- A Delicate Balance Constructing a Conservation Culture in the South Carolina Lowcountry by Angela C. Halfacre
For the most part, existing studies of the environmental movement in the United States overlook the South. The Environmental History and the American South book series published by the University of Georgia Press addresses the temporal dimensions of this omission, but there is still much to learn about the region’s contemporary environmental politics. Angela C. Halfacre’s new book, A Delicate Balance, broadens the scope of this scholarship by presenting a detailed case study of conservation in the South Carolina lowcountry that explores the social, cultural, and physical dimensions of environmental policymaking in the South.
The lay reader will appreciate Halfacre’s introduction for its careful and direct explanation of the book’s framework, while scholars will recognize that the text relies on environmental justice scholarship, as well as concepts of social natures and punctuated equilibrium. In lieu of developing a complex theoretical framework for the book, Halfacre’s introductory chapter familiarizes the reader with two key concepts that are essential to the story that unfolds in the ensuing chapters. First, instead of using the term environmentalism, she introduces the term “conservation culture” to describe the “dynamic constellation of ideas, values, organizations, policies, and people” (3). This term signals her interest in the social experience of nature and her emphasis on the place-based environmental ethic of southerners. Second, the author references William Cronon’s 1995 article “In Search of Nature,” from the edited volume Uncommon Ground, which describes nature as a “contested terrain,” where struggles over nature reveal the social and political forces that shape a landscape. Halfacre argues that environmental conflicts in the lowcountry have intensified in the last few decades, with growth management representing the end of a long period of stasis in environmental policy-making. [End Page 109]
In the main body of the text, Halfacre weaves together her own academic research with observations from some of South Carolina’s best-known authors, journalists, and political figures. The result is an interdisciplinary narrative that unfolds across different eras and communities with ease. The first two chapters present an environmental history of the lowcountry that reaches back to 1707, but focus mainly on the post–Hurricane Hugo period of development and growth. Hugo, which ravaged South Carolina’s coastline on September 21, 1989, provides an important baseline for understanding the intensified patterns of migration and resort-style development that prompted the desperation and desire by citizens, politicians, and ngos to engage in growth management policymaking. Chapter three provides additional background by introducing readers to some of the region’s leading environmental leaders, policymakers, organizations, and agencies.
Chapters four and five reveal a central characteristic of the lowcountry’s conservation culture: the importance of private landowners. Halfacre argues that conservationists in the lowcountry have avoided a strictly “litigious biodiversity strategy” (100) in favor of forming coalitions with private landowners that draw on a southern land ethic. For example, prompted by intensive residential and resort style development, the South Carolina General Assembly mandated all counties develop comprehensive land use plans. The creation of these plans involved clashes between landowners and policymakers, which has led to a reliance on conservation practices like easements and tax incentives to achieve land use goals.
Chapters six through nine illustrate how debates over growth management policy have uncovered coalitions of residents with divergent environmental interests, which highlight long-standing tensions between them. These chapters emphasize first and foremost that, “Race and class remain volatile topics in South Carolina” (213). In particular, the increasing political and economic power held by mostly white private neighborhood associations and developers has led to tensions between new and old residents, as well as between black and white residents. For example, in Mount Pleasant, residential gentrification associated with rising property taxes and the impact of roadside development on the African American sweetgrass basket-making industry have heightened racial tensions at planning and town council meetings. Likewise, during the 1970s, African Americans on...