “more successful” than the one before, we tend to leave out the damage that was done to achieve that success.

In the case of coal, the “cheap electricity” yardstick says we have done exceedingly well. Indeed our prosperity in North Carolina and elsewhere has been powered largely by cheap fossil energy – mainly coal. However we tend to omit the reduced air, water, and soil quality, resulting from both its acquisition, and combustion. Our dependence on coal for “cheap” electricity has loaded our atmosphere with uncomfortably high levels of mercury, carbon dioxide, and sulfur. It has resulted in increased asthma rates, ocean acidification and global warming. When our metrics include these and other externalities we score badly.

In the case of oil, which powers most of North Carolina’s transportation sector, the same argument holds. Our dependence on “cheap” crude oil has externalized not only the environmental costs of its production and use but has also omitted the security costs associated with its consumption.

We don’t pay the cost of security at the pump. We pay it on April 15th when we mail our tax checks to Uncle Sam.   That’s when we pay for our massive military presence in the Middle East. That’s when we pay for the fighter jets that escort crude oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz. When we measure our prosperity by one yardstick: the price at the pump, we look very prosperous indeed. But when we measure ourselves by money spent on the military, we don’t do so well. When we add in other externalities especially global warming, the price of petroleum looms large indeed.

nw thumb jordan lake Jordan Lake matters. It’s one of our region’s most important drinking water and recreation reservoirs. For this reason, 21 st century prosperity in Chatham County and the Triangle region requires that the State of North Carolina and local governments, including Chatham County, redouble efforts to clean up this impaired but precious environmental resource.

Throughout history, adequate natural resources, environmental resources, population, technology and work have been perquisites for widespread prosperity. Of all the natural and environmental resources necessary for prosperity none is more important than clean water. When packaged and sold as a commodity - in a bottle, a can or a pipe - water is a natural resource. As a river, lake or ocean, water is an environmental resource.

More than ever, two questions now confront us in the 21st century. First, will we continue degrading water as an environmental resource and allow the growing biological collapse of our rivers, lakes and oceans to continue unabated? Here, we should consider the biological condition of the largest body of water on the planet - the oceans - and note the 2011 findings of the International Program on the State of the Ocean: “the worlds ocean is at a high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history” … a period of time covering approximately 200,000 years. As is described below, the same can be said of our rivers in Chatham County. Secondly, when viewed as a natural resource, will we continue consuming water that increasingly is loaded with unregulated and often cancer causing chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates?

Below, John Alderman, one of the leading aquatic biologists in the Southeastern United States, will consider these questions as they relate to the three rivers in Chatham County: the Haw, Deep and Rocky Rivers. All three are undergoing rapid biological decline due to reduced stream flows and water pollution.


The Rocky River Heritage Foundation has asked that I evaluate water quality in the Haw, Deep and Rocky Rivers (all part of the upper Cape Fear River Basin). Before doing so, consider how these rivers looked 600 or more years ago. In general, water was crystal clear, even during major storm events, and a great diversity and abundance of fish, mussels, snails, insects, and other organisms existed in these waters. Basically, no matter the location within these rivers or their tributaries, water quality was excellent.

During modern times, the NC Environmental Management Commission designates certain streams Outstanding Resource Waters if water quality is excellent and the water body has other characteristics which suggest limited impairment. Sadly, only 2 small areas in the upper Cape Fear River Basin are designated Outstanding Resource Waters. Thus, most of our streams have been significantly degraded during recent centuries.

Consider the good news. A majority of Americans now realize climate change is real. For example, a February, 2013 Duke University online survey revealed 84% of respondents believe climate change definitely or probably is occurring. Similarly, a December, 2012 poll undertaken by the Associated Press and the German GfK Group found that 78% of Americans view climate change as a reality with 80% viewing climate change as a serious problem. Finally, because of greater energy efficiency, slower economic growth and increased use of natural gas by electric utilities, US carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions between 2007 and 2012 declined by 13 percent.

Now consider the bad news. In May, 2012 the International Energy Agency reported worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are soaring with 2010 emissions rising by a 5.9% and 2011 emissions by 3.2%. On November 5th, 2012 the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCooper issued a report entitled “Current Rates of Decarbonisation Pointing to 6°C of Warming”. This report concluded that …“Even doubling our current rate of decarbonisation would still lead to emissions consistent with 6 degrees (Celsius, 10.8 Fahrenheit) of warming by the end of the century. This report echoes a 2010 Global Carbon Project finding that unless radical changes are made, global temperatures are “firmly on course” to increase by 10° or more by 2100.

