A greener Dixie
by Jennifer Cohron
Jan 02, 2011 | 2008 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The state’s Forever Wild program added more than 12,800 acres to its holdings this year, bringing the total amount of protected acres to 220,000. - (Photo by: Jennifer Cohron)
The state’s Forever Wild program added more than 12,800 acres to its holdings this year, bringing the total amount of protected acres to 220,000. - (Photo by: Jennifer Cohron)
The environmental movement is gathering steam in Alabama, according to a new report by the Green Resource Center for Alabama.

GRCA’s third annual Green Progress Report highlights several significant improvements made in the past year, such as the preservation of an additional 12,800 acres of state land and continuing efforts to restore the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill.

GRCA founder Scott Walton said that even a single homeowner using a more energy-efficient light bulb is worth noting.

“If we can get them to screw in a new type of light bulb, other lights start to go off. Questions lead to other questions, and then behaviors change,” Walton said.

Walton said that cities, churches and colleges across the state are going green.

The length of the Green Progress Report reflects the movement’s popularity. The 2010 report is twice the size of the first one that was released by GRCA in 2008.

Walton said the benefits of the changes are being felt by organisms as small as the tulutoma snail, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed moving from the endangered species list to the threatened list because it has made “major strides on the road to recovery.” The freshwater mollusk is found in the Coosa River and its tributaries.

Entire communities are also being impacted.

Huntsville’s “Green 13” Sustainability Report, which was unveiled in February, contains a variety of proposals that would make the city one of the greenest in the nation.

Jefferson County approved “SmartCode” amendments to its zoning ordinance in October that are expected to help conserve land, energy and natural resources as well as reduce traffic congestion and sprawl.

Birmingham’s 19-acre Railroad Park also made the Green Progress Report. It features more than 600 trees, a lake, wetlands, playgrounds, a skate park and a natural amphitheater.

Even coastal communities, which were devastated by the oil spill, have something to celebrate.

Several groups have formed the 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama partnership, which plans to build 100 miles of oyster reefs and plant more than 1,000 acres of coastal marsh and seagrass in Mobile Bay over the next five years.

Walton said he has enjoyed watching several movements emerge within the environmental movement in the past year.

Community gardening, for example, is making a comeback.

“A lot of concepts related to going green can be described as ‘what is old is new again.’ People planted victory gardens after World War II. Now we are growing things to connect with others, eat healthier and live more frugally,” Walton said.

More farmer markets have been developed in Alabama than anywhere else in the United States in the past decade, according to the executive director of Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham who is mentioned inthe report.

Walton said a care of creation movement is also taking hold in churches and faith-based organizations.

This year, Montevallo Presbyterian Church became the first congregation in the state and 12th in the nation to receive the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star label for houses of worship.

Walton said government initiatives have helped the environmental movement grow.

Alabamaians received $4.4 million in federal rebates last year for purchasing energy-efficient appliances. Nearly 3,000 homes in the state also got upgrades such as weather-stripping and insulation.

Walton added that policy-makers are also making a difference.

“I’d like to think that’s because of constituents pushing for it, but we’re also seeing signs of visionary leadership in the state,” Walton said.

Other improvements included in the Green Progress Report are:

•a partnership between the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and companies such as U.S. Steel to reduce diesel emissions and particle pollution

•the destruction of all chemical weapons at Anniston Army Depot by June 2011

•ADEM funding to clean up 72 illegal dumps in the state

•more than $1.7 million in ADEM awards to enhance recycling in municipalities

•the opening of the Aquatic Biodiversity Center, the largest state-operated recovery center for mollusks in the nation

•the new Alabama Trails Commission and nine trails being recognized as National Recreational Trails

“Alabama has a lot to be proud of, and we feel like that is worth pointing out,” Walton said.