janisse_ray_headshotJanisse Ray says, “Environmental destruction is intrinsically and logically connected to all forms of violence.”

The renowned writer, activist, farmer and Baxley native brought that message to the state this week for the 25th anniversary of the Georgia chapter of WAND – Women’s Action for New Directions – a group of activists united under the slogan: “Women. Power. Peace.”

“We’re willing in the name of supremacy and success to create a trail of victims behind us,” she explained, adding that the destruction falls disproportionately on communities of color.

“This is most evident in environmental justice issues … that’s why nuclear [Plant Hatch] is here. Forty percent of people never went to high school,” she says, referring to her home in Appling County.

The plant attracted some hotels and restaurants, she concedes.

“But for me, I look at surrounding towns who don’t have Plant Hatch and the quality of life appears equal to me,” she said. “We have no idea of the true ramifications of what the plant’s doing.”

At the least, she wants a serious study of cancer rates in the area to replace the anecdotal stories of plant workers dying young of cancer. And safety kits like the ones distributed around Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant near her one-time home in the Green Mountain State – the kits included masks, gloves and pills to prevent the body from absorbing radiation in case of a meltdown.

Ray is not a WAND member, but she’s a natural fit for an organization that began life as women joined in protest of nuclear weapons and has since grown into a wider environmental protection action group.

ecologyofacrackerchildhoodjpgRay’s first book, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, won the National Book Award and was named a “book every Georgian should read” by the Georgia Center for the Book in 2002. The book is a tribute to and a passionate demand to protect the threatened longleaf pine ecosystem, where she was raised – in a poor home in a junkyard – in the 1960s and ’70s.

Some 300 friends of WAND – a crowd thick with veteran anti-nuclear protesters, vigorous pacifists and environmental activists – gathered at Agnes Scott College for Ray’s address this week.

While Ray drew a standing ovations, the mention of Plant Vogtle brought hisses and boos. Two new reactors are planned for the nuclear power plant near Augusta, pending approval from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

At the event, Atlanta attorney Larry Sanders accepted WAND’s first Ed Arnold Environmental Justice Award for heading up legal opposition to the Vogtle expansion.

“We’re arguing that there are two environmental issues,” he says. One is the impact on aquatic species, especially rare and threatened mussels, when the reactors take more water out of the Savannah River. The other potential disturbance is dredging the river. Georgia Power wants the Army Corps of Engineers to make the river navigable for barges carrying parts of the new plant to the construction site. In October last year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreed that the dredge could cause significant damage that Georgia Power didn’t take into account in earlier studies.

Sanders expects the NRC to hand down an environmental ruling in June; passing that, final approval or rejection for the new reactors could come in the fall.

The environmental lawyer says it’s an illusion that nuclear power is cleaner than coal anyway.

“At best, it is a marginal reduction of the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions,” he says, referring to the gas responsible for global warming. “They’re not talking about closing coal plants … the dollars you put in nuclear are dollars you can’t put in renewables.”

Georgia WAND executive director Bobbie Paul’s vision for the next 25 years of her organization requires renewables.

In another quarter century, she’d like to be able to have “successfully convinced the southeast that a carbon and nuclear free energy system is doable, possible.”

“It’s already happening,” she adds.

But in the next few years, the prospect of a storage or reprocessing facility for nuclear waste at the Savannah River, she believes, is the biggest environmental fight looming over the state.

And on the national level, there’s still WAND’s mission to cut weapons spending.

She compares it to a household that spends a lot of its budget on kitchen gadgets because the people like to cook.

“If you put all of your money on missiles, weapons, you’re going to be focused on war.”

As for the state of Georgia, Ray says if she could be like a “kid in a candy store” allowed all the state laws she wanted, first she’d repeal this year’s law that allows Georgia Power to pre-collect money to finance the construction of the Vogtle expansion.

Next, “I think we’re going to have to address deforestation.” State numbers on forest cover look better than they actually are because pine plantations are counted as forest.

