Green Around The Hills: Maybe someday people will say ‘You must be from Tennessee’ …

8:52 am | October 22, 2012

By Jennie Young

I’m writing about plastic shopping bags again, but, please stay. I’m not having a fantasy where, if I nag enough, you’ll throw up your hands and say with varying degrees of resignation, “All right! I get it. I’m in.” I first want to tell a true story and then indulge fantasy.

I presented my reusable bags at the checkout with my usual request that only my bags be used, no plastic. It’s obvious the clerks and baggers are carefully trained to bag according to food safety concerns, protection for delicate items, and weight considerations for lifting and bag strength. On this day the conscientious bagger felt compelled to use plastic for a few items before putting them into my bags, and I kept interfering with his good work. I finally apologized for being such a pill but reiterated, “Please. No plastic. I’m deeply committed to this.” I’m sure when one performs the same process over and over during a shift, we must all meld together. I’m not suggesting it’s impersonal, just that circumstances usually render the interaction brief. Anyway, my words brought my helper’s eyes level with mine. He tilted his head, looked at me kind of quizzically, and then said, “You must be from New England.” I was born and raised in Erwin and have never been so proud to say so. My wee triumph.

Here’s my actual fantasy. I’m in New England at a grocery checkout in the same little drama. The bagger scrutinizes me and then says, “You must be from Tennessee.” What a credit, what an endorsement for an area to have generated such a reputation that an act like mine resurrects it in someone a thousand miles away. We could do that. So what if some other group thinks they’ve already co-opted that distinction.

I’d hoped that Tennessee could be a national example of environmental stewardship with the passage of the anti-mountaintop removal mining bill, the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act. We were able to redirect the process a bit in the last legislative session, but we failed. What a distinction to be the only state to say to a bully industry that we’ll make our own rules and protect our signature mountains by limiting the worst of what they do. That didn’t work but we still have bragging rights. Almost half as many Tennesseans work for our burgeoning solar energy enterprises as are employed in West Virginia coal fields. That matters. Routinely there are news reports and pictures of wide expanses of solar panels on local structures. The work being done locally to increase recycling capacity and convenience defines us positively.

In spite of current political mindset, good folks down where it counts are figuring it out. Yes, environmental stewardship is definitely a Democrat priority, but I run into conservatives all over the place who get it, from whatever prompts them. Usually, it just makes good conservative sense. They would be as puffed up as I if someone recognized their act of stewardship with “You

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