In some regions of the country, climate change may seem theoretical and far off. This is not the case in South Carolina, where rising sea levels and frequent flooding already threaten the quality of life, livelihoods and property values of its residents.
In cities like Charleston, which flooded a record 89 times in 2019, the impacts of climate change are more than just a nuisance for city dwellers. They are also a threat to South Carolina’s $22 billion tourism industry, and an astronomical expense for the city. Each time a flood affects the crosstown, it’s estimated to cost the city $12.4 million in damage and lost wages, to the tune of more than $1.53 billion in the past 50 years. With high-tide floods expected to increase from 11 a year in 2014 to a whopping 180 a year by 2045, officials recognize that the impacts of climate change are simply too great to ignore, as they eye more than $2 billion in infrastructure investments in hopes of reinforcing the city.
From sea turtles to key food exports such as oysters, South Carolina’s wildlife is also vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate. Audubon’s research demonstrates that more than 60 of South Carolina’s bird species are at increased risk of extinction due to rising temperatures.
The good news is that there are many ways to increase South Carolina’s resilience to climate change. Adaptation efforts such as coastal and wetlands restoration, natural infrastructure projects, and strategic land protection are chief among them.
At the same time, we must also make urgent progress to address the overall source of the problem, which is the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing a rise in global temperatures. By helping the agriculture and forestry industries naturally remove carbon from the atmosphere, legislation such as the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act aims to do just that. Co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and recently approved by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, the bill provides more opportunities for farmers and foresters to lead in the fight against climate change while benefiting from new streams of income.
South Carolina is also making tremendous strides when it comes to one of the most important climate mitigation strategies: the advancement of clean energy. South Carolina has a thriving solar energy industry, thanks in no small part to the passage of the S.C. Energy Freedom Act in 2019. Today, in addition to providing affordable, renewable energy for ratepayers, the solar industry also supports more than 7,000 S.C. jobs and contributes nearly $59 million annually in state and local taxes.
As we pursue research to bring down the costs of emission-cutting technologies such as grid-scale battery storage and advanced nuclear energy, the clean energy solutions we have today are increasingly cost-competitive and more resilient than their traditional counterparts.
A clean energy future is the only path forward. As Gov. Henry McMaster said: “The solar industry has become an important driver of economic investment and job creation in our state while giving South Carolinians more energy options.” Energy production accounts for significant percentages of carbon emissions annually in South Carolina, so by encouraging more low- and zero-emission energy sources, we can make a real difference in addressing climate change and encouraging economic growth in the Palmetto State.
Justin Stokes, a Charleston resident, is vice president of the National Audubon Society and executive director for Audubon South Carolina. Danielle Butcher is executive vice president of the American Conservation Coalition.