Charleston is among the most at-risk cities on the East Coast from the impacts of climate change, yet there is much we can do as individuals, as families, and as a community to build resilience and prosperity in the face of growing threats. To raise awareness of these threats and to show support for implementing solutions, please join the People’s Climate Parade on Saturday, April 29 at 9:00 am at The Royal American.
Already, climate change is causing more frequent flooding and more sweltering summers—two impacts that will become more severe in years to come.
As sea levels continue to rise, stormwater has nowhere to drain when it rains, causing seawater to come up through storm drains when the tide is high. Based on measurements in the Charleston Harbor taken since 1921, the sea level has risen about 12 inches over the past century. However, the rate of sea level rise has not been uniform and has roughly doubled in speed in recent years. Just 50 to 60 years ago, Charleston had less than 5 days per year of tidal flooding; now we have about 24. Experts project that over the course of this century, sea level will likely rise 1 to 4 feet, but potentially up to 6.6 feet, depending on how decisively we act to curb carbon pollution. Without action, Charleston may see approximately 78 days of flooding per year by 2030 and 187 days of flooding per year by 2045.
Likewise, global warming is making Charleston’s summers hotter, more humid, and generally more unbearable. The number of dangerously hot days, above 104°F heat index, when the risk of heat stroke is high—particularly among children, the elderly, and those without easy access to air conditioning—is increasing dramatically. In 2000, Charleston averaged 16 days per year above 104°F heat index. In 2030, we are projected to have 70 such days, and by 2050, we may have 90 such days annually. Can you imagine an entire summer with every single day equal to what we consider the worst days now?
While the impacts of global warming are severe and we are already feeling them, worst case scenarios can be prevented. We can implement commonsense solutions that guard against increased climate impacts while also saving money, creating jobs, and growing the economy.
Making our buildings more efficient helps us maintain comfort while lowering our energy bills. The local Energy Conservation Corps program through the Sustainability Institute, for example, has helped 160 Charleston homes save an average of $1,200 per year on energy bills while training dozens of local young adults and veterans for jobs in the energy efficiency workforce. Many homes can reduce their utility bills by 20% or more through a professional home energy audit and improvements to insulation, air leaks, and ductwork.
Solar power is booming in South Carolina, with thousands of rooftop systems installed last year alone and many more large-scale solar farms under development. Families and businesses are now installing solar for purely economic reasons, even when some of them don’t prioritize the environmental or public health benefits. Innovative financing models such as solar loans and leases have opened up the economic benefits of solar power to a wider population of working families who may not be able to afford the out-of-pocket purchase price of a solar installation.
The time has never been better as individuals and families to make homes and businesses more efficient and go solar, but we also must press our elected officials and power companies to demand progress. They must make a priority of developing transparent, public plans to reduce climate change pollution, lower customers’ bills, and create sustainable jobs.
Please join the People’s Climate Parade on the morning of Saturday, April 29 at 9:00 am at The Royal American on Morrison Drive as we raise public awareness about the threats of climate impacts and demonstrate the political will to pursue commonsense solutions.
This op-ed is a part of AWAKENING V: King Tide, a month of public art and events from April 29 – May 26, presented by Enough Pie. All art and events are free. For more information go to enoughpie.org.
Coastal Climate & Energy Manager
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Energy and Climate Program Director
South Carolina Coastal Conservation League