This is a true story - a tale that a hundred years from now may be retold around campfires to illustrate the wisdom of Georgia's lawmakers back in the early 21st century. Listen closely:
In a mechanically cooled conference room located about 100 miles north of the Fall Line, a group of distinguished Georgia lawmakers sat down with a group of "scientists" in August 2007 and decided global warming was mostly bunk. They also determined that they and their fellow homo sapiens were not responsible for fouling the atmosphere.
The temperature outside the meeting hall hovered between 98 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Georgia was experiencing the longest heat wave in history. Crops had been left wilted and burned in the fields - a result of yet another record-long drought. In metro Atlanta, a code red had been posted for the fifth straight day on air so foul that it had become lethal. The Atlanta atmosphere was toxic because the people made it that way.
Whether humans were totally responsible for melting the polar ice cap might have been worthy of debate at MIT, the UN and Congress, though many rational observers believed that discussion ended in the 20th century. The pressing question seemed to be how we could slow the warming trend. Whether spending time and tax funds on discussing global warming was germane to the responsibilities of the Georgia Legislature was doubtful.
"In the media, we hear the gloom-and-doom side," declared Rep. Jeff Lewis, R-White, chairman of the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee that conducted the meeting. While people without AC were falling out all over the state, Lewis advised, "There is alternative information out there (about global warming)."
Where would Georgians find such information? Perhaps some of Lewis' colleagues could have helped. Georgia Rep. Bennie Bridges, R-Cleveland, ran with a crowd that believed the Earth was stationary on its axis and the notion of a constantly moving universe was part of an ancient Jewish conspiracy. Some of these same folks could have reassured us that the sweat running down our backs and the wheezing from our lungs were simply illusions created by liberals and cable TV.
When Lewis' committee completed its report on how Al Gore made up the story of polar bears running out of ice, the panel might have lowered its sights back to Georgia. They could have considered an environmental assessment of the Peach State compiled by noted conservation advocate Neill Herring.
Titled "Worse Than Sherman's March through Georgia to the Sea?" Herring's report included several trends that he equated with a savage scorched-earth military campaign. Among them were:
' More trees cut, more land paved, more dirt in streams.
' Coastal development set to explode.
' Public financing and taxing powers proposed for builders.
' Private cities: Pulp mills become developers.
' Serious scrutiny of growth policy unwelcome.
Herring might have added:
' Atlanta leads nation in commute times; metro traffic never worse; air pollution breaks records.
' State's five-year-old promise to synchronize traffic lights shelved.
' Water crisis looms.
' Decline in quality of life could have long-term economic impact.
Lewis' hearing on global warming didn't get much ink or air time outside Georgia. National and international editors tossed the stories because they thought their Southern news bureaus, overcome by the heat, were hallucinating. And Rep. Lewis' committee never did get around to acting on - or reading - Herring's report.
So imagine - one hundred years from now, the last survivors in the New Georgia tropical wilderness - listening to the sad tale one more time by a campfire on an Atlantic Ocean beach two miles south of Macon.
Move over, Hef
Don Leebern, veteran regent and golden-boy benefactor of the University System, celebrated his 69th birthday last weekend at a spectacular Playboy-style birthday party hosted by his longtime companion, UGA women's gymnastics coach Suzanne Yoculan. The event, attended by about 200 of Leebern's closest friends, featured a live band, exotic dancers and scantily dressed women serving drinks and cheeseburgers.
Among the guests: University System Chancellor Erroll Davis, most of Leebern's colleagues on the Board of Regents, UGA President Michael Adams, some former members of UGA's championship women's gymnastics teams, plus several of Leebern's business associates in the wholesale liquor industry.
Leebern, a one-time football star at Georgia, is noted for his nonconformist lifestyle plus the millions of dollars he has poured into UGA and the Medical College of Georgia. He is credited with single-handedly rescuing MCG from the brink of financial disaster. He was first appointed to the regents in the 1990s by Gov. Zell Miller and reappointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, despite a storm of negative publicity about his sometimes eccentric behavior. He was a major contributor to the gubernatorial bids of Miller, Perdue and Roy Barnes.
An elderly guest at the birthday gala held at Leebern's Athens home noted: "You never saw such a party. There'll never be another Don Leebern. Oh, to be 69 again!"
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.