Perhaps the most important but least addressed factor underlying all the simultaneous crises that humankind now faces is population growth. It is least addressed because it forces us to explore the most fundamental human activity—reproduction, a very tender subject able to provoke every fear humans try so gamely to subdue. In an often threat- ening world, humans have always sought to increase their numbers and land holdings to defend family, tribe and ethnicity. This ancient strategy is no longer viable.

Until the dawn of the 20th Century, world population was less than a billion. Since 1900, our population has sky rocketed and now stands at 7 bil- lion and climbing. The care and feeding of 8 billion people will prove a daunting task. Enormous changes in political and agricultural structures will be essen- tial to accomplish the task since already a billion people or more are without sufficient water and food. I’ve traveled to areas where these problems are chronic, and it is a spine-chilling sight to behold!

We Americans, accustomed to such blessed abundance, are more than a bit complacent as we gaze at the televised pictures of the bald-headed, swollen-bellied children of Africa and shake our heads. The Midwestern United States is still in the grips of a drought that destroyed the majority of our corn and soybean harvest last year and threatens to shut down commerce on the Mississippi River. Such complacency in the face of present facts and future threats to food and water supplies could produce the same conditions here that we witness in the so-called Third World. Changing weather patterns imperil our ground and surface water, and thus our harvests.

Earth… with its finite and interdependent land, water and atmosphere is Nature’s endowment to humanity. It’s our legacy to manage for the sustenance, pleasure and prosperity (success) of all living things, “all creatures great and small.” Because everyone shares in this grand journey on earth, it’s our mutual moral duty to help one another and all creatures prosper and thrive. The question in the 21 st century is whether we as individuals and as a society will honor this moral obligation and enjoy prosperity, or whether we will ignore the responsibility and travel down the well worn path to perdition and ruin.

People with a vision that transcends time and self often describe their awareness, and passion for living life on earth in this way: “The life I have is the Deity’s (God’s) gift to me. What I do with that life is my gift to the Deity.” An awareness of “giftedness” can become the pathway of gratitude leading to a life that promotes prosperity for the “good earth” and all its inhabitants.

Who doesn’t wish to live in a prosperous community where prosperity is widespread and lasting? Here, most of us can find common ground. Now, however, we need to ask a question. Is widespread, lasting prosperity possible in the 21st century? This question arises because of the worldwide decline of the middle class, the worldwide inability of corporations and governments to both repay debts and provide promised benefits plus the underlying reasons for the above.

The short answer to the above question is this. If locally and globally we undertake much greater protection of (1) natural resources and (2) environmental resources; (3) reduce global population; (4) develop new technologies – especially energy technologies; and (5) organize work so as to advance the above, then widespread, lasting prosperity might be possible. Otherwise, in Chatham and elsewhere, prosperity will go the way of the once plentiful Carolina Parakeet that now is extinct. This and future articles will explain why this is true.

In this regard, the above can be viewed as an equation. The equation states Community Prosperity (PR) = [Natural Resources (NR) + Environmental Resources (ER)] ÷ Population (P) X [Technology (T) + Work (W)]. In short: PR = [NR+ER] ÷ P X [T+W]. This equation assumes the following definitions.

(1) Community Prosperity (PR) refers to a community that has adequate material wealth distributed so all citizens can have a decent life (e.g., in Chatham County, $50,000 for a family of four).

(2) Natural Resources (NR) refer to commodities that can be bought and sold on the open market such as a barrel of oil or a cord of wood. As noted below, some natural resources such as wood also can serve as environmental resources.

(3) Environmental Resources (ER) refer to resources that cannot be bought and sold on the open market such as the carbon cycle. As is the case with a two-sided coin, an environmental resource also can serve as a natural resource. For example, a tree can serve as an environmental resource by being part of the carbon cycle. The same tree also can serve as a natural resource by providing fire wood. Many political arguments center around whether trees and similar resources should be used as natural resources or as environmental resources.

(4) Population (P) refers to the number of people in a given area such as the 7+/- billion people living on Earth.

(5) Technology (T) refers to knowledge concerning how to manipulate and manage natural and environmental resources and people.

(6) Work (W) refers to people expending energy in the application of technology.

Now, to illustrate why the above approach to prosperity is essential let us consider two scenarios. In each scenario the five above factors - NR, ER, P, T, & W – are measured on a scale from one to ten, with one being low and ten being high. The two scenarios will be “Armageddon” and “Heaven on Earth”.