Rather than expanding upon the published principles created by Chapel Hill’s (now defunct) Horace-Williams Citizens’ Committee (HWCC) or integrating their newer environmental recommendations (which I championed), UNC’s green representative to the LAC (UNC’s Leadership Advisory Committee) offers a counter-proposal.

Why? Why follow Chancellor Moeser’s lead and continue butting heads?

To: LAC (9-3-06)
From: Doug Crawford-Brown
Re: Environmental Principles for Carolina North

I’ve taken a stab at a few principles at the end of this memo, related to environmental issues we raised in our last meeting. Before giving the wording on those principles, I want to take a moment and explain how I reasoned towards them.

1. I assumed that these should be principles, not goals or strategies. I take a principle to be a statement about a core value we want Carolina North to reflect; a goal to be a measurable characteristic that will let us know whether we have satisfied a particular principle; and a strategy to be a statement of the way in which we will reach that goal.

2. Then I assumed that we are talking here about environmental issues, and not growth per se. There are legitimate reasons to control growth, but if we want the latter, we should just say it rather than couching it in environmental standards. So I have tried to design these principles based solely on their impact on core environmental concerns.

3.Then I assumed that principles need to be applied to all sectors of our community at some time. Still, Carolina North has some unique features: (i) it will be a large change in the infrastructure of our community, giving us an opportunity to affect that infrastructure significantly in one grand step; (ii) it is being built by a university with immense intellectual resources to solve problems of sustainability – the Chancellor has provided us leadership in that regard; (iii) it will be built in part by the State, which has resources to stimulate the market for sustainable designs; and (iv) it can provide a template for what we need eventually from all sectors of the community.

Here is my wording for a broad environmental principle, followed by more specific ones.

First Environmental Principle: Carolina North presents a unique opportunity to meet the mission of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while providing a model for environmentally sustainable community design reflecting reasonably anticipated environmental goals over the next 50 years. Carolina North will therefore be an examplar of sustainability in the sense that if the entire community of Chapel Hill and Carrboro adopted the design and operational practices embodied in Carolina North, this community would be environmentally sustainable.

Then we need a principle concerning what we mean by “environmentally sustainable”, which can be a vague term. I assume that “environmentally sustainable” communities produce impacts that preserve specific conditions of the environment and public health above some level we would find acceptable as a long-term condition of life.

Second Environmental Principle: When added onto the baseline (2006) environmental conditions of the community, Carolina North will produce sustainable levels of criteria air pollutants and air toxics; emissions of carbon dioxide; carbon absorption capacity of the land; amount of land available as species habitat; amount of open land for human recreation; protection of water bodies; generation of waste; and quantity of water flowing off surfaces as run-off. “Sustainable” here means that each of these conditions and their implications for public health would be acceptable as a permanent feature of life in the community.

The community already is near natural or legal limits for some of these conditions. Important examples are ozone (related to emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds); carbon dioxide emissions (related to climate change and the town-gown Carbon Reduction pledge); run-off of water during storm events (related to impervious surfaces); and watershed protection (related to flow of sediment and nutrients into local streams and rivers). The challenge here is in (i) bringing about these community-wide improvements without placing the burden solely on Carolina North, (ii) considering the “net” impact of campus activities, with improvements elsewhere by the University in part “offsetting” the effect of Carolina North (much as a cap-and-trade program allows), and (iii) ensuring that Carolina North does not consume all of the “buffer” between existing conditions in the community and the natural or legal limit. Fortunately, meeting the CRed pledge will have the follow-on effect of keeping ozone precursors neutral, and current water practices in campus construction will ensure that the storm-water and loading conditions are met at Carolina North.

Third Environmental Principle: Carolina North and related off-setting measures will produce no net increase in emissions of precursors of ozone, no net increase in vulnerability of the community to storm-water events, no net increase in loading of sediment and nutrients into local streams, and a continued ability to meet the carbon dioxide emissions reduction goals established by the university under CRed. “Related off-setting measures” means improvements to the existing campus and/or university support of community-wide programs targeting these four environmental conditions.

Finally, we have the other environmental conditions specified in the Second Environmental Principle. For these conditions, there is some “buffer” left for development, meaning the community is not yet at any of the relevant natural or legal limits on these conditions (although we are approaching them rapidly). For these conditions, the principle adopted should reflect the desire to avoid having Carolina North consume this “buffer”, which would prevent other forms of growth from occurring in town if the community desired.

Fourth Environmental Principle: With respect to all other environmental conditions, Carolina North will leave a “buffer” to accommodate development elsewhere in the community. “Buffer” means that the incremental effect of Carolina North on all relevant environmental conditions, when added onto existing baseline conditions, will allow for reasonably anticipated future development elsewhere in the community without the community exceeding natural and/or legal limits on these conditions.

Where to start?

I appreciate Crawford-Brown’s acknowledgment “that Carolina North presents a unique opportunity to meet the mission of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while providing a model for environmentally sustainable community design”.

Diluting UNC’s responsibility by lumping in the whole community (“Carolina North will therefore be an examplar of sustainability in the sense that if the entire community of Chapel Hill and Carrboro adopted the design and operational practices embodied in Carolina North” strikes me as a precursor to a good old-style greenwashing.

For instance, what is reasonable and acceptable, as in his call for “reasonably anticipated environmental goals over the next 50 years” and his tautology that the standards applied to Carolina North simply be “acceptable as a long-term condition of life”?

Of course we don’t want a multi-billion dollar, taxpayer-financed, State project that’s inimical to life, do we?

The continuing tenor – his suggestion of applying “pollution reduction credits” accrued elsewhere to balance environmentally questionable development practices or working within a “buffer” that’s measured not by environmental best-practices but by our State’s rather weak legal requirements – makes we wonder if UNC’s current administration has positioned Crawford-Brown as more an apologist/whitewasher than a champion for world class green development.

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