Climate costs rise like sea levels with delayed action on climate change

Charleston, like all of South Carolina’s coastal tourism communities, is significantly threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. While my business today can survive the minor flooding, the next generation of small businesses and those through the end of this century will not survive even if sea levels only rise two to three feet, which most scientists accept. If seas rise by six feet by the end of the century, the upper end of today’s predictions, the businesses here in Charleston’s Market will be under four feet of water at high tide. I put a piece of blue tape pretty high up on my front door to show where the waters could rise.

This is obviously upsetting to me.

Just as disappointing is what I’m seeing out of Congress to try to reduce the impacts of climate change--pretty much nothing.  But it’s even worse than that. Some of our elected officials have helped stifle and block action on climate change in Congress. Then, they’ve tried to take away money so federal agencies can’t even work on climate as if ignoring the biggest environmental challenge we face will make it go away.

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The House Subcommittee on Energy and Power is holding a hearing on climate change on the 18th but unfortunately its agenda appears to be focusing on how much the government has, in their view, overspent to study climate change, to try to prepare for its impacts and to lessen possible hardships on businesses like mine.

One of the things members of this committee are complaining about is the government using a cost benefit estimate called “social cost of carbon”, when proposing regulations on carbon pollution.  I’m not sure why this is controversial since the House has passed numerous bills calling for cost-benefit analysis aimed at federal pollution standards.

Maybe this “social cost of carbon” should more appropriately be called the “real cost of carbon.” It’s just a way of estimating how much families and businesses are paying, or will pay, for damages caused by carbon pollution. Carbon pollution drives climate change. It’s fueling extreme weather and raising sea levels. These are real costs that small businesses like mine and those to come will pay if we don’t address climate change.

The social cost of carbon puts a price tag on that damage and it also shows the benefits we can get from federal standards that cut carbon pollution. So, for example, it can help show the benefit of keeping a business like mine open. Certainly no one can argue that there isn’t an economic value to keeping small businesses, the backbone of our economy, open for business.

I am participating in an effort led by the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce to call the rising seas problem to the attention of my customers.  About half of the small businesses contacted in vulnerable coastal communities in my state have put up signage on the issue and even blue tape to show where the high tide is expected to be by 2100.

Most small business owners across the county understand that something needs to be done to address climate change that is causing extreme weather conditions and rising seas. The reason is, when we get hit by major weather disasters, many small businesses can’t recover. Our profit margins are such that we get knocked out completely. One-third of small businesses nationally report they’ve been affected by extreme weather and according to a poll by the American Sustainable Business Council 63 percent of small business owners support EPA efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants.

While some in Congress focus on how much it will cost to address climate change, they’re looking at the wrong numbers. Better to examine how much it’s already costing our communities and our economy. Better to explore how much more it will cost the longer we stick our heads in the sand of our beaches that will be washed away. They could start by looking at the blue tape on my door. 

Bridges is co-owner of the Palmetto Hammock & Resort Shoppe, Charleston, South Carolina.