Monday, January 9, 2017 Blog

Global warming didn’t pause, but the Gulf Stream might. SC reduced CO2 emissions in 2016. No seismic testing! Humpbacked whales at Debidue. Cheetahs and fox squirrels. Hotel threatens Mt. Pleasant. Bridges threaten bicyclists.

by Andy Hollis


For no good reason, I’ll begin this week’s news roundup at the planetary level and progress to the local.  (There is just as much logic for going the other direction.)

In the past I’ve hesitated to include articles on the debate over climate science.  The conclusion that human activity is the primary driver of global warming (and ocean acidification, and rising sea levels and other related phenomena) is so rigorous, so pervasive, so multi-disciplinary and so international as to be virtually indisputable by any reasonable person without an ax to grind.

But – here is the exception that proves the rule (I’ve never known exactly what that means…) – I include this one article because it puts to rest one of the most often repeated criticisms of the hypothesis that humans are causing the earth to warm up: that there was a “pause” in rising temperatures beginning in 1998.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has stated that there was no such pause, and this article from the Washington Post reports on a study confirming NOAA’s conclusion.  Perhaps more important is this point:

The global warming “pause” debate had, itself, paused somewhat in light of the temperatures of 2014, 2015, and now 2016. These three years, in descending order, appear very likely to have been the warmest, second warmest, and third warmest years on record  (the record for 2016 is not yet official, at least per NOAA and NASA). In this context, debating whether global warming was slowing down when it kept setting new records seemed a rather odd pursuit.

Also undisputed, however, is the reality that this study and any number of others like it will not persuade people who have chosen, for commercial or ideological reasons, to believe that climate change is either not real (a.k.a. “a hoax”), or not caused by humans (e.g. “The climate has always changed.”)  Still, I hope this new information will provide one more piece in the atmospheric puzzle for those of us who are deeply concerned about the future of the planet.

This next article, also from the Washington Post, reports that researchers are studying the effects of higher temperatures on ocean circulation.  This has been a topic of research for decades.  Most notably, what impacts will climate change have on the “conveyor belt,” the surface current known as the Gulf Stream that transports warm water from the tropics to the North Pole and returns colder water underneath the surface?  Apparently more than was initially thought.

The subject is important, but the primary reason I included this article is the remarkable animation of ocean currents.  It’s just one more example of the spectacular, complex beauty of our imperiled planet.  Take a look!

Now the good stuff!  An article in Sunday’s Post and Courier by Tony Bartelme reports that South Carolina’s CO2 emissions fell substantially in 2016, during a time of strong economic growth.  This is excellent news and should help dispel the argument that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will harm the economy.  Much of the 2016 reduction was a result of SCANA and Santee Cooper shifting fuel sources from coal to natural gas.

Tony points out that the Obama administration’s much criticized Clean Power Plan offers South Carolina a sizable benefit, since the state will be able to easily meet the plan’s benchmarks, in part because of the new nuclear plant in Jenkinsville.  But in the spirit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Governor Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson have foolishly, and to our financial detriment, chosen to join a lawsuit against implementation of the plan.

It is worth noting that President-elect Trump has specifically vowed to invalidate the Clean Power Plan shortly after taking office. This would be a mistake, since the Plan is the single most important step we have taken as a nation to address climate change.

This week was a wonderful one for the coast, with the Obama Administration canceling the seismic exploration permit for states in the Southeast, including South Carolina. This only makes sense, given that offshore leasing was taken off the table in March. Here are articles from ABC news and from the Post and Courier on the decision.


But Congressman Jeff Duncan, (speaking from a parallel universe nowhere near the actual coast), criticizes the decision, stating, “This is clearly a political stunt, and emblematic of how the administration uses administrative law as a weapon to abuse American companies…”

Congressman Duncan appears to be unaware that this is, in fact, emblematic of an administration that has paid attention to the resolutions against drilling and testing passed by every coastal town and city, and to the pleas from American companies on the coast whose livelihoods depend on clean beaches and a healthy ocean.

Congratulations to the tens of thousands of citizens, business people, conservation and civic groups, and mayors and council members who weighed in on behalf of the coast!

One individual who did not weigh in on the debate (but who has more than enough heft to do so) is the humpbacked whale that was spotted swimming just past the breakers at Debidue Beach.  This article, by Bo Petersen with the Post and Courier, reports on the siting, and also on the realization that the humpback’s cousin, the highly endangered right whale (with fewer than 500 individuals on the planet) seems to be shifting its territory to the north.

This reinforces the critical importance of understanding the behavior and status of these wonderful animals.  They are notoriously difficult to monitor, in spite of their size.  Unless we put the resources into keeping up with them, they could vanish from the face of the earth in the blink of an eye.

Leaping across the Atlantic for a moment, this article from the New York Times explains that the latest study (by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Zoological Society of London and Panthera) on cheetahs recommends reclassifying the species as endangered.  The population of this elegant cat, the fastest land animal on earth, (sprinting from zero to 60 mph in 3 seconds), has declined to roughly 7,000 individuals.

The reason is that cheetahs occupy an enormous range, and even large wildlife preserves like the Maasai Mara in southern Kenya cannot support more than a handful of individuals.  The survival of cheetahs will probably depend on their ability to occupy private and tribal lands, an outcome that becomes more difficult as human populations expand in Africa.

Closer to home, another elegant, threatened mammal is our own fox squirrel.  These oversized cousins of grey squirrels are much more particular in their choice of habitat, preferring natural longleaf pine forests and mature hardwoods.  Like cheetahs, they need large, contiguous expanses of territory.  And like cheetahs, they are in worse shape than we realized.  Interestingly, fox squirrels come in two varieties, grey with a white nose, and black, also with a white nose.

This article was missing from the Post and Courier website.  What’s up with this, I wonder? I’m assuming it will be up soon.

On the related subject of human habitat, the Post and Courier editorializes that Mt. Pleasant’s approval of a hotel on Hungryneck Boulevard threatens the fabric and character of the historic black community that will fall within the shadow of the 55-foot tall building.

The author persuasively argues that the town must find a way to accommodate growth without sprawling outward (“growing up rather than out”) and that the decision to reduce the maximum height of apartment buildings along major streets like Coleman, while increasing the height of this hotel, has gotten things bass ackwards (as they say).  As the editorial states:

A better plan would be to build up rather than out in districts the town thinks can handle a few extra residents and businesses. If that doesn’t include the Shem Creek area, then it shouldn’t include the Four Mile community either.

Steve Bailey also writes in the Post and Courier this week on human habitat.  His point is that bicyclists have a right to cross the Ashley River safely, both from James Island, on the now-officially-closed-to-bikes James Island (dis)Connector, and on the presently suicidally dangerous Ashley River Bridge.

It is amazing how many high profile endorsements the bike lane has received – including MUSC and BenefitFocus – and how relatively inexpensive the project is (as a point of comparison, 0.3% of the cost of the proposed, unfunded I-526 extension to John’s Island), and that it was fully funded years ago by the first ½ cent sales tax, and that it has been the subject of an in-depth simulation study, and that in spite of all of that, the city has not begun to build it.   But 2017 is a new year and now is the time!

Today was gloriously cold, but have a great, warmer week!


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