R. Scot Duncan

Alabama is a football fan state. According to some who live in Alabama, you absolutely MUST either choose to “Roll Tide!” for the University of Alabama or “War Eagle” for Auburn University. General rule of thumb. To fit in, start using phrases like “it’s coming up a cloud” when rain is in the forecast. Start stacking up on Alabama-made foods like MoonPie and RC Cola. You might want to blare “Sweet Home Alabama” while considering how many kids and adults love and take pride in their Space and Rocket Center.

Alina, a blogger from Alabama jokes about the reactions she gets from people when she says she was born in Alabama. She figures that they expect to hear that she was born in a double-wide trailer right before a preacher came by to make sure she wasn’t going to go to hell on account of being born a weak baby.  (She was born in a hospital.)

One thing you may never have known until now is that Alabama ranks fifth in the nation in number of species of plants and animals found in the state. The state is surpassed only by the larger western states of California,Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. That’s according to Dr. R Scot Duncan. He is the author of the book, “Southern Wonder: Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity.” He is also an Associate Professor of Biology and Urban Environmental Studies at Birmingham-Southern College. What football team does he root for? Not sure, but chances are that he’s got some black and gold to support the college’s Panthers.

In his book, he explains that Alabama harbors more species than 90 percent of the other states in the United States.

He’s also been warning of major loss in biodiversity along with other fellow Alabama natural scientists. It’s not a popular message. It might be nice if he could get in front of football fans to make it more popular, however, it turns out that the message isn’t really being lost so much on the hundred of thousands of students in the state. It’s being lost on those who serve in the capital of Montgomery and the economic hubs of Mobile, Birmingham, and Huntsville. The business-political infrastructure has determined that climate change, does not apply to the Heart of Dixie and doesn’t really allow for the battle for Alabama’s climate-stressed species and their ecosystems to be played out for the public to mull over. With such disregard for a meeting of minds, you might wonder how Duncan might get a little more attention.

For one thing, he considers that  climate change could result in the shrinkage of world-renowned sites like the Ketona Glades in the Cahaba River watershed in central Alabama’s Bibb County. Ketona Glades is a tourist and locals destination.

Outdooralabama.com describes Ketona Glades beautifully,

“The story of these remarkable glades is a cross between a detective novel and a scientific investigation. While the glades  have existed for thousands of years, they were overlooked by man until discovered by accident in 1992.

Read on.

They go on to say that public response to these discoveries was overwhelming. Almost half of all the glades on the 480-acre preserve are protected. It’s home to many plants that people thought were extinct.

The preserve is known for its magnesium-rich dolomite limestone hillsides.  In 2002, it was described by The Tuscaloosa News as “Alabama’s Unknown Natural Wonder” except to local activists. Has that changed?

Since the preserve is owned by the Nature Conservancy, they promote tourism to the preserve that they protect.

“Amazingly, eight of the plant species found on the Glades have never before been known to science, including new species of rosinweed, blazingstar, prairie clover and indian-paintbrush.”

I found blogs with tourist photos of the glades, field trips for master gardeners and Birmingham Botanical Gardens lovers, and U-Haul includes a description about it on their website and on their trucks. If you want a Certificate in Native Plant Studies, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens includes a field trip to the glades in their program.

Duncan said it’s less the known or predictable outcomes of climate change that concern him most about places like the Ketona Glades; it’s the unknowns.

“If we get more rain, as some models say we will, these glades will suffer and species could be lost,” he said. “If we get less rain, it could be the same outcome. Either way, we lose.”

Al.com in June 2014 listed Ketona Glade as one of the free or cheap outdoor activities across Alabama.  Some websites tout it as a great place to have a picnic. It’s a destination spot for day hikes.

Susan Swagler who writes about books at her “Turn the Page” blog and in Birmingham Magazine introduced Alabamans to Duncan’s work. In April 2014, he was a speaker at Biodiversity Symposium at the University of Alabama.  Duncan you might just Roll Tide! dealing with the politics in Alabama. Business Week noted the challenge that environmentalists and those who are having to deal with climate deniers in Alabama face in creating a frozen conflict. Bloomberg notes that Alabama officials are having to stop using the term climate change who don’t see it as a belief, but as a critical matter of public interest, because the response to tackling the issue is so negative and politically charged.

“What are the costs of us going on these crusades, these environmental crusades?” said Senator Trip Pittman. “We’ve elevated environmentalism into some kind of religion.”

Pittman funded a University of Alabama researcher named John Christy who denounces claims of climate change in front of Congress and lawmakers. He doesn’t think the situation is worth fretting over.

Maybe concerns about biodiversity or reports by scientists who have addressed the potential impact on reliable industries in Alabama are at times inconvenient, but religion? It feels to me like common interest environmental concerns that are being discussed aren’t the stuff of religious metaphors. The use of religious metaphors in relation to environmental climate concerns have their roots in a critique of environmentalism in order to undermine the efforts and turn them into frozen conflicts, because suddenly they are deemed a belief in nature that is deifying it. The intent is to put on the defensive those who understand that safeguarding of our environment, given the many roles it plays in human existence and for the planet. This tactic makes it a question of faith and belief and priorities, rather than a discussion about the subject  and avoids making any progress toward ameliorating public concerns.

Some who see conservationists who have promoted responsible environmental policies as religion say that the analogy to religion is appropriate because it has all the trappings of religion, including rituals because of Earth Day and recycling.  I suppose then I would argue that conservation efforts are more analogous to non-religious celebrations from the labor movements, because of all the trappings of well-being for this country that led to the creation of a “ritual” called Labor Day to celebrate the achievements of workers. All to appropriately broaden the scope of the purposes of annual commemorations since that’s the spirit. (What of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Cesar Chavez Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day?)

Sources: Moveto.com,  literaryvittles.wordpress.com, E&E Publishing news, outdooralabama.com, The Tuscaloosa News, Al.com, The YellowHammer, Bloomberg, Business Week





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