Want to do something about flooding? Vote.
Luck is one of the most underrated things in life, and we got lucky when Hurricane Florence spared us. We could just as easily have been Wilmington. There is no question that the city is showing admirable new urgency in dealing with our flooding crisis. You could see it in the preparations and you can see it in the improved regular maintenance in the streets. Three disastrous floods in three years can focus the mind and elected officials. But at base, nothing has changed. The next time it could be us, and in time it will be us.
Charleston faces a massive $2 billion-plus job of saving itself. With an annual operating budget of just $180 million, half of that dedicated to cops and the fire department, there is no way the city can do it alone. Yelling at the mayor will only get you so far.
We have spent many years beating up on government, belittling government. But if there was ever a job for government, saving us from the rising tides is it. The threat is just too big; it recognizes no boundaries.
There’s no shortage of science that shows climate change is making hurricanes bigger and more dangerous. As The Post and Courier’s Tony Bartelme reported, studies show that climate change increased Hurricane Harvey’s record-setting rains by as much as 38 percent. Half of Florence’s rain was due to our warming planet, another research team found.
If stopping flooding is important to you, then you must make it a priority in every vote you cast: from president of the United States to governor of South Carolina to Charleston City Council.
That’s not happening. Take South Carolina’s gerrymandered 1st Congressional District, which hugs the coast and was battered three years in a row by devastating storms before dodging Florence. The environmental issue in the campaign, such as it is, has been offshore drilling, not climate change.
Polling by Republican candidate Katie Arrington showed that immigration is the biggest issue facing the 1st District, followed by jobs and the economy. Climate change didn’t even score in the Top 10, The Post and Courier reported.
How can that be? We live in the Lowcountry. Here we need to worry more about our homes being flooded and devalued than about illegal immigration.
If you believe that flooding is Charleston’s No. 1 issue, you must vote that way and not just in the mayor’s race. The economy, education, security are all important, but here in the Lowcountry we have an urgent need for champions on every level of government to fight flooding because we need help on every level of government.
We need state and federal money, and we need to fix things like the broken National Flood Insurance Program, which tends to pay homeowners to repeatedly rebuild rather than incentivizing them to relocate from flood-prone areas. Just shoveling in billions after natural disasters is too expensive.
Donald Trump has done more damage to the environment than any hurricane. He has turned over the Environmental Protection Agency to the industries it is supposed to regulate, taking us backward on everything from fuel efficiency to methane gas. Under Trump, America is the only country in the world to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. He touts “clean coal’’ even as Florence unleashed material from toxin-containing coal ash pits into North Carolina waterways.
There has been much said about what the federal government did or did not do in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. But there has been far too little said about how the federal government’s policies are contributing to the growing threat from these storms or the forest fires that are becoming the new normal of the American West.
Which candidate for Congress is going to vote for the environment or side with an administration that is threatening it? Which candidate for governor or the Legislature is going to be the flooding champion we need in Columbia? And next year flooding should be the defining issue of Charleston’s races.
Candidates are rarely asked these questions. An exception will come next month in a debate between state Rep. William Cogswell and challenger Ben Pogue focused exclusively on flooding. Almost every candidate needs to answer for the frightening environmental threat at our doorstep.
Floodwaters are nonpartisan. Not until voters make it their priority will politicians make it theirs.
Steve Bailey writes regularly for the Commentary page. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @sjbailey1060.