The Daily Pulse:

Leila Pinchot's Keynote

Here, for the record, is the full text of Dr. Leila Pinchot's keynote speech, a high point of Saturday's Centennial Conservation Expo at Chilhowee Park. Pinchot, the great-granddaughter of Gifford Pinchot, who directed the National Conservation Exposition held in the same park 100 years ago this month, is a noted conservationist herself, involved in the study of the blight-ravaged chestnut tree, and coincidentally a UT alum.

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Hello and good morning.  Thank you for attending this celebration.  It is so nice to be here, to be back in Knoxville, and to participate in this wonderful event!  Knoxville was my home for 4 years, while I earned my doctorate at UTK - in the department of forestry, wildlife, and fisheries.  My husband and I grew enormously fond of this area - the gorgeous landscape, the plentiful access to outdoor recreation, the availability of locally grown foods, the very friendly people, the vibrant music scene, and the tremendous academic resources at the University.   Jobs and family took us back to the northeast.  So I very much appreciate the opportunity to visit this fine city once again, particularly for this important event.    

I'd like to start off by reading a quotation from a 1913 article in the Nashville Tennessean newspaper that, I think, very succinctly captures the spirit of the 1913 National Conservation Exposition:

"Former expositions have been in the nature of the celebration of past events.  They were as songs of achievements at the end of a good day's work; The National Conservation Exposition will be as a living and tangible promise of a still more glorious tomorrow, foreordained by the wise action of today."

As this statement implies, the original exposition, was a celebratory event, applauding the nation's recent achievements in conversation, but more importantly, it was an event to carry this momentum into the future.  It was looking forward, planning for future generations, which really is at the heard of conservation.

Just 20 years before the 1913 exposition, American historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the end of the American frontier, which signified the end of a way of life. It signified the end of exploration, the end of unregulated taking of our nation's resources.  This was in an era of American history in which we had clearcut most of the forests, from east to west, exterminated the passenger pigeon, and nearly did the same to buffalo and numerous other wildlife species.  An era when we exhausted the land through over-farming, and lost huge amounts of valuable soil into streams and rivers.  This was an era of thinking only about the present and not at all about the future.

It was in this context that President Theodore Roosevelt, with the support of the American public, and his good friend, my great grand-father, and head of the advisory board for the National Conservation Exposition, Gifford Pinchot, decided that our country's natural resources were the property of the public, not big business.  And over the next few years, Roosevelt formed the US Forest Service, 5 national parks (this was before the creation of the NPS), 51 bird reserves, 150 national forests, which, when put together, totaled 230 million acres of land protected.   

But I want to make a point here. It was not Roosevelt and Pinchot alone that enacted this change.  It was not just the government that helped shift the way we thought about our forests, our wildlife, our crop lands.  It was also the American public.  It was hunting clubs, ladies tea groups, and other small groups of very vocal American citizens who fueled this fight.  The point here is that the government doesn't act alone.  Change must first be catalyzed by a persuasive and forceful public.

And so it was in the midst of this paradigm shift within the American public, that the National Conservation Exposition was held right here in Knoxville, TN in 1913.   This was a time to celebrate the recent accomplishments of the conservation movement, and more importantly, to look forward and plan for future successes.  

I argue today that we stand at the junction of a new paradigm shift, 100 years after the first National Conservation exposition.  And we have to make a decision, as a society, whether we want to continue business as usual, or if we want to safeguard our community for the sake of future generations by acknowledging the hundreds of scientists who warn us that our activities are leading to a changing climate that will, without action, yield disastrous environmental, economic, and societal impacts.   

The science is unequivocal.  Human burning of fossil fuels is causing climate warming. And the American public is catching on.  Nearly 2 in 3 Americans believe global warming is happening, and 49% believe it is definitely human caused. Those numbers are sure to rise quickly.

