No reason to hold back climate change report

info@islandpacket.comMarch 9, 2013 

Shelving a report on climate change and its potential impact on South Carolina's natural resources makes no scientific or political sense for an agency whose purpose is to watch over those resources.

In explaining why the report by a team of scientists wasn't released for more than a year after it was completed, John Evans, the chairman of the state Department of Natural Resources board, said the report was "for information only" and didn't require action.

But that's exactly what the report's findings do require. The agency charged with overseeing our natural resources should have no higher priority than working to manage and protect those resources in the coming decades.

The report, completed in November 2011 and presented to the board in July 2012, was labeled as a draft, but a foreword from the agency's former director, John Frampton, stated it was ready for public review. That didn't happen until The (Columbia) State newspaper got a copy and reported on its contents late last month.

Some say the report was held back because it includes human activity as a contributor to global warming. The 102-page report drew on studies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In an email to the newspaper, Evans wrote: "The board only wanted to make certain that the effort was not to produce an advocacy document that pointed to the reasons for climate change, which remain under scientific debate."

DNR officials would do better to worry less about the political ramifications of climate change and more about its impacts in the natural world.

The report's findings on global warming's impact in South Carolina include:

  • Depleted food sources for young fish. Because of changes in sea water temperatures, plankton needed by developing marine life might not bloom when some sea creatures need to feed on it.

  • Beach sand warm enough to reduce the population of male loggerhead sea turtles, which would hurt reproduction