Cancer took Wangari Maathai last weekend, but not her legacy. As the first black woman to receive a Nobel Prize, the strong-willed Kenyan forever changed the face of her country and much of Africa. Her simple yet radical tree-planting Greenbelt Movement  popularized the need for land and water conservation and women’s equality on the continent. By her death, an estimated 45 million trees were planted across Africa.
Also last weekend, the News and Observer reported that Governor Perdue is now leaning to support offshore oil and gas drilling. When she ran for Governor in 2008 Perdue opposed offshore drilling; after the election she said she would agree to study it and now she is leaning to support it. With the study nearly complete, it’s time to craft an offshore energy policy for our state.
Faced with crafting that policy, what would Wangari Maathai do?
Some important facts:
$3 Billion – Approximate annual revenue generated from NC’s beaches and inlets according to the 2011 North Carolina Beach and Inlet Management Plan Final Report.
39,000 – Number of jobs directly supported in our coastal counties from beaches and inlets according to the 2011 North Carolina Beach and Inlet Management Plan Final Report.
$77 Million – Value of commercially-caught fish in NC in 2009, according to the state Division of Marine Fisheries.
$12 Billion – Estimate of the maximum oil and gas royalties North Carolina could receive over the lifetime of our offshore reserves according to Governor Perdue’s Scientific Panel on Offshore Energy’s near-final report.
$40 Billion – Latest estimate of BP’s cost for ongoing clean-up, compensation claims, and a likely federal government fine for the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico according to the company.
The potential royalties from oil and gas drilling now hardly seem like a lot of money.
Both the Governor’s Panel and a General Assembly commissioned report  support the continued development of offshore wind, showing that NC has the most wind energy potential of the entire east coast. And after excluding military, environmental and fishing concerns, there are still 55,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, enough to meet 130 percent of North Carolina’s energy demand.
Accepting the Nobel Prize in 2004, Maathai said: “I came to understand that when the environment is destroyed, plundered or mismanaged, we undermine our quality of life and that of future generations.”
And there is the answer of what Wangari Matthai would have done.