A chilling view of warming

By Kyle Stock, The Post and Courier

Published May 26, 2006

COLUMBIA –┬áCorporate America is warming up to climate change. And it does not have much choice, if you ask the headliners who spoke Thursday at the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural conference on global warming.

The insurance and tourism industries are embracing the increasingly accepted theory because they need to plan for rising ocean levels, a shrinking coastline and fierce hurricanes, according to the three panelists. They delivered that message to about 65 environmentalists, businessmen and policy makers, including staffers for Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Mark Sanford.

Other companies and money managers increasingly see climate change and efforts to stop it as a good investment opportunity- unfortunately, one with huge growth potential at the moment.

Greg Carbone, a climate-change expert in the University of South Carolina’s geography department, painted a grim picture: an extra 35 inches of ocean by 2100, no more barrier islands and beaches that cost millions of dollars a year to keep in place.

The first thing that will wash away is cheap insurance, something that is already starting to happen on the South Carolina coast. Government-run insurance pools will swell, according to Andrew Logan, program manager of Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of institutional investors that pressures businesses to acknowledge global warming.

Tourism likely would suffer next. Carolyn McCormick, managing director of the outer Banks Visitors Bureau, told the assembly that coastal tourism interests would have to consider “the reality of retreat.” The federal government recently spent $19 million to move a North Carolina lighthouse. McCormick’s group publicized the project to draw attention to climate change in Washington.

“You need to engage people across the nation with what you are and what you are facing,” she said.

Ceres is also speaking out about climate change and starting to mass a tide of dollars behind efforts to fight it. Most of the group’s members jockey huge amounts of money and hold stocks for decades; they don’t have the luxury of planning for the short term.

“This is something that has really got the attention of a large swath of the investment community,” Logan said. “We’re really going to have to rework on a whole the way the world creates energy, and if you’re an investor that’s really quite exciting.”

Logan said the concern over climate change reached critical mass in the past 12 months. In that time, venture-capital dollars have gushed into clean-energy research, mega-corporations such as General Electric have spent huge sums on similar research, and Wall Street’s biggest investment banks have pressured public companies to detail their plans to handle global warming and its nasty symptoms.

“It will become something that every company and every investor has to worry about,” Logan said.

The event was one of the first of its kind in the state.

Frank Knapp Jr., president of the Small Business Chamber, said global-warming dialogue has been “nonexistent” in and around Columbia. His group produced Thursday’s event to force the issue with South Carolina politicians and show small businesses that markets for climate-change solutions are hotter than ever.

“Environmental groups have been trying to increase awareness for a long time and haven’t got much traction,” Knapp said. “Hopefully, if the business community gets involved, it will get somewhere. If it is not a political issue, if it is a business issue, then it becomes safe for politicians to discuss.”

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