Fact sheet from "What Have We Done?,
The Foundation for Global Sustainability's State of the Bioregion Report for the Upper Tennessee Valley and Southern Appalachian Mountains."

Blessed of the Lord be this land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath, And for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon, And for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills...

Deuteronomy 33:13-15



The Bankruptcy of Materialism

  • The ideology of incessant growth is thoroughly materialistic. Its aim is ever-increasing wealth, endless acquisition, production and consumption without limit. As a consequence, we have defiled, disfigured and degraded the once-beautiful mountains and valleys of Southern Appalachia. Formally relatively self-sufficient and independent, we have lately come to depend utterly on a vast, impersonal world economy. This has exposed us to the stresses of accelerating competition, the loss of farms and communities to development, downsizing in the workforce, and rapid and unpredictable fluctuations in markets and government budgets.

    A Change in the Wind?

  • In 1995, the Merck Family Fund commissioned a study to investigate the views of Americans on consumption, materialism and the environment. The study revealed:

    1) Our priorities are out of whack. People from all backgrounds believe that materialism, greed, and selfishness increasingly dominate American life, crowding out a more meaningful set of values centered on family, responsibility, and community.

    2) Americans are alarmed about the future, particularly our skewed priorities for children and future generations.

    3) Americans are ambivalent about what to do
    People struggle to reconcile their condemnation of other Americans' choices on consumption with their core belief in the freedom to live as they choose. They fail to act because of the tension and contradictions embedded in their own beliefs.

    4) Americans see the environment as connected to these concerns-in general terms. Americans have not thought deeply about the ecological implications of their own lifestyles. Their understanding is somewhat vague and general.

    What Have We Done?

  • Our report opposes to the materialistic ideal of endless growth an ideal expressed by a cluster of words etymologically related to "health": healedness, haleness, wholesomeness, holiness, the harmony of the whole.

  • A healthy human society, exhibits the same sustainable integrity as a healthy ecosystem, the same absence of waste, the same delight, the same self-sustaining, self-healing dynamic balance, the same creative development, the same sensitivity to the limits of growth.

  • In a healthy society, the pursuit of material gain is subordinated to deeper and more wholesome values: the love of family, friends, and neighbors; responsibility to community; work that is meaningful, healthful, and beneficial to the whole; and respect for a Creation larger, more consequential, and more lasting than our material selves.

  • The aim of this report has been to evaluate the state of the bioregion in the light of this ideal of health. The conclusion of that evaluation is now clear: the system of life that inhabits the watershed of the Upper Tennessee Valley is, in manifold and interconnected ways, unhealthy. We have examined the symptoms of dysfunction in our bioregion in the hope of motivating endeavors of protection and healing.

    The New Environmentalism

  • We need to move past the strategies of traditional environmentalism, in part because it has been to some degree successful in achieving its goals, i.e. pollution reduction in the industrial sector and preservation of large natural areas, and in part because the issues that we face are bigger and tougher and more tangled in the heart of things. These problems include excessive population growth, extremely rapid, mindless and unbridled development; and the unsustainable consumption of energy for transportation and power generation.

  • Materialism is the source of the drive towards unrestricted development. We cannot hope to live in a healthy ecosystem until we replace materialism with new ways of living which recognize that unlimited growth is not sustainable.

  • We need a hopeful vision through which we can resist quantitative growth and simultaneously pursue sustainable improvements in the quality of our lives. People can learn to address the quality of their lives as opposed to the quantity of their things if they can become acquainted with clear models of better ways to live.

  • We must recognize the mutual dependence of land and spirit. Because we have made of the land something confused, cacophonous and ugly, our spirits experience resignation, cynicism and silent despair. What we do to the land reflects back into our spirits... and into the spirits of our children.

    Protectors and Healers

  • The single most effective public defender of land in our bioregion is the National Park Service, the steward of the Great Smoky Mountains, a last refuge of Creation in a sea of traffic and development.

  • TVA, formerly much more active in conservation than it is today, also has had an important role in protecting the land, notably with its Shoreline Management Initiative and River Action Teams.

  • Federal, state and regional agencies, and citizen action groups too numerous to mention here, such as Foundation for Global Sustainability, all make positive contributions to the health of the bioregion.

  • Private individuals by the hundreds are at work in the region. They are recognizable by their sense of individual responsibility, understanding of the interdependence of land and spirit; respect for physical work; defense of the heritage of neighborhood, community and land; and recognition of the limits of growth.

  • Living responsibly requires skill in perceiving and understanding the "hidden costs" of actions and acting on that understanding to enhance the health of the whole. Though this is not easy, the difficulties are often exaggerated. Living responsibly does not, for example, mean living primitively, without hot water, adequate lighting, effective transportation, good food or free time.

