What do a Rabbi, a Brew-pub Owner, a Mayor, an Economist, and a Reverend have in common?

Guest Blog | November 3, 2009 | Climate Change, Energy Policy
North Carolin Coalition with Senator Kay Hagan
North Carolina Coalition with Senator Kay Hagan. Left to Right: Erica Ramjohn (River City CDC), Rick Copeland (CARE Intl.), Wayne Gideons (Yaroke, USA), Senator Kay Hagan, Dr. Stephen Smith (SACE), Anne Blair (SACE), Aubrey Davis (Outer Banks Brewing Station), Toni Reale (SACE), Jennifer Rennicks (SACE).

…the belief that we have an economic, environmental and a moral imperative to protect our Southeastern coastal communities, natural resources and businesses from the perils of global warming.

SACE Leads Diverse Coalition to DC to Advocate for Climate Action

On October 21st and 22nd, SACE staff led a diverse coalition of clean energy business owners, decision makers, faith leaders and academics from coastal North Carolina and Florida to our nation’s capitol to carry a message of urgency to act on climate change.  These community leaders visited with Senators Hagan, Burr, LeMieux, Nelson as well as Congressional Representatives from Florida and North Carolina’s vulnerable coastal communities.

The Southeast simply cannot afford to ignore climate change

The southeastern coast is home to more than 16 million residents and the property values along our shoreline are in excess of $2.2 trillion.  We rely on our more than 2,000 miles of coastline as a primary economic driver of tourism, real estate and recreation. Yet our communities, and our unique natural and historic resources are particularly vulnerable to the threats of climate change – from rising seas to stronger storms.

Renee Cahoon, Mayor of Nags Head, NC, along with Kelly Kirschner, Vice-Mayor and City Commissioner of Sarasota, FL, Dr. Chris Dumas a coastal economist at UNC-Wilmington and Dr. Doug Gamble an Associate Professor of Geography at UNC-Wilmington brought a wealth of knowledge to their elected officials regarding the costs of inaction on climate change.

“The sea level rise that we’ve experienced in our community has had a direct impact on tax base loss, lower property values, municipal services and maintenance of infrastructure, so I think it’s very important that we start dealing with the issue that we can’t ignore, because we see the impact on a daily basis.” – Mayor Cahoon of Nags Head, NC

Dr. Dumas shared results from a 2007 publication that he co-authored titled Measuring the Impacts of Climate Change to North Carolina’s Coastal Resources with elected officials.  Using conservative sea level rise projections, North Carolina’s coast could lose $6 billion in coastal property values and about $230 million in reduced recreation value of NC beaches by mid-century (due to fewer beaches being available and in poor condition) if nothing is done to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

According to Swiss Re’s “Shaping Climate Resistant Development” study, which looked at the costs of climate inaction to three-Miami, FL area counties (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach), they expect annual

Beach Erosion in Panama City, FL (Courtesy of Dr. Stephen Leatherman)
Beach Erosion in Panama City, FL (photo by Dr. Leatherman)

losses from hurricane-related impacts alone (not including sea level rise) for these counties to total $30 billion by 2030 if they continue on their current haphazard path of coastal development.

Despite significant economic impacts,  Florida and North Carolina can be part of the solution

Adaptation and Mitigation

The Swiss Re report looked at a  variety of adaptation options for Florida and found that nearly 40% of expected loss can be averted cost effectively and have a net economic gain, however large residual loss remains (also about 40%).   According to Swiss Re, cost-effective adaptation options that should be part of a core strategy to manage hurricane risk include beach renourishment, home improvements, vegetation management and barriers to salt-water intrusion to name a few (see report for details). The need for North Carolina to think seriously about adaptation is becoming more evident every day – a recent article in the Charlotte Observer highlights sea level rise concerns for the coast.

North Carolina’s Climate Action Advisory Group recommended 56 options (across all economic sectors) for mitigating the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to the  Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change to be adopted into policy.  Some of these recommendations have up-front costs, but would actually save more money in the long-term. For example, by making the state’s transportation sector more efficient, North Carolina can reduce GHG emissions 30-40% in 20 years and save $5 billion on a net basis.

Both Florida and North Carolina have incredible renewable energy potential; see SACE’s publications page for multiple reports outlining our regions’ renewable energy path.

A Groundswell of Support

The participants who joined SACE in DC represent a much larger groundswell of citizens and community leaders throughout the Southeast who are demanding action from our federal elected officials to protect coastal

The Florida Coalition with Congressman Vern Buchanan of Sarasota
Florida Coalition with Congressman Vern Buchanan of Sarasota (FL-13). From left to right: Kelly Kirschner (Vice-Mayor of Sarasota), Darcell Streeter (CARE Intl), Toni Reale (SACE), Congressman Vern Buchanan, Wayne Gideons (Yaroke USA), Rabbi David Weizman (Congregation Beth Shalom), Rev. Dr. Warren Clark (FUSE)

communities from the perils of global warming.  Each office we visited received a copy of a letter signed by more than 100 coastal businesses, citizens and organizations involved in the Southeast Coastal Climate Network calling for decisive and meaningful action on climate change.

While the economic, environmental and moral imperatives of addressing global warming delivered by our coalition were well received by Congressional offices, no commitments of support were made for clean energy and climate legislation currently making its way through various Senate committees.

With climate talks in Copenhagen and a potential international agreement coming up in December, we have an important opportunity to address this challenge now. Reigning in global warming pollution and harnessing energy efficiency and real renewable energy will safeguard our natural heritage by unleashing a new era of clean technology that our coastal communities can benefit from.

Join Us!

Right now, our  leaders in Washington are hearing a lot more from lobbyists and special interest groups than their own citizens – please consider making your voice heard.  Join the Southeast Coastal Climate Network or our sister-group the Florida Climate Alliance.  Through these networks, SACE will keep our members actively engaged in the climate debate through education, news alerts, take actions, sign-on letters, webinars, and potentially future visits to DC.

Many thanks to all of those who joined us – your voices truly drive our work home in ways that nothing else can!

I’d like to close with this thought by Rabbi David Weizman:

“God took the human and placed him in the Garden of Eden, l’ovdah u’l’shomrah, “to work in it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15).  We humans have done well working the land and discovering how to farm industrially, harvest its trees by the acre, and mine for minerals, metals, and fossil fuels.  But we have not lived up to the other injunction, to guard over the Garden as its caretakers, to maintain its balance and original beauty.  If God has given us the gift of these natural resources, it is only responsible to conserve them and only proper to express our gratitude by maintaining the natural balance.” – Rabbi Weizman, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth Shalom

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