Monday, October 12, 2015 Blog

From drought to flood, planning for sea level rise, but not with I-526, GrowFood rising.

by Andy Hollis


It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago most of the state was suffering from a drought, and that farmers were worried about produce withering in the fields. Now, after three days of historically unprecedented rain, (biblical, even), the fields are lakes and much of the fall crop will probably be lost.

This article by Tim Smith with the Greenville News reports on the extent of the damage, which Hugh Weathers, S.C.’s Secretary of Agriculture, estimates to be $300 million.

Single weather episodes are not “caused” by climate change, as the following two articles note. Weather and climate are complicated processes about which we can, at best, make statements that are statistically accurate. The first article, from Time, explores the implications of last week’s deluge in that light (with quotes from me), and the next piece, from the Washington Post, presents the science in greater depth. The take-away is that warmer oceans and shifting currents create circumstances that are more likely to produce extreme weather, including more violent storms and heavier rainfall — exactly what we are experiencing.

Sea level rise is another matter. It is indisputably caused by warmer oceans, due to thermal expansion and melting ice. Charleston Harbor has risen about a foot over the past century. If we respond quickly and comprehensively, sea level may rise only two feet over the coming century, and we may successfully prepare for irreversible changes by making intelligent public investments in infrastructure, like roads, rail and drainage.

Climate planning and preparation is exactly what Beaufort is discussing, as this article from the Island Packet by Stephen Fastenau reports. Towns and cities across the state should follow Beaufort’s lead by engaging in this important analysis.

The opposite of intelligent planning is the proposal to extend I-526 to rural John’s Island, as John Burbage clearly explains in this editorial from the Post and Courier. His piece came out before the flood, but its theme could not be more applicable to our post-diluvian world, where hundreds of bridges, dams and roads have been destroyed, with damages almost certainly in the billions. Spending 3/4 of a billion dollars on this foolish boondoggle looks even more ridiculous than it did when John wrote the piece, and yet every single mayoral candidate in Charleston has, zombie-like, endorsed the expenditure. One can only hope new circumstances will deliver a needed dose of rationality and backbone to whoever our next mayor will be.

Finally, don’t miss the October edition of Local Palate, a great magazine about food. This issue features GrowFood Carolina, CCL’s local food hub, and its stellar general manager, Sara Clow (PDF). Enjoy it, and have a great week!


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