I live in Charleston. Though my roots go many generations deep in the soil of the rural Upstate – and I love the green rolling hills and blue mountains — Charleston is the place I love the most.
In Charleston, I live downtown near the College of Charleston, right in the middle of the peninsula. It’s about a five-minute walk either way down Calhoun Street, and I’m looking at the Ashley River or the Cooper River and the harbor. One of my favorite things to do for exercise is to run (actually, just walk fast) in a circle around the peninsula with the water beside me most all the way around.
Late one afternoon last week, just as the sun was setting a deep red over the harbor and a big bright full moon was rising, I began my run around the peninsula. As I rounded a corner, I noticed that the street was flooded, a common sight in Charleston. As I reached the sidewalk by the Ashley River, I saw that the tide was in and extra high; in places, the water was gently washing over the sidewalk.
As I ran down the sidewalk and sidestepped the incoming water, I had an epiphany that caused me to stop dead in my tracks. I looked down at the water gently lapping over my green Nikes and I thought, “This is climate change, and it’s happening right now, in my town. It’s literally at my feet.”
As I stood there pondering this, a second revelation soon followed: There is no one in South Carolina who is sounding the alarm and working to prepare for what’s to come.
The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that there is a huge void of both public attention and strong leadership focused on this issue in our state.
First, climate change. There are few issues as partisan and divisive as the climate change debate. On one side are the naysayers who believe it’s not really a threat and just a left-wing hoax. The other side says we are all doomed and it’s just a matter of time before all is lost. This pretty evenly breaks down as Republicans and Democrats.
As I stood there watching the water ripple over my shoes, I thought of how stupid and rigid this partisan debate had become. This was not Democratic water or Republican water. It was floodwater, and it is real right now. The question is: What are we going to do about it?
I consider myself reasonably well informed about public policy issues in our state and I could not think of any big effort under way to do something about climate change (aka the water at my feet). When I Googled “South Carolina climate change,” a few news articles came up about statements by some politicians, environmental groups and government agencies, but not much else.
Sure, there has been some work done and press releases written. Where was the four-part newspaper series, where was the legislative hearings, where were the crowds of upset citizens, where is the plan of what we need to do — and most of all, where was the leadership on this issue?
Who are the leaders in South Carolina on this issue?
We desperately need someone to stand up and lead. Someone who will do the research, learn the data, articulate a plan of what we should do and call out politicians who block meaningful action. We need a leader not to argue about if climate change is real and about polar bears on the melting polar ice, we need a leader focused on what we in South Carolina need to do about the problems that face us today and are getting worse with time (see above re: my wet feet).
South Carolina needs a Climate Change Hero.
Our hero can be anyone who will take the time to do it, who has the smarts to put it all together and has a steely long-term commitment. No Ph.D is required, there is no age requirement and prior experience is not necessary.
The country and the world are full of people who have simply made a commitment to an issue, gone to work and had a real lasting, positive impact. It can be done.
And with the Internet, anyone can go online to find all the information and tools they need to get started and be effective. Anyone can see the stories of people who have done this before, learn how to build a support group, organize supporters online, raise money, build media support, etc. It’s all there online if you look — the people, the resources, the ideas, the support groups, the models of what works.
South Carolina needs a Climate Change Hero — the job is open.
I don’t know what all we need to do as a state; I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I do know this: My feet are wet and it’s only going to get worse.
If you want the job, send me an email — maybe I can help you get started. I’m willing to try.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.