Business, environmental groups meet in Charleston, call for action on rising sea levels

July 16, 2013

By David Slade | Charleston Post and Courier

With dire warnings about the impacts on the Charleston-area coast as sea levels continue to rise, environmental and business groups renewed their call for action to address climate change Tuesday at White Point Garden.

“We have withstood hurricanes and invasions, but can we withstand sea level rise?” asked Mitchell Colgan, chairman of the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences at the College of Charleston. “No matter how you want to argue it, sea level rise is coming.”

“No matter how you want to argue, sea-level rise is coming,” said Mitchell Colgan, chairman of the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences at College of Charleston.

In fact, sea level rise is already here. The sea level rose by roughly one foot during the last century in Charleston, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. How much more it will rise in years ahead?

A consortium of U.S. government scientists said in December that there’s a better than 9-in-10 chance that the sea level will rise between 8 inches and 6.6 feet by 2100 — a very broad range. The mid-range scenario calls for a rise between 19 inches and 3.6 feet.

A new coalition of South Carolina environmentalists and small-business owners has focused on a worse scenario: a more than 6-foot sea rise, which they say would put most of Folly Beach, half of Sullivan’s Island, and much of the Charleston peninsula under water at an average high tide.

“I live here, my business is here, and I am very concerned,” said Dottie Karst, president of Charles Foster Staffing and Executive Search in North Charleston. “We need to all work on climate change and call Washington and tell them to act.”

The group South Carolina Businesses Acting on Rising Seas isasking businesses to post signs explaining the issue, and also mark with tape where the water level could be, in their building, if projections bear out.

SCBARS project coordinator Scott Wolfrey said the problems associated with climate change have been well known for more than 30 years, but much remains to be done in terms of educating the public and swaying the opinions of elected officials to get action on climate-changing emissions of gases, including carbon dioxide and methane.

Roger Martinez, with the James Island technology consulting firm Stasmeyer, said he might not live to see the impact of rising sea levels, but his young children surely will.
“We believe the science,” he said.

Few people attended the group’s press event Tuesday morning, but Charleston resident Fouche Sheppard stopped by. She mentioned the bad street flooding regularly seen on the peninsula, which city officials say has become more challenging as sea levels rise.

“What are you going to actually be able to do to stop it?” Sheppard asked.

Wolfrey told her that they think the best option is to try to get public policy focused on the issue.
Sheppard said she thinks politics is what’s keeping things from getting done.

“I think people don’t relate to (climate change) because they have made it a political issue, rather than a survival issue,” she said.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.

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