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Holistic Systemic Solutions

Our local leaders speak much of “flooding” and the need to remedy it but are apparently afraid to say “climate change.” These are two sides of the same coin. Stacking sandbags and putting out buckets won’t matter if we don’t fix the roof that’s caving in on us. There are many things we can do that address both simultaneously - and make our city more resilient and just. 

Charleston is ground zero for the effects of the climate collapse in the U.S. If we do not lead by example, showing other cities what a climate responsible city looks like we cannot expect other cities do so what must be done to avert a disaster. Accordingly, shrinking our carbon footprint and implementing initiatives - ideally led by the public, with government support rather than government expansion - that remediate greenhouse gases and shift toward a responsible economy is an essential part of any adequate plan to fix flooding. 

While we need to repair broken drainage systems, and some of the most flooded areas will need large public works projects if they are to be saved from rising sea levels, the bulk of our efforts must be informed by and work in harmony with nature and address both sides of the flooding/climate crisis coin. Here are a few of the initiatives I support:

  • No development of wetlands - this should be obvious to anyone who understands the essential role of wetlands to our watershed. 

  • No filling of lowland areas that will contribute to flooding of neighboring property.

  • Green infrastructure that uses the force of nature to deal with water is a proven approach to flooding and water pollution. We must learn from other cities and apply the lessons. Malmö , Sweden has successfully integrated green infrastructure into flood-prone areas.  

  • Ornamental lawns must be shifted to plants that hold water in regenerated soil that also holds water. These rain gardens (an example of green infrastructure) should be populated by native plants and edibles - food for our local wildlife, including pollinators, and for the people. Lawns are environmentally irresponsible. Rain gardens are carbon negative (meaning they held draw down greenhouse gases), mitigate flooding and clean storm water before it goes into rivers and ocean. Roof top rain gardens are a wonderful way to put existing resources (empty roofs) at the service of community prosperity. Seattle's program - aiming for 12,000 rain gardens in the Puget Sound watershed - offers a model to emulate.

  • Use of locally produced biochar (ideally from locally grown hemp and local native bamboo) can dramatically increase the water holding capacity of our soil while also cleaning storm runoff and sequestering carbon. 

  • Water retention everywhere near and in high flood risk areas - rain barrels, cisterns (downtown Charleston was once full of them), holding ponds that support eco-system health. Amsterdam offers inspiration on this and other fronts.

  • Implement the recommendations from the 2018 tree study. Trees are useful tools for mitigating flooding that absorb carbon from the atmosphere. 

  • Reducing carbon emissions from transportation through widespread use of a real rideshare app (details are here) and free public transportation (Clemson has it, we can too!). 

  • All new building and renovations must use carbon responsible materials and techniques - these are already available through the standard supply chain. This must take into consideration the “embodied carbon” (i.e., the cost of the production and transportation of the building or materials) and the operational carbon of the project (i.e., how efficient it is in use). 

  • Composting must be made convenient and efficient throughout the city because organic “waste” in landfills contributes to the climate crisis and is not actually “waste” - it is a resource we can harness to regenerate our soil. 

  • Encouraging our citizens to shift to a more plant-based diet. We cannot afford to ignore the profoundly negative effects of factory farming on our climate and our environment generally.