What are the consequences in this region?
Increased warming, if not curbed, will lead to many changes.  This region has already warmed 2 degrees F since 1970 and is predicted to warm another 1 to 3 degrees by 2100.   This doesn't sound like a lot...small changes in temperature can unfortunately lead to big consequences.
    •    Scientists predict we will see more frequent and more intense precipitation events.  I was here for the storm in April, 2011, and took cover in my bathroom with my dog as the quarter sized hail destroyed our roof and siding.  I suspect there is still the occasional car driving around Knoxville that looks like a golf ball from hail damage.  I don't like to think of a future where that is common place.  

Economic impacts include
    •    Decline in agricultural productivity due increased temperature both plant crops and cattle, due to heat stress.

Health consequences of a warmer climate in the southeast will lead to
    •    Increased health issues related to heat stress
    •    Increased respiratory illnesses such as asthma
    •    Increased spread of certain types of food-borne bacteria
Regional ecological impacts include:
    •    The 16% reduction of mammalian diversity in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, which is, of course one of the diversity hot spots in the US.
    •    Warmer water temperatures will cause declines in cold water fish species, brook trout populations are predicted to decline by at least 50%.
    •    A warmer climate will worsen the effects of exotic species, which are already wreaking havoc on our ecosystems, attacking our valuable timber species, such as black walnut, and outcompeting native species. For example, a warmer climate may allow non-native insects to overwinter in areas where they were formally killed by low winter temperatures, leading to intensified insect outbreaks.

While the United States, in many ways, paved the way for conservation world-wide in the early 20th century, we are slackers when it comes to climate change policy.  We are far behind developing countries. And it's no wonder why.  We have all seen how challenging it is to pass meaningful legislation through Congress these days.  I wrote this speech at home, rather than in my office in a federally-owned building, due to a federal government shut down caused by a completely grid-locked congress.  We need meaningful legislation to quickly and significantly reduce our fossil fuel emissions, and this will require ending an era where fossil fuel companies have a direct pipeline to the ears and pockets of our Congressmen. (Incidentally, campaign financing was also an issue that Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot tried to address.) Clearly, this won't happen quickly.  But we can no longer afford to wait. Luckily, America is more than the sum of its Representatives and Senators.  Today, grassroots, local, and regional actions are desperately needed to help us become more energy efficient.  

And you will be proud to know, that this region has already accomplished a great deal in the area of climate change mitigation and energy efficiency. I will briefly highlight several local programs that directly or indirectly help reduce carbon emissions and improve the area's sustainability.

