Climate change washes away partisanship for South Carolina tourism

August 27, 2013

By Frank Knapp Jr. |

Tourism is a big multi-billion dollar business in South Carolina. Millions of tourists flock to its coast every year to enjoy beaches and historic treasures such as Charleston.

But this big tourism industry is primarily a small business industry. From Cherry Grove in the north to Beaufort in the south, and all the small and large cities in between, the small businesses provide the tourism experience.

Regardless of the partisan interests of small businesses along the South Carolina coast, they have two things in common. First, they are dependent on our tourism economy for the success of their businesses. Second, rising sea levels due to climate change is a long-term common enemy that threatens the coastal tourism industry. As a result, many of these small businesses are calling for action and the fight to the public.

Their livelihoods are at stake. If the sea level rises six feet along the South Carolina coast by 2100, as NOAA predicts, most of the state’s beautiful beaches will be washed away. Entire small business areas in Cherry Grove, Pawleys Island, Georgetown, Murrells Inlet and Folly Beach will be lost. Charleston, already experiencing flooding when rains come during high tide, will see up to one-third of its peninsula under water.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for tourists to grasp the serious threat. If they could, many would want to protect our coast and preserve it for future generations. That is why elevating the public’s concern about a far-off, manmade natural disaster is essential.

Given the partisan gridlock in Congress, public demand is needed to force Congress to take action to reduce carbon pollution and transition the country to a clean energy economy. Public demand on climate change also is needed to encourage the president to follow through with his stated agenda to address carbon pollution.

That is why the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and the American Sustainable Business Council started the sea level rise education project in the Palmetto state called SC BARS (South Carolina Businesses Acting on Rising Seas). It is designed to turn tourists visiting South Carolina into an army of advocates for protecting the coastal tourism economy. It does this by allowing the tourists to experience visually and viscerally what climate change-induced sea level rise actually means. Small businesses along the coast are asked to post signs and, if appropriate, put up blue tape indicating the high tide water mark projected for 2100 if no action is taken to stop carbon pollution.

The signs direct tourists to look for the blue tape in directly affected business. The signs also encourage visits to the website for information about sea level rise and gives the option of sending a letter to Congress and the president.

In spite of being a very politically conservative state, the response to the SC BARS effort has been positive with approximately half of the small business owners agreeing to put up the signage and blue tape to educate the public. Less than 10 percent of small businesses contacted flatly reject participation.

It is clear from our organizing efforts that the business message commonly heard in Washington about climate change policy does not represent the position of many small businesses along the South Carolina coast. Protecting our coastal tourism industry by cutting carbon pollution is favored by small businesses, not protecting the coal and oil big business industries that are the carbon polluters.

But it’s not just small businesses in South Carolina that want Washington to take action against climate change. Many small business owners across the country do, too, according to a poll earlier this year that also found majority support for power plant emissions regulations, a national renewable energy standard and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.

SC BARS is the first hands-on effort by the American Sustainable Business Council to demonstrate small business’s concern about climate change. More projects are planned around the country.

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