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Greenville Business Magazine

SC To Spend Millions to Meet Environmental Challenges

Oct 13, 2021 01:49PM ● By Kevin Dietrich

South Carolina is no stranger to the effects of global warming.

Rising seas threaten homes and business along the coast, powerful storms wreak physical destruction, spiking temperatures imperil flora and fauna.

“Whether folks are all on the same page about the science behind global warming, I believe there’s an understanding that this is something that’s going on, and it’s something that affects the bottom line,” said Allan Hancock, communications director for Coastal Conservation League.

The impact of global warming is evident in many areas, including:

Sea levels along the coast have risen 10 inches since 1950, inundating both wetlands and dry land, eroding shorelines, contributing to coastal flooding and increasing the flow of salt water into estuaries and nearby groundwater aquifers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sea level rise is expected to contribute to increased hurricane activity and storm surge, a potent threat along the state’s coast. Higher sea levels also result in homes, businesses and coastal infrastructure being more vulnerable to storm damage. There are more than 90,000 properties at risk from frequent tidal flooding in the state.

Since 1970, average annual temperatures in the Southeast have increased by about 2 degrees. Temperatures are projected to increase by as much as 8 degrees by the end of the century, according to the EPA.

The effects of the above range from the irritating, such as a lengthening mosquito season, to the deadly, including a number of major weather events in recent years such as the 2015 “500-year flood,” which claimed 19 lives in South Carolina and resulted in losses of more than $1 billion.

“We are seeing more extreme weather events caused by global warming. In South Carolina and elsewhere, and it’s having a significant impact on businesses, employees, farmers and residents,” said Cathleen Kelly, a senior fellow for energy and environment at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. 

“We’re talking about serious weather events that are interrupting people’s lives, and South Carolina will continue to see more and more extreme weather as a result of global warming,” she added.

Business has felt global warming’s sting as supply chains have been interrupted and stores, offices and manufacturing facilities disrupted when storms and power outages prevent employees from working, In addition, the increasing ferocity of storms has resulted in rising insurance rates, ultimately costing everyone more.

The average South Carolinian is feeling the pinch, too. This includes higher food prices, driven by the impact of rising temperatures on crops and livestock, and more expensive electric bills as individuals run air conditioners longer. Even state coffers may be impacted, as South Carolina is looking at spending tens of millions of dollars going forward to battle flooding. Money would go to beach renourishment, building and bolstering seawalls, and improving drainage. That could mean higher taxes for residents.

Even state coffers may feel the pinch, as South Carolina is looking at spending tens of millions of dollars going forward to battle flooding. Money would go to beach renourishment, building and bolstering seawalls, and improving drainage.

“People in the state understand the issue when you talk about specifics is it normal for the dogwoods to bloom in February or to be able to wear shorts on Christmas day, for example,” Hancock said. “That’s where you have more understanding.”

While the impact of the human role in global warming isn’t entirely clear, the past couple of generations have seen major environmental changes.

“Scientists are predicting even more intense heat waves and droughts in the future, which will have a significant impact not only on agriculture but communities across the state,” Kelly said. “These conditions are dangerous for those who work outside, such as agricultural workers and those in the construction industry. It’s also danger for those who struggle to make ends meet and are now facing higher air conditioning bills.”

S.C. Businesses Respond

Industry is often held responsible for no small part of global warming, but a number of businesses in South Carolina have not only taken note of the issue but put measures in place to reduce their impact on the environment.

Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and Santee Cooper are all considering early retirement of their coal-fired electricity generating plants by the end of the decade. The three produce the overwhelming majority of electricity in South Carolina.

Michelin, which employs nearly 10,000 individuals in South Carolina, has set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. As part of that strategy the company is working to extend the usable life of tires and developing new sources of biomaterials, to replace material made from fossil fuels such as oil and coal. 

Michelin is aiming for a goal of 100 percent of materials used in tires to be renewable, recycled, biosourced or otherwise use sustainable materials by 2050, the company announced earlier this year.

Sonoco, the state’s largest publicly traded company, recently announced in its 2020-21 corporate responsibility report commitments to reduce energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and wastes along with ongoing efforts to achieve greater packaging sustainability and recycling.

“Packaging plays a fundamental role in providing sustainable, safe and hygienic delivery systems for food, medicines and other essential products. As a global leader in the production of uncoated recycled paperboard as well as a diverse mix of consumer and industrial packaging, it is of utmost importance to Sonoco to address environmental challenges, such as climate change, based on data-driven scientific criteria,” Sonoco President and CEO Howard Coker said in a press release.

“Over the next decade, we will dedicate each of our more than 300 operations globally to fully participate in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, purchasing power from certified green energy sources and implementing our operational excellence processes to continuously reduce energy usage,” he added.

It’s not just the big corporations that are embracing environmentally friendly approaches to doing business. Tiny Bulls Bay Saltworks, which began in Charleston County less than a decade ago, employs sustainable practices to harvest sea salt. The company also uses solar and wind power to evaporate collected sea water.

“Our sea salt is harvested from a sustainable source, the ocean, reducing the ecological impact on the earth and retaining its natural micronutrients,” according to Bulls Bay’s website.

Exacerbating Cyclical Change

Climate cycles have occurred for millions of years, with ice ages and warmer interglacial periods taking place on a regular basis. These have been caused by a variety of natural factors, including changes in the sun, volcanoes and carbon dioxide levels.

However, research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, shows that it is 90 percent likely that human activity has been behind more recent global warming.

Rising carbon dioxide levels over the past 200 years, coinciding largely with the Industrial Revolution, can be linked to rising temperatures. 

“Much of this has taken place during our lifetimes, over the past 30 years or so.,” Hancock said. “A lot of the carbon pollution that’s affecting our environment has taken place during the past three decades.”

So-called First World nations aren’t the only ones contributing to global warming. China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and coal in China is a major cause of global warming.

China, which was far behind Europe and most of North America in terms of development in 1950, has relied heavily on coal as a key means to develop its economy, and it continues to do so.

In 2019, 58 percent of China’s total energy consumption came from coal, and the country accounted for 28 percent of all global CO2 emissions. 

While the U.S. is among nations working to reduce its reliance on coal power, China continues to build coal-fired power plants at a rate that outpaces the rest of the world combined.

In the U.S. things are improving. In 2019, U.S. coal-fired electricity generation fell to its lowest level since 1976. Lower electricity demand was partly responsible for the drop, but the primary reason was increased output from natural gas-fired plants and wind turbines, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Still, the U.S. has come under fire for not taking stronger action.

That may change soon. President Biden wants to clean up America’s energy system by slashing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030. The plan is included in the administration’s $3.5 trillion budget package. Kelly said the effort is overdue.

“We have not been quick to tackle climate change,” she said. “We have known for years that fossil fuels contribute to global warming, but we have not had a unified plan in place to do something about it.”