  • Living responsibly provides the benefits of peace of mind, the knowledge that one's living does not diminish the lives of others-neither human, nor nonhumans, nor the land, neither now nor in times to come. Of hundreds of examples of individuals in our region that illustrate responsible living we have chosen to highlight a few:

  • Frances Lamberts of Jonesborough, Tennessee has turned her lawns into gardens and natural habitats, reclaiming the productive potential of her land. She grows, harvests, and preserves nearly all her food, requiring only occasional trips to the market for items which cannot be grown or obtained at home. She accomplishes this with beautiful raised-bed organic gardens, a backyard orchard, small livestock areas, and continual composting of wastes.

  • Bob Grimac of Knoxville, in addition to editing and publishing Tennessee Green, a newspaper that offers timely coverage of socio-environmental issues, builds soil and manages wastes in the many compost piles and bins around his home. He uses a bicycle for his main transportation and devotes his energy to such organizations as East Tennessee Vegetarian Society, the Knoxville Food Coop, and Community Shares.

  • Watt and Jennifer Childress and Kathy Guthrie of Greeneville, Tennessee produce weekly supplies of organically grown crops for approximately thirty families. Using horse-drawn plowing, rich farm-produced compost, and ecologically sound techniques for pest control and soil conditioning, they have successfully reintroduced traditional agricultural methods into a rural culture dominated by agribusiness.

  • Bill Nickle, in Washburn Tennessee is the founder and Director of Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center, a developing community of people who are creating homesteads that are energy-efficient, environmentally sound, appropriately scaled, resource-frugal, and aesthetically appealing. Whether built of straw bales, rammed earth, stone, wood, or even synthetic materials, these dwellings reflect a spirit of responsible, conscious living. Narrow Ridge has grown into several hundred acres of land trusts, a wilderness preserve, and a non-profit environmental education center that offers environmental programs, workshops, and retreat activities reflecting its commitments to community, sustainability, and spirituality.

  • Chuck Marsh, of Black Mountain, North Carolina, lives in Earthhaven Village which is structured around the discipline of permaculture. Permaculture is the purposeful design and use of land, plants, animals, buildings, and infrastructures and the relationships between them to achieve balance, symbiosis, reciprocity, and sustainability. For example, to prevent the degradation of soil and water commonly involved in the disposal of human sewage, the residents of Earthaven use a centrally-located restroom facility equipped with composting toilets, which enables Earthaven to transform human wastes into safe organic fertilizer.

  • Kathy Hogan and Bob Fairchild, of BobKat Farm in Dreyfus, Kentucky and Georgia Pomphrey and Tim Brown, of Blount County, Tennessee are two couples who show us that solar-powered homes are viable and comfortable. They exemplify honest-to-goodness "off-the-grid" living in both rural and semi-urban areas. Hogan and Fairchild have developed a homestead in rural Kentucky that incorporates organic gardening and bee-keeping, solar and micro-hydro electric power generation and on-site lumber milling. Pomphrey and Brown's home uses a bank of eight solar panels that feed a set of deep-cycle batteries to provide more DC and AC power than they can use.

  • Avram and Jody Friedman of Friedman & Sun, Inc., in Sylvia, North Carolina have created a sustainable business niche in a small town by marketing environmentally responsible products and services. Among the products they offer are low-toxic paints and finishes, eco-friendly personal health products, recycled and tree-free paper products, and citrus- and vegetable-based cleaning agents. The Friedmans purchase, frame, and install solar panels for many applications, and design and install solar water heaters.

  • Annie and Hector Black of Hidden Springs Nursery in Cookeville, Tennessee use principles and methods of organic horticulture to raise and sell healthy fruit trees, ornamental shrubbery, and landscaping annuals and perennials. The Blacks use a passive solar system to light and heat their large greenhouse. Sunlight heats large water-filled barrels, which capture and store the heat, releasing it to the greenhouse after the sun goes down. Their operation shows the efficacy of passive solar heating (the same principles can be used to heat a home) and enables the Blacks to grow year-round.

  • Albert Bates of the Eco-Village training center is based at The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee. The Farm, a community of at least two hundreds people, has developed a social infrastructure that encompasses schools, health care sercvices, , communications, and entrepreneurial enterprises. The Farm leaves room for woods and open fields, providing for the needs of wildlife as well as humans. Recently the Ecovillage Training Center was added, which is part of the Global EcoVillage Network (GEN). Bates, the founder of the training center, has worked to produce a human scale model of sustainable living that provides a high quality of life without taking more from the earth than it gives back.

  • These are but a few examples of the individuals and organizations that are active protectors and healers of the land and our greatest sources of hope. They are working the cures for the ills we have documented and building the models of better ways to live.