Tuesday, January 19, 2016 Blog

Trouble for the ocean, too few right whales, too many cruise ships, congestion solutions and water in a leaking bucket.

by Dana Beach

Folks,

Last year’s warm weather was, literally, unprecedented. But the temperature increase we experienced on land was the tip of the (melting) iceberg compared to the changes occurring offshore. This article from the Washington Post reveals that 90 to 95% of the heat from our warming planet is going into the oceans. While this makes terrestrial life more bearable, the impacts on ocean life are both troubling, based on what we know, and troublingly uncertain, based on what we do not yet understand. Here is an amazing summary of the situation from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory:

“The heat capacity of the entire earth’s atmosphere is equaled by the top 11 feet of the ocean.”

Besides retaining heat from climate change, the oceans are also absorbing carbon dioxide (the most abundant greenhouse gas), and converting it to carbonic acid, thereby raising the acidity level of sea water. So much so that researchers predict all of the coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico will experience “bleaching”over the next 35 years. Bo Petersen, with the Post and Courier, writes about a new committee that has formed in Charleston to study ocean acidification. Their hope is to find ways to avert shellfish population crashes in our area like those that have occurred on the Pacific coast.

Some of the earth’s most majestic life forms depend on healthy oceans. One of those is the right whale, a highly endangered animal that gives birth off the coast of Georgia and migrates to colder waters off the coast of New England. Bo reports that the team monitoring right whales in our waters has spotted a single six year old, named Chiminea, at the mouth of the Folly River. (Chiminea must have been named because of the resemblance of his (or her) spout to a chimney, like those sold at Lowe’s… These researchers could clearly use some help coming up with creative whale names.) The team is concerned because of the low number of sightings this year, (three mothers with calves), compared to 14 last year.

There is, sadly, no similar shortage of cruise ships. These vessels — the scourges of the ocean — have multiplied like gigantic sewage and soot spewing aquatic rabbits in our coastal waters. This article by David Wren with the Post and Courier is, to put it politely, puzzling. David reports that the State Ports Authority (SPA) has scheduled 103 ship visits this year, (the agency’s self imposed limit is 104), and SPA’s cruise specialist, Peter Lehman, is thinking of “diversification.” So… that means that there is a slot for one more ship this year. How can one ship represent diversification? Here are Peter’s literal words:

“If the domino theory takes hold with new ships, maybe we’ll get a shot seasonally,” Peter Lehman, the SPA’s vice president of cruise and real estate, told Cruise Industry News. “Let them come in and test the market and do an assessment after the fact.”

This sounds like English, but what does it mean? Read it for yourself and see if I’m missing something.

John Burbage, on the other hand, is very clear in his Post and Courier column, “Accentuate the Positive,” about the I-526 extension to Johns Island. John explains the problem with believing this massive, unaffordable road will solve congestion problems (by disgorging its traffic into one already clogged lane on Calhoun Street), and the solutions that are available immediately (stopping sprawl, ferries, better mass transit, small scale road improvements…) for vastly less money.

Finally, two excellent articles on the effort to reform the state’s transportation program. The first is by Cassie Cope, with The State. Cassie reports on a Senate hearing at which Ted Pitts, the president of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, pointed out the urgency of establishing clear, objective standards for spending transportation funds, and particularly at the notoriously political S.C. State Transportation Infrastructure Bank. The Conservation League’s Michael Covington summed it up beautifully, ““Funding must be addressed. There’s no question about it,” Covington said. “But do you put water in a leaking bucket?”

Expressing the same concerns, the Island Packet exhorts the Legislature to take a firm position in support of Beaufort Senator Tom Davis’ position that there should be no gas tax increase without fundamental reforms (patching the bucket, in Michael’s terms).

So with John’s article in mind, I leave you with the music of that immortal Georgian, Johnny Mercer….


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