“Replacing forests with industrial landscapes is not serving us well now; it’s going to serve us less well in the future,” she said.

Editor’s note: This article was distributed by the Georgia Online News Service.

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee specializes in quality of life topics, Atlanta's international communities and general reporting. She covers Georgia economic development and the Chinese community as a stringer for China Daily and chronicles life in Georgia's most diverse county for the DeKalb Champion.

7 Comments
  1. Billy Howard

    I’ve been a fan of Janisse Ray since I met her on a puddle jumping plane bouncing along the skies over Kansas. She has a true southern voice, a great heart and should be proclaimed a Georgia State Treasure. Thanks for sharing her wisdom in the Dew. Speaking of which, it would be lovely to see Janisse write something herself on this sweet southern site.

  2. Billy Howard

    I’ve been a fan of Janisse Ray since I met her on a puddle jumping plane bouncing along the skies over Kansas. She has a true southern voice, a great heart and should be proclaimed a Georgia State Treasure. Thanks for sharing her wisdom in the Dew. Speaking of which, it would be lovely to see Janisse write something herself on this sweet southern site.

  3. I too would love to see Janisse Ray write an article for the Dew. My son just graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in wildlife and I gave him her book as a graduation present. He was very happy to get it. I am really glad to see she is continuing to bring attention to these very important issues. It breaks my heart to see what is happening in our state. Besides the destruction to the environment we will see from the expansion of Plant Vogtle it is just a matter of time before we have a serious accident. I also resent having to pay Georgia Power in advance for this project.
    Thanks for this article.

  4. Tim Oliver

    I love all of Janisse’s books, particularly, “Pinhook : Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land” in which environmental activism takes a decidedly positive turn. By buying back fragments of the Pinhook Swamp, parcel by parcel, they managed to create a wildlife corridor from the Osceola National Forest, in Florida, to the Okefenokee Swamp, and northward to the Dixon Memorial Forest. The only problem is with the later, as they allow bear-hunting, and logging, and have a golf course, smack dab, in the middle of it. That course should be closed, and replanted with longleaf pines, and the wildlife corridor extended to the Appalachian Trail. Leave the greens, sand traps, and ponds as gopher tortises, bear, and hogs would love it !That’s mine, and Janisse’s, radical, non-golf-playing
    opinion. Any addition to Plant Vogle would, certainly, impact that !

  5. Maggie Lee’s words captured the essence of a great evening, an in-gathering of Georgians – and others – committed to work for true solutions to our environmental challenges. Janisse Ray was inspiring and her call for courage in the face of opposition that seeks to marginalize and defame the pro-earth forces is one that we need to hear and heed. WAND’s 25th anniversary program honored the work of those who have found their voice and choose to lend their considerable talents to speak truth to power in defense of sustainable and sound environmental policies. Janisse Ray’s voice and vision is inspirational and renews our spirits for the work ahead of us! Thanks for this great coverage of a memorable and meaningful evening.

  6. Jingle Davis

    janice, it’s wonderful to read your writing again. thank you for using your powerful voice to lobby for environmental preservation. it’s something we all need to do, even if our voices aren’t as strong and beautiful as yours always is. please get in touch when you can. jingle davis

  7. I do not discuss justice and environmental issues on my Christian blog. Part of the reason for that is my own work places the value of the human soul as a creation in the image and likeness of God above the creation of the universe. That being said, however, more conservative Christians ought to be concerned about proper stewardship of God’s creation and the preservation of our planet for future generations. The old-line dispensational thinking that the rapture is some sort of heavenly escape hatch where the elect are caught up in the air to meet the Lord while everyone else has to live on a trashed, damaged, and polluted planet in the great tribulation is not only unscriptural it is detrimental to true Christian faith and to God’s creation. While it is true that the whole creation groans in expectation of God’s future redemption (Romans 8:18-23), we have a duty to care for the planet.

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