The Post and Courier’s Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. tweet on Aug. 9 clearly struck a nerve.
In announcing a restaurant closing, the newspaper’s twitter account comically and succinctly described a future Charleston swallowed by the sea.
“[O]ne day the entire city will be underwater, nothing will exist, and all our pain and suffering will disappear,” wrote Matt Clough, the engagement editor at The Post and Courier.
The tweet has tallied more than 560 comments, nearly 16,000 likes and 4,500 retweets. For perspective, the newspaper’s tweets sent just before and after have garnered a combined three likes and two retweets. Zero comments.
We chuckled at the doomsday scenario and winced a bit that there could be a shade of soothsaying truth in it. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The sea around Charleston is indeed rising, and of course our country could do a lot more to reduce the carbon pollution driving a changing climate. But locally, here and now, we can stop the flooding from getting worse.
For years we have pushed back against unwise development in Charleston that will bring a waterlogged future closer to reality. For one, we’ve got to stop filling in the wetlands that soak up floodwater.
We’ve heard from parishioners, neighbors and nurses who say their church, their homes and their hospital routinely flood. Scientists working with us have identified one culprit as the city’s significant loss of wetlands, filled by developers with the blessings of those beholden to developers.
Now, even hurricanes passing hundreds of miles offshore bring historic flooding to Charleston’s waterfront. We’ve filled so many wetlands that we have fewer natural areas to store rainwater.
We regularly hear from neighbors living on islands and peninsulas worried that plans to build more developments and bigger highways will mean more houses in low-lying areas where no one should live. In a natural disaster, that will mean more work for already overburdened first responders, and a higher cost for recovery. In a recent report by Zillow and Climate Central, Charleston County ranked fifth in the country for the number of homes it allowed to be built in flood plains.
Already in South Carolina, the federal government has tagged 300 homes as “severe repetitive loss properties,” a designation that means they’ve flooded, on average, five times. And in Charleston proper, 750 homes have flooded twice. We all pay for that repeated rebuilding through a federal flood program.
On one hand, we hear from Charleston leaders that they are making plans now to confront the sea levels of the future, which is great. But on the other, we hear those same leaders willing to fill over 200 acres of wetlands for the planned Long Savannah development near the Ashley River, where nearby neighborhoods chronically flood.
By ourselves, we can’t cool the Earth and shrink the seas. But we can be a whole lot smarter about how the city and the county plans for growth and development. Our leaders simply must stand up to developers eager to make a quick buck on houses that will surely need bailing out later. And we can back those leaders when they thoughtfully redirect Charleston’s explosive growth to higher ground in the city.
Charleston needs our help to stay above water and to avoid Mr. Clough’s pessimistic prognostication. As a community, we can do it. We can get involved and protect our homes from the water.
But I’m not sure what can be done to save Bubba Gump Shrimp.
Chris DeScherer is a managing attorney in the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charleston office.