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."
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.