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Green Guide - Introducing Creative Loafing's 2008 Green Team

Over the last year, these 7 Georgians made Mother Nature proud

Neill Herring and Mark Woodall

With more than 40 years experience between them, Sierra Club lobbyists Neill Herring and Mark Woodall are the environment's two most visible advocates under the Gold Dome. They and a handful of compatriots stand as often lonely bulwarks against a never-ending onslaught of polluting industries, big-money lobbyists and their craven allies in the state Legislature.

The two come across as polar opposites – Herring a brash and quick-tongued statesman, Woodall the reserved strategist. Together, they've fought hazardous-waste incinerators and big-money road projects, pushed for the preservation of Georgia's coastline, and railed against the Southern Co.'s proclivity for coal-fired plants.

In the current environment, where some of the most powerful legislators spend more time questioning whether the Earth is warming than figuring out what to do about it, Herring and Woodall are relegated to blocking the worst legislation and eking out small victories. While the last session was mired in political gamesmanship, Herring, Woodall and company fought to fine-tune the state water plan, battled the billboard industry and swayed legislators against oil drilling off Georgia's coast.

"Because they would rape this state," Herring says when asked why it's important the environmental community has a presence at the Capitol. "The business lobbyists at the other end of this building would rape this state. The last source of wealth in Georgia is taking it from air, water and land."

Alice Rolls

Your dinner table has more of a connection to global warming than you think.

The energy-intensive methods used to produce food and the transportation needed to, say, ship a broccoli spear from California to Georgia, contributes to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. It isn't just healthier to eat local and fresh food – it's better for the environment.

A Virginia native with a propensity for building nonprofits, Rolls joined Georgia Organics as executive director in 2004 and immediately set to work organizing, fundraising and networking. Her timing was perfect. Interest in local produce and sustainable agriculture was surging all over the country.

Rolls and her team work to strengthen ties between Georgia consumers and growers with programs such as neighborhood farmers' markets and "box-share" – an increasingly popular practice through which growers drop fresh produce off once a week for consumers to divvy up at a set location. The nonprofit also is educating Georgians on how to live more sustainable lives, even in such nonconventional ways as raising chickens. A "chicks in the city" urban coop tour will be held May 3.

Rolls' big ambition: to establish a broad network of local farmers who sell directly to nonfarmers. That way people would know where their food came from – just like in the old days.

Georgia Organics is further along that route than might have been imagined four years ago. Today, the group has 800 members. Despite tepid support from the state Department of Agriculture for what has become one of the hottest food-production trends, the organization's online directory now lists 104 Georgia farmers who call themselves organic. Attendance at the group's convention this year numbered 700 people – organizers even had to close registration to avoid overcrowding the meeting hall, Rolls says.

"The seed has been planted," she says. "This is an issue whose time has come."

The Rev. Martin Battle

Martin Battle first heard about environmental stewardship from a professor in Switzerland. It went right over the young student's head. After all, gas was just 20 cents a gallon.

But now, in a time of melting icecaps and widespread apprehension of the future, the teachings of Francis A. Schaeffer, a theologian who gained fame for merging ecology and spirituality, are hitting home.

Seated in an energy-efficient office with environmentally friendly carpet underfoot, the president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Vine City says his institution isn't just changing lightbulbs to encourage eco-awareness: It's teaching a practice he calls "TheoEcology" – a belief that it is one's spiritual duty to be a steward for the environment. The curriculum at the 50-year-old ITC – a member institution of the Atlanta University Center – now includes courses in ecological justice, ecological stewardship and the interaction of God, faith and the environment. Its students, in turn, take the message and venture into the world to preach a variety of faiths.

"It could be the biggest movement since the Civil Rights Movement," Battle says of environmentalism. "Everyone saw how the Civil Rights Movement transcended limitations. All of us are equally vulnerable in a bad ecology. The air doesn't know what color you are. The air doesn't care what color you are. So this movement transcends all of our sectarian, political, racial and ethnic barriers. It's the one great moment that forces us to see the commonness of our humanity."