    •    The first is the Local foods movement.  When my husband and I first moved to Knoxville, in 2008, the farmers market on market square consisted of maybe 10 tables, offering fresh food from local farms.  When we left in the spring of 2012, the market had grown to two city blocks, and offered an assortment of vegetables, dairy products, meats, jams, baked goods, handmade crafts, etc...all locally produced.  The forthcoming Knoxville Regional Food Assessment, written by the Food Policy Council, to be published in November, finds that there are 22 farmers markets in the 11 counties surrounding Knoxville, selling goods from 59 local farms.  The area supports 16 community supported agricultural programs (CSAs), and 17 grocery stores serving locally sourced foods.  Knox county schools are now serving locally grown foods in their cafeterias.  And Sysco Knoxville, a large food distributor located here is starting to buy and offer locally grown foods.  This is a wonderful achievement.
    •    How is this related to reducing our carbon output?   It's all about how to food is grown and transported.   Growing commodity food on an industrial scale (i.e. conventional farms) requires huge carbon inputs in the form of pesticides and fertilizers, many of which are petroleum-based.  Small and medium sized organic farms, by farming close to population centers, using crop rotations to fertilize the soil and control pests, and delivering whole unprocessed food directly to consumers, farmers can beat the energy balance of food transported from distant locations.
    •    The second local initiative I'd like to commend is
    •    Knoxville's Energy and Sustainability Work Plan: the city's road map to becoming more efficient and responsible in its operations and growth.  This was really exciting to see. A comprehensive plan with 33 wide-reaching initiatives that have  This has helped reduced the Knoxville city governments CO2 emissions by 17% since 2005 levels:  replacing all traffic lights with LED light bulbs and increasing the city's solar capacity from 30 kw in 2008 to over 4 megawatts in 2012. A tremendous achievement.
    •    The achievement of becoming a Solar City: Knoxville was selected by the Department of Energy in 2008 to become a solar city - a competitive program, and Knoxville Won.  Which meant the city was given assistance to help promote solar technologies.
    •    Along similar lines is another wonderful program: TVA's Generation Partners Program:
    •    A clever program in which you, as a home- or business-owner install a renewable generation system, such as solar in your home or business.  TVA will then purchase the green energy output from this system at the retail rate, plus a premium.  Additionally TVA will help cover part of the start-up costs.  This is exactly the type of program we need to help home owners and businesses help the community!  A great example of a home that took advantage of this program is the Green House - in the Fort Sanders area across from the Knoxville Museum of Art.  A wonderful example of historic renovation and energy efficiency.
    •    There are many additional initiatives, which I don't have time to mention.  But I would like to say that Knoxville and surrounding areas has the entirely right infrastructure to continue pushing this momentum forward.  You have a mayor with a phenomenal green record and commitment to the city's sustainability, and Office sustainability. You have Oak Ridge National Laboratories, which produces some of the best climate science and energy efficient technologies available. You have UTK that produces research on biofuels, the local foods movement, among other topics related to sustainability.  The NPS, the FS....a plethora of local conservation non-profits and green businesses.  You have a lot to work with, which means you also have the responsibility to keep moving forward.
    •    So, a few additional ideas, to keep Knoxville on the cutting edge of energy efficiency and sustainability.
    •    Residential and commercial buildings account for 40% of our nation's carbon emissions.   I would urge this region to continue programs that encourage renewable resources, such as TVA's Generation Partners Program, and go further. One way to do this is to mandate building energy labeling -a policy which encourages improved energy efficiency of new and existing homes.  When homes come up for sale, their energy efficiency rating will be made public.  Prospective buyers will favor houses with greater efficiency, because their energy costs will be reduced, and this will lead to an increased value of energy efficient houses, which ultimately will encourage owners to invest in energy saving upgrades. This policy that has been adopted by more than 30 nations worldwide and its efficacy in encouraging energy efficiency has been proven.
    •     For new houses, you might consider adopting the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code, to mandate that new buildings are energy efficient.  If all 50 states enacted this code, the country would save $40 billion in energy costs by 2030, and would reduce CO2 emissions by 200 million metric tons a year (to give you context for this number, Knoxville emits about 4 million metric tons of CO2 a year, so this amount to saving the energy of 50 Knoxvilles every year).  The city of Farragut recently adopted these codes, and I encourage other towns and cities to do so as well.
    •    There are also actions that individuals can take.  I understand that the climate change issue feels so huge, that it's easy to get overwhelmed.  I often feel overwhelmed and helpless.  But there are ways we, as individuals can act.  Especially in a region with so much going for it. First - educate yourself on the issue.  A great book that describes the science (and politics) behind climate change is Storms of my grandchildren by James Hansen, who used to work for NASA, Look into solar for your house - take advantage of TVA's Generation Partners Program.  If this is too big of a commitment, sign up for their Green Energy Switch - you'll pay a small amount of money - between $4 and $32/month to have your energy use offset by renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.  If you're renovating, or buying a new house, try to meet the high energy efficiency codes.  Buy local foods - this will reduce your carbon footprint and will encourage the local economy.   Talk to your local community members about these issues, and reach out to your senators and representatives.  They can't ignore this issue forever.  Finally, include your children in these discussions.  They are the decision makers of tomorrow.
    •    While these types of changes may not always be easy, may require us to think outside the box and push past our comfort zones, these of changes are absolutely necessary to ensure that our future generations don't have to pay for our unwillingness to confront today's challenges.  
    •    So, in the spirit of the 1913 National Conservation Exposition, let us celebrate our accomplishments, while in the same breath, pledge that we will continue this effort to reduce our carbon emissions, thereby ensuring a healthier, more peaceful, and more sustainable future; as the 1913 Nashville Tennessean article put it, for a "still more glorious tomorrow".

Thank you.

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