Monday, January 23, 2017 Blog

It was another hot one. Different (climate) story, same outcome. Charleston cruise ships hit the upper limit. Show me the money (or at least the source). Bay Point languishes. My mistake.

by Andy Hollis


Last week I wrote that January 2017 set a temperature record in Charleston.  According to the New York Times and the Washington Post (with very impressive graphics), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reported this week that the earth also set a temperature record.  2016 was officially the hottest year ever recorded.

 Meanwhile, President Trump’s cabinet nominees are being interrogated by the Senate in advance of (almost certain) confirmation.  This article from the BBC reports that every nominee now believes that climate change is real, and that humans are in part responsible.  This is a departure from President Trump’s description of climate change as a hoax, and from positions most of the nominees held in the past.

 Is it cause for optimism that the new administration may take action to curb greenhouse gasses?  Unfortunately, it is not.  It’s worth reflecting on the arguments opponents to climate action have used over the past few decades.  Following James Hansen’s landmark 1988 Congressional testimony, in which he presented evidence that the climate was verifiably heating up, (note that this was almost 30 years ago), the opponents’ party line was that it was not, or that the data was not conclusive, or some variation on that theme.  For the next two decades, the argument raged over whether the earth was, or was not, getting hotter. (It was.) In that atmosphere of (manufactured) uncertainty, Congress failed to take even modest steps to curb emissions. 

 As the evidence became essentially unequivocal – melting of tropical glaciers, rapid decline in sea ice in the Arctic, northerly range shifts for animals and plants, not to mention rising ocean acidity – opponents changed their message, as if on cue, (because it was almost certainly on cue).  They conceded the climate was changing, but humans weren’t the cause.  The climate has always changed, they argued, failing to acknowledge that the climate has never, in geological history, changed as rapidly as it has over the past century.  Logical deficiencies aside, this line of argument delayed action at the federal level for another decade. 

 Notice the latest reframing of the issue.  To the man, (I am not aware that the nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was asked about climate change), they said, “The climate is changing.  Humans are part of the cause.  But the science is unclear how much.  And action to curb greenhouse gasses will destroy (or harm, or cripple…) the economy.” 

 So the likelihood that Congress and the Administration will lift a finger to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is, basically, in the low single digits, (barring a major catastrophe like a large part of Greenland sliding into the ocean).

 But, as I’ve said a dozen times before, this is not a disaster.  Many states, including South Carolina, have taken steps to reduce their dependence on carbon based fuels.  California has succeeded in flat-lining and then reducing per capita energy consumption over the past few decades. South Carolina’s CO2 emissions declined last year, even though our economy grew vigorously.  They will almost certainly continue to decline over the coming years… IF (as the Lorax said) someone (like us) cares enough to continue to push for the policy changes that have made this possible.  We can do immensely more, and not only will the economy not be harmed, it is likely to be invigorated and sustained over the long term.

 One sector in which South Carolina will not see energy reductions, or reductions of any sort, is the cruise ship business.  This article from the Cruise Industry News glowingly reports that the State Ports Authority (SPA) has lined up 104 ship visits for 2017.  It is worth remembering that this is the maximum number the SPA agreed to host annually (the maximum, that is, unless the SPA informs the city that they will increase that number).  It is also worth remembering the reassurances the city received from SPA head Jim Newsome, that it was simply not possible that more that 104 ships would call on Charleston.  Why?  Because Charleston is a “niche market.”  Whatever that meant…

 On the subject of transparent government, according to the Post and Courier, the new Charleston County Council Chairman, Vic Rawl, told the Propeller Club that he did not think the county should have to reveal where the additional money for the I-526 extension will come from, as long as the county commits to covering it.  Legal issues aside, it would seem axiomatic that an elected body would have an obligation to reveal the source of more than a quarter of a billion dollars before putting taxpayers on the hook for paying it back.

 And on the eternal issue of roads, (the Lord only knows how much good could be done in the world if we redirected even a quarter of the energy we spend building, maintaining and arguing about roads…), the Post and Courier reports that the S.C. Legislature will debate an increase in the gas tax again this year. 

Every single argument in favor of higher taxes focuses on fixing suspension-eating potholes, crumbling shoulders and otherwise repairing the 41,000 miles of roads that crisscross the state.  But…. every year the Legislature has balked at guaranteeing that the new funding will not be lavished on political boondoggles like I-73 and I-526.  (As a point of reference, the cost of building the 8-mile I-526 extension – roughly $725 million – would pay to resurface 2,500 miles of roads.)  So again this year, we would support the increase if and only if the money is restricted to repairing the existing network.

There would be no roads from Hilton Head to the proposed Six Senses development on Bay Point Island, across the mouth of Port Royal Sound.  But Hilton Head alone has the power to enable this resort to build on one of the state’s last, smallest and least stable barrier islands.  The council is considering annexing the island into the town, which would undermine Beaufort County’s comprehensive plan and negate its protective zoning.

 The good news of the week is that the town has announced that Bay Point is no longer on a fast track.  As this article from the Island Packet reports, the annexation is not a “priority” of the town for 2017.  Let’s hope it stays that way!

Finally, a correction.  I wrote about the Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort.  I identified the Penn Center and the Brick Baptist Church on St. Helena as being included in the designation, along with, I said, other places on St. Helena.  I basically got most of this wrong.  The specific places included in the Monument are:  Darrah Hall at the Penn Center; The Brick Church; The Camp Saxon Site in Port Royal; The Old Firehouse in downtown Beaufort.  Just setting the record straight.

Have a wonderful week!  






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