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Focused on sea level rise, Charleston Mayor Tecklenburg urged to do more on climate change

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Tecklenburg says response to sea level rise, not climate issues, is his focus

During a "Conversation on Climate Change" talk, hosted by the Coastal Community Foundation, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg acknowledged that protecting the city from sea level rise trumped climate initiatives. David Quick/Staff

During a “Conversation on Climate Change” round table discussion Friday, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg focused most of his talk on costly projects the city is taking to improve drainage and protect against sea level rise.

Some attending the two-hour discussion organized by the Sustainability Institute, challenged him to do more.

Even before those challenges, Tecklenburg acknowledged that, of the two related issues, sea level rise is his priority. He reeled off a series of current and likely drainage and walling projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars in coming years.

“I don’t want to downplay reducing our carbon footprint and saving energy. I know that’s part of the root of the problem for sea level rise. But I just feel like as a mayor of a coastal city and where sea level rise will impact our daily life, my main focus needs to be on actions how we’re going to address sea level rise on the city,” he said.

While city staff is working on upcoming plans for projects related to sea level rise, Tecklenburg said the city “with the help of maybe some interns and all” will look at the requirements of the Paris Climate Accord by estimating the city's greenhouse gases and establishing a community goal of reducing carbon.

Developer Richards Gregory, who is building a “zero carbon” office on King Street near Line Street, acknowledged the primary importance of drainage in Charleston but wanted to hear more about solutions Tecklenburg hoped to do regarding climate change.

“When we came here today, I had in mind that we were going to talk about the things that the city could do that are proactive and join the other cities in America to address the issue of climate change. We (Western civilization) have been reacting since the beginning of the industrial revolution to our pollution problems. That’s what we’ve done and why we are where we are now,” Gregory said.

“If we keep being reactive, we’re just going to be more inundated with problems and that’s not going to help. We’re going to be in a worse and worse situation.”

Tecklenburg responded, “That’s a point well taken, but I feel like my first order of business is to deal with the reality (sea level rise) that is upon us.”

Jane Baker, vice president of community services for Daniel Island Property Owners Association and manager of the Daniel Island Community Fund, said climate change is “not just a Charleston problem.”

“This is a state of South Carolina issue. We in this room need to be working state officials. This needs to be part of the daily dialog in the state. We’re letting off all other officials by putting it on the backs of the coastal mayors,” said Baker. “Until leadership groups and the faith community make this a state issue, I don’t think we’ll go as far as we can go."

Contact David Quick at 843-937-5516. Follow him on Twitter @DavidQuick.

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