Regardless of whether you are a climate change denier or someone who believes that science shows the globe is warming, there’s one thing we can all agree on: It’s been hot. Real hot.
Summer’s annual blast furnace of high heat and humidity came earlier than expected this year as the middle of the country dealt with lots of flooding and a whole bunch of freaky tornadoes.
In South Carolina, lawns are browning, not greening. Crops are struggling. Officials say one-third of the state is experiencing some kind of drought. They’re warning people that drought conditions can lead to wildfires and are strongly discouraging outdoor burning.
In other words, this heat is affecting how we live. One woman this week blamed heat for the larger number of cars on the side of the road with flat tires. Another recently bought a four-wheel-drive truck, instead of a car, to deal with increasing flooding in the Lowcountry.
And people are staying inside more. Just about everyone is saying quiet prayers to a guy whose name they don’t know – Willis Carrier – but whose invention they couldn’t live without: the modern air conditioner.
All of this heat seems to be coming sooner and staying around longer. The Union of Concerned Scientists projects that if carbon emissions into the atmosphere continue to increase, we’ll have more hot days, particularly in the Southeast. In coming years, according to a 2018 report, the Southeast could have 40 to 50 additional days of extreme heat in which temperatures are more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Yikes.
If you are someone who thinks long-term and about broader impacts, it’s natural to wonder how expanding summer heat might affect how we live in South Carolina over time.
>> Water. The Palmetto State has been blessed with lots of good, clean water. But with more development on the way and more people sucking down gallons, the water table will be affected. More heat probably will cause more drought, which will lower the water table, too. The state really needs a revamped, modern water policy that outlines how state waters can be used collaboratively.
>> Crops. With more heat and drought, agriculture will be affected. We’ve always been able to grow lots of food, although the vast majority is sold to out-of-state interests. It might be a good idea for South Carolina to focus more on feeding South Carolinians and embracing the “buy local” movement in new ways. This could create new streams of revenues for remaining farmers and, perhaps, embolden more people to enter the sagging industry.
>> Infrastructure. One effect of a warmer globe is sea-level rise. That means communities in the Lowcountry (it’s called “low” for a reason) will have to budget more to deal with flooding and keeping the sea at bay. In Charleston, for example, dealing with high tides that soak streets more often has become a political issue that is affecting local races.
>> Power. If it’s hotter and people are cranking the air conditioning more often, they’re probably using more power, the use of which tends to cause more air pollution. From a policy perspective, that suggests sun-rich South Carolina should be investing in more green power, such as solar or wind, to generate what people need to stay cool. And that means passing more bills, such as a residential solar measure recently approved by the General Assembly to expand solar use by allowing more people to sell extra power to utilities.
>> Disease and animals. Hotter weather for longer spells means there’s more potential for negative health effects, such as more asthma, and the spread of more diseases, particularly mosquito-borne maladies. Forestry, one of the state’s top products, might be threatened as more bad insects thrive. Some species will move north for cooler climes and some will die, reducing biodiversity. Remember recent stories of a manatee or two in South Carolina waters? That’s certainly not normal.
South Carolina legislators and policy wonks need to start thinking long and hard about how to harden our infrastructure systems and prepare for a hotter state. Over time, expanding heat is going to cost more money, but getting ready now will save money over time.