The green life

Howard Neighbors

  • As a nature lover and scientist, Ned Tillman uses a two-pronged writing approach.
As a nature lover and scientist, Ned Tillman uses a two-pronged… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
April 11, 2010|By Janene Holzberg | Special to The Baltimore Sun

The Chesapeake Watershed" has a split personality.

The book draws readers close with charming snapshots of life on the bay, like a father and son going crabbing in its shallow waters with basket-stuffed inner tubes tied to their swimsuits to hold the day's catch.

But it also shakes off its nostalgic mood and grabs readers with astonishing facts that serve as a warning, such as this startling tidbit: Nearby Norfolk, Va., is second only to hurricane-battered New Orleans as the U.S. city most vulnerable to flooding. Who knew?

The 2009 paperback's subtitle, "A Sense of Place and a Call to Action," explains Ned Tillman's two-pronged writing approach, as well as his overlapping perspectives as a lifelong nature lover and an environmental scientist.

And nowadays, the interests of the Columbia author are converging more than ever.

Tillman is first up on the schedule Saturday at Howard County GreenFest, where he will give an 11 a.m. talk about his book at the daylong event at Howard Community College.

Afterward, he will present the opening remarks at the second annual Environmental Sustainability Summit, which also takes place during the festival.

The Saturday summit will address, among other topics, the county's climate action plan, which will provide an overview of the county's recent greenhouse gas inventory and serve as a guidebook for reducing carbon emissions, said Lindsay DeMarzo, county sustainability projects manager. Joshua Feldmark, director of the county's Office on Environmental Sustainability, will present the plan.

As chairman of the sustainability board, Tillman leads its 13 members in providing advice on and review of the county's environmental agenda. The 32-year county resident also recently served as president for 12 years of the Howard County Conservancy, an educational institution initially set up as a land trust.

GreenFest is timed to coincide with Earth Day on April 22, which is marking its 40th anniversary this year. Tillman called the local festival a wonderful opportunity to learn about environmental ideas.

After all, most of the 15 million people who make their homes in the Chesapeake watershed, which is one of the fastest-growing areas of the country, say they're in tune with the green movement, he said.

"I saw a poll that said 73 percent of us consider ourselves to be environmentalists," he said. "Yet even though we say we care, less than 1 percent of county residents came to last year's GreenFest."

Tillman, who is 60 and works as an environmental consultant, said he was prompted to write his book to give people residing in the six-state watershed region a more informed sense of what they have to lose in order to convince them to take ownership of the area and act in its best interest.

"You can take the bay as a metaphor for anyplace, though," said Tillman, who had a long career in geology. "If a drop of rain falls somewhere and it ends up in a body of water, then that's a watershed."

That leads to another startling fact: The Chesapeake, with its 8,000 miles of coastline, is considered to be one of the U.S. coastal areas most at risk from sea-level rise.

That fragility is not lost on the county's public schools.

Karen Learmouth, county coordinator of elementary science, said she gives Tillman's book to fifth-grade teachers to use as a classroom resource.

"This book gets students to think about solving issues and about being good stewards of the environment," said Learmouth.

"I like that Ned closes each chapter with a perspective on the bay's ecosystem and presents ideas that both individuals and corporations can address in order to have a positive impact," she said.

Tillman said there are about 8,000 companies in the small to medium range in the county, so there's great potential locally to make a difference.

"We encourage companies to become leaders in sustainability, since it will benefit them as well as the environment," he said. He also suggests that people support the companies that care about sustainability.

"I challenge people when they pull out their wallets to ask themselves, 'Is there a green option?' " he said.

So what's ahead for the residents of the Chesapeake watershed?

"I really think things will get worse if we all don't live in better balance with nature," said Tillman, noting that species have already been lost, despite all the discussion about global warming.

"After all, Hurricane Isabel flooded Baltimore and Annapolis, and that was only a Level 2 hurricane with a storm surge of 8 feet," he said of the 2003 hurricane, which was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached the area. "Katrina's surge two years later was 22 feet.

"All models suggest higher frequency and bigger storms," he said. "What would happen if we were impacted locally by a storm like Katrina?"

Tillman's twin concerns for the past and future make the two meanings of the word "watershed" such an appropriate coincidence.

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