GOP should support climate change solution

In this April 3, 2014, file photo, giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler near the city of Grevenbroich, western Germany. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

Just look along our coast and you’ll notice that erosion of our beaches and barrier islands has increased and sand continues to wash away. Meanwhile, millions of our tax dollars are being poured into beach renourishment projects, while developers seek permits to armor the oceanfront in response to rising seas and erosion.

The continued burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, is releasing excess carbon into the atmosphere and is altering our climate, increasing ocean temperatures, melting stored ice around the globe, accelerating sea level rise, and changing our ocean’s chemistry; all contributing to economic and ecological damage worldwide and to local oceanfront places like Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach and the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge.

The economic risks to society from climate change are enormous, which is why transforming our energy system should be a priority for all elected officials. Unfortunately, fossil fuel use and climate change have become a politically partisan issue and the science is being called a hoax by some conservative extremists.

Climate Central, an organization that surveys and conducts scientific research on climate change and informs the public of key findings, provided important facts about S.C. in its report: A Vulnerability Assessment with Projections for Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flood Risk.

According to the report, “More than 800 square miles of land lie less than 4 feet above the high tide line in South Carolina. Some $24 billion in property value and 54,000 homes — mostly in Charleston and Beaufort Counties — sit on this area. More than one in six homes are threatened in the city of Charleston, more than one in four on Hilton Head Island, and more than one in two on Edisto Island and in Folly Beach.

“The state has more than 1,200 miles of roads on land below 4 feet, plus 13 schools; 33 houses of worship; and 76 EPA-listed sites such as hazardous waste dumps and sewage plants.

“Sea levels are rising at an accelerating rate, and the scientific community is confident that global warming is the most important cause.”

Additionally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that this May was the warmest May since records began in 1880 and that the first five months of this year rank in the top three warmest. And 2015 will likely be the hottest year on record. It also looks like June may set a record.

It is this longer-term trend toward increasing warmth over recent years and decades that scientists emphasize, rather than particular monthly and yearly records. This overall trend, driven by the accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere and warming of the oceans, is driving the effects the world has seen from climate change, including rising sea levels and more extreme weather events.

Our oceans contribute significantly to our climate system because they cover almost three-fourths of the earth’s surface and store heat and carbon, which increases acidity, threatening sea life and food resources around the world.

Republican voters support strong environmental protection programs, including S.C.’s coastal zone management and pollution control programs. Polls also show that voters are more likely to vote for presidential candidates who acknowledge that humans contribute to global warming and will not vote for those who call it a hoax.

It is important for voters to aggressively encourage politicians such as Mark Sanford and Tim Scott to join other responsible Republicans and not let the stewardship of our atmosphere and oceans continue falling victim to special interests, partisan politics, or big money from fossil fuel corporations.

Stressing the need for Republicans to act responsibly, Jay Faison, a wealthy Republican businessman from Charlotte, has committed to spend $175 million to convince Republicans they need to address climate change and support green energy efforts. Hopefully, his efforts will make a difference.

One thing is certain: Solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will never be on the table if our conservative leaders fail to even acknowledge the need to act. Even a handful of conservatives facing the problem head on and working constructively towards smarter solutions will have a big impact, making it easier for others to join in for a nonpartisan effort.

Sen. Lindsey Graham recently did take a stand by voting in favor of Senate climate resolutions that acknowledge the problem. He deserves our thanks and encouragement. Other Republicans should follow his example.

Chester Sansbury, a former assistant chief of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Bureau of Water, is vice chair of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship.