On Monday, 14 November, not long after dawn, I found myself pedaling past cars on Highway 61. Their long train of red tail lights glowed in the misty morning, advancing, halting, inch-worm undulating, while my steady 12 mph rocketed me ahead.
Biking past cars inflates my absurdly gigantic sense of self-satisfaction, but eventually the air always seeps away. The temporary halt of cars always lurches forward, catches me, passes me up. That bread van by which I was marking my pace speeds ahead, or I lose that Ford pickup with the dented tailgate in the crowd of cars beyond the next light. But on Monday the 14th the cars were nearly stopped dead. No commuter from West Ashley would get downtown before I did.
Stranger yet, the lanes coming from downtown were empty. Not a single car. Eerie. Had the draw bridges opened for some sailboat and gotten stuck? Or were cars piled up in some horrific accident at the foot of the bridge?
No. The saltwater had climbed out of its grassy marsh to invade the streets of Charleston. It seeped across the pavement, advancing along broad fronts, then, once the territory was occupied, it rose higher–in some places calf-deep.
This picture explains out-bound lanes on Highway 61. It’s the off-ramp for cars crossing the Ashley River from downtown. It’s also the only on-ramp for walkers and bikers who want to cross to downtown.
The problem for inbound traffic was Lockwood Boulevard, that artery that parallels the Ashley. Water from the marina climbed over the rocks to settle in the road, no doubt teeming with the fiddler crabs that live in the pluff mud just beyond Lockwood’s sidewalk.
All traffic on Lockwood was diverted into the narrow, neighborhood Montagu St. If you were in this traffic jam, you’ll remember the frustration.
A hundred and fifty years ago, we talked about King Cotton down here in Charleston. Now we talk about King Tide. Melting glaciers are the problem. Carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere is melting the ice of Greenland. Scientists predict unnaturally higher sea levels in the coming century. You can read the chart. In the last decade, we averaged close to 20 days of nuisance flooding every year. Last year, with the absurd rainstorm of October, we had more than 40 days of flooded streets. The EPA predicts that sea levels will rise 1-4 feet by 2100.
Here’s what NOAA says Charleston will look like with a three-foot rise in sea levels. In the coming decades, South Carolina will have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep sea water off the streets of Charleston. Steve Bailey has written in the Glebe Street Hacks about one critical project—over a $100 million we need to spend right now on the wall of the low battery. Miami Beach is budgeting $500 million dollars to raise its most vulnerable streets. To put this figure in perspective, South Carolina’s DOT has budgeted $12,308,703.92 for bridges and roads in Charleston County in FY 2017.
What can we do about this terrible state of affairs?
First off, we should do all we can to minimize the rise of the Atlantic Ocean. For example, let’s stop generating electricity by burning coal and shift to cleaner power.
President George W. Bush, the oilman from Texas, came with a great way to just that. Put caps on how much carbon dioxide utilities can pump into the Earth’s atmosphere, and then allow those utilities to trade “carbon credits,” essentially rewarding the cleaner power plants and penalizing the dirtier ones. (Visit the Coastal Conservation League’s website to learn more about energy and climate in South Carolina.)
Not only would Bush’s system slow the rise of the Atlantic Ocean, it would save South Carolina’s rate payers about a billion dollars a year.
You’d have to be a fool to live in South Carolina and not go for that plan.
Unfortunately for us, a couple of clowns are calling the shots on this one. Governor Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson have sued the federal government to prevent the plan.
Yes, that’s right. The Governor and the Attorney General of South Carolina have sued the federal government to ensure that Charleston’s streets will flood more and more each year, all the while forcing our citizens to cough up an additional billion dollars for their electricity.
I’m not sure why. Maybe because it was Barack Obama who actually tried to enact a cap-and-trade system? Republican hatred of President Obama has led to some fantastically self-destructive, irrational behavior. Could this be another example?
(It was not always this way. Republicans were not always troglodytes. As a matter of fact, in 2013, four former directors of the EPA, all appointed by Republican presidents, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times urging their party to give up its irrational position on climate change. But it ain’t their Party anymore. The GOP belongs now to liars and No Nothings.)
At any rate, they’re celebrating in West Virginia. A few thousand coal miners’ jobs are that much more secure. Small comfort to me as I ride my bike round the gridlocked cars and the police saw horses and pedal through four inches of sea water.
Sometimes I think the best thing President Obama could have done to stem the rising tides was to join the anti-science, climate-change deniers . . . like Donald Trump.
Which brings me, of course, to the headline of this piece. Why am I calling the flooded roads of Charleston Trump Street instead of the Haley Highway? After all, I cannot blame the flood of November 14, 2016 on Donald Trump.
But we must blame the floods of 2020 and 2030 and 2050 on Donald Trump. And toss in a majority of South Carolinians, whose hatred of Hillary Clinton mattered more than rising sea levels. More than the billion dollars a year we could be saving. More than the absurdly-high, anti-flooding infrastructure costs our children will be paying.
During his campaign, Trump said that pollution is not causing global warming. He’s a science denier. All sensible people know he’s either stupid or he was lying.
What are we to think now that he is “softening” on climate change? Less stupid or less lying? Here’s part of the exchange in his interview with the New York Times:
JAMES BENNET, editorial page editor: When you say an open mind, you mean you’re just not sure whether human activity causes climate change? Do you think human activity is or isn’t connected?
TRUMP: I think right now … well, I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.
I guess that’s better than what he said a little earlier in the interview, that “a lot of smart people” deny climate change. They don’t. Only fools deny climate change.
So cost/benefit analyses are a step in the right direction. At least it admits that we prefer to melt the glaciers than hazard jobs in West Virginia.
So how does the sheet balance on climate change? On the one hand, we’ve got Charleston’s cataclysmic public cost of dealing with the rising Atlantic. And Miami. And Brooklyn. And Boston. And D. C. And the Outer Banks. On the other, we “have to understand” that doing something is “going to cost our companies.”
Not all of our companies, mind you. Doing something will help those that build wind turbines. It will help the local folks who work for companies like Southern Current, which installed solar panels on my roof last spring. It will help states like South Carolina that generate a lot of nuclear power.
We know who wins and loses on Trump’s score card. The last time the Gamecocks played the Mountaineers was way back in the 1995 Car Quest Bowl. South Carolina won 24 to 21. Steve Taneyhill, our quarterback, completed 26 of 36 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown.
Well, we just had a rematch. Nikki Haley threw a game-losing pick-6. And for some bizarre reason the Carolina fans cheered.