Let’s start by agreeing that it was awfully warm last year. In fact, the Washington Post reports that 2015 was the second warmest on record in the US (since record keeping began in 1880) and that it will almost certainly rank as the warmest year worldwide. The Post includes some excellent graphs revealing, among other things, that 29 states, including South Carolina, experienced the hottest December ever. (As a result, this year’s polar bear plunge on Sullivan’s Island was pretty dull.)
Rising oceans are probably the most understandable and predictable impact of climate change. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who retired on Monday after 40 years in office, writes in the Post and Courier that the city has been taking steps to prepare for sea level increases of 1.5 to 2 feet. Unfortunately, according to current scientific analysis, this projection is on the low side. And much of Charleston is sinking, which, of course, compounds the problem. But the challenge will be finding the money to make the array of improvements necessary to keep Charleston relatively dry through the end of the century.
It will be tempting for incoming mayor John Tecklenburg to let this issue slide, mayoral terms being just four years and the payoff for spending hundreds of million of dollars decades — even generations — in the future. It is vitally important that Lowcountry residents convey their support for beginning this work now in communities along the coast, given the staggering expense and lengths of time necessary to implement the changes.
Mayor Riley focused on preparing for a warmer planet, but there is also much that can and should be done to reduce the carbon emissions driving climate change. This should be a concern of everyone. Fortunately — perhaps surprisingly — it is a concern for the world’s largest tire manufacturers, who are collectively urging action to mitigate climate change. In this issue of The Hill, the leaders of Bridgestone, Michelin, Pirelli, Toyo and Yokohama frame the issue, appropriately, as risk management. They argue that in spite of the extensive uncertainty about the magnitude and character of the impacts of rising emissions, it is only prudent to take steps to reduce those future impacts, given the potentially catastrophic costs of inaction.
The options for reducing carbon emissions seem fairly straightforward — use less energy and shift to energy sources with less carbon. Wind energy, for example, produces essentially no carbon, (except in the equipment manufacturing process), but it is not entirely trouble free. As Conservation League energy director Hamilton Davis notes, although wind deserves our support, we need to be careful about where we locate wind farms. The Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge is a good example of a place where giant turbine blades could harm birds.
Speaking of harming wildlife, in this report from Channel 4, Conservation League Air, Water and Wildlife director Katie Zimmerman applauds a rare and beautiful example of Congressional action on behalf of the environment. In a bipartisan vote, Congress expeditiously banned micro-beads in cosmetics, thereby curbing a widespread and serious threat to aquatic life and human health. The cosmetics industry also deserves credit for supporting the ban, and moving quickly to respond to this under-appreciated threat. There is hope!
Finally, the lovely Black River is in the news again, but this time not for closing I-95 and inundating much of Williamsburg and Georgetown counties. Two large tracts of land were protected in the last month, one that has traditionally served as an access point and picnic area for the rural black community in this part of Georgetown County, another extending almost four miles along one of the most beautiful stretches of one of American’s most beautiful rivers. The groups involved include The Nature Conservancy, the New York-based Open Space Institute, the Winyah Rivers Foundation, the Butler Conservation Fund and Georgetown County, illustrating one of the Lowcountry’s greatest advantages in the conservation arena — an unprecedented level of collaboration that has produced results far beyond what any one organization could achieve on its own.
Hope you’re having a wonderful week!