Battle also chairs the advisory board of Mayor Shirley Franklin's Sustainable Atlanta Initiative, a multiyear effort to follow other cities' lead and transform Atlanta into a green city by preserving greenspace, investing in energy efficiency and pursuing such transformational projects as the Beltline.

"It's a God-given responsibility, it is a God-given obligation to be responsible to the gift, and for the gift of Creation," he says.

Emory Morsberger

It takes clout to move a train, especially in road-obsessed Georgia. One couldn't ask for a better-connected conductor than Emory Morsberger.

The Gwinnett developer and former GOP state rep is pushing along intown's revival with his plans to transform City Hall East into a multiuse Mecca on the Beltline. But as chairman of Georgians for the Brain Train, he's become the entire state's leading booster for commuter rail.

Morsberger says the Brain Train – a line that would connect Macon to Athens by way of Atlanta – would get 16,000 people out of their cars every day and move them efficiently through a cluttered, congested corridor. Not to mention that it could offset an estimated $1 billion in future road construction, reduce traffic deaths and jump-start smart growth around transit hubs along the line.

With the upbeat perseverance of a never-give-up salesman, Morsberger pumped life into the moribund idea that trains can help solve metro commuters' problems. The legislative session ended yet again with no new source of money to build the rail network, but this time a regional optional-sales-tax plan almost did pass. Despite political roadblocks, Morsberger's campaign is the only thing that's kept the project alive and in the public view.

"A lot of people ask me, 'Is the Brain Train going to happen?'" Morsberger said in an interview with CL earlier this year. "I say 'Yes!' When we started, everyone laughed at us. ... It works cost-wise, it works for the environment and it helps congestion. The time to do this is now."

Lee Biola

Blame his love for light rail on Paris. As a student abroad, Lee Biola was mesmerized by the French capital's Metro system, which keeps the city humming and connected. It was a refreshing change for a kid who grew up perplexed by the auto-dependent lifestyle and suburban sameness of Gwinnett County.

Today, Biola serves as president of the Atlanta-based Citizens for Progressive Transit. Buses and trains make sense – according to the Environmental Protection Agency, a third of all greenhouse gases in the United States come from the transportation sector. Of that, more than half come from personal automobile travel.

In addition to happy hours featuring speakers on urban-planning and transportation issues and a vibrant message board with 500 subscribers, Biola's grassroots group last fall rolled out A-TRAIN, an online trip planner that connects Atlantans to travel options other than autos. This year, CfPT teamed up with the Georgia Conservancy and the Southern Environmental Law Center to hire former Atlanta City Councilwoman Cathy Woolard as a lobbyist to rally for increased public-transit funding at the state Capitol. A constitutional amendment that could've done just that, however, failed to survive the legislative session.

"Every city needs public transit, even cities like Augusta, Macon and Columbus," says Biola, who uses MARTA daily to shuttle from his southeast Atlanta home to his downtown law office. "It's essential to support walkable communities. In Atlanta it's a way to get out of traffic congestion, but it's also a way to create an urban environment we can be proud of. And it's become a lot more important as climate change becomes a bigger issue, because we need to cut down on greenhouse emissions."

Martin Melaver

Developers don't normally drop quotes by such suburbia bashers as James Howard Kunstler. But Martin Melaver ain't your average touch-and-go builder.

As CEO of the third-generation family business that began as a Chatham County corner store, Melaver has turned the Savannah-based firm into a sustainable-building leader that deals solely with energy-efficient buildings. The company eschews "greenfield" development, opting instead either to revitalize existing properties or to retrofit buildings to make them more environmentally friendly. The company won't even build a structure that isn't certified under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards.

Melaver Inc. is a company that also boasts a lot of "firsts": The first LEED-certified McDonald's, the nation's first LEED-certified existing office building – located in Duluth of all places – and Atlanta's first LEED-certified condo building across the street from Oakland Cemetery. It's now immersed in revitalizing Savannah's first public-housing property, converting it into a multiuse smart-growth community for a mix of incomes.

"I don't think it's so easy to wake up in the morning and say, 'I feel justified in being a plunderer of the Earth,'" he says. "We always ask ourselves how much doing the right thing costs. Well, how much will it cost if we don't do the right thing?"

thomas.wheatly@creativeloafing.com



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