Charleston has at least $2 billion in climate change-related infrastructure needs. South Carolina likely has several billion more. And that’s before factoring in the cost of natural disasters, lost productivity and other climate-related challenges.
In other words, doing something to prevent a worst-case scenario and mitigate the effects of a warmer atmosphere is an economic, environmental and moral imperative.
But as The Post and Courier’s Chloe Johnson reported, state and local policy generally hasn’t taken a particularly aggressive approach to reducing planet-warming carbon emissions.
About 40% of Charleston’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, according to a 2010 report by the Charleston Green Committee. Almost all of the rest is from residential and commercial uses — lighting, heat and air, etc. — with a sliver from waste storage and industry.
Across South Carolina, transportation and electricity use account for about 70% of greenhouse gas emissions — which are substantially down over the last decade, it’s worth noting — with industrial sources producing the rest, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
So the most obvious ways in which policy could help further cut emissions would be via reducing time spent commuting in personal vehicles, improving fuel efficiency and reducing home power consumption.
Investor owned power utilities in South Carolina have little economic incentive to pursue energy efficiency under current regulations. Much of the recent reduction in state emissions is due to favoring natural gas power plants over coal, but that’s still not the cleanest option.
Changing the regulatory model to favor energy conservation could save customers money and reduce pollution related to electricity generation. Further supporting expansion in the state’s solar industry would also be a straightforward way to cut emissions and customer costs.
The S.C. Department of Transportation spends nearly 98% of its annual budget on roads designed almost exclusively for cars.
Even a modest increase in the portion of the DOT budget — and in local transportation budgets — for mass transit and bicycle and pedestrian facilities could dramatically reduce the need for daily car use.
Several Charleston area community surveys have found that a significant majority of people would prefer to get around town without a car on at least some trips, but a similarly large majority doesn’t find it safe or practical to do so.
That’s a huge missed opportunity to cut carbon emissions — and improve public health and traffic congestion in the process.
But addressing a global problem will also take some work at the most local level possible — in individual choices. Many beneficial decisions aren’t much of a hassle. Most can save money.
Swapping out incandescent light bulbs for LEDs — new versions can be found on the cheap, and they come in the same color temperatures and brightness as older bulbs — can make a noticeable difference in monthly electric bills, for instance.
Walking to lunch every now and then, or biking to the grocery store once a week, or carpooling to work a few times a month can cut down on a gasoline bill and, in the case of the first two ideas, burn a few calories in the process.
Seeking out local produce and slightly reducing meat consumption can reduce the carbon emissions involved in growing and shipping food.
Setting the air conditioning just a degree or two higher in the summer and leaving the heat just a degree or two lower in the winter can also be a money-saver and emissions-cutter.
There are countless other ways to leave a smaller footprint on the planet. Starting at home makes sense. But that doesn’t let state and local officials off the hook either.
Solving a challenge that threatens the livability of our planet will require buy-in at every level. It’s less a question of what we can afford in terms of state and local policy — many climate fixes would save money in the long-term — than whether we can afford to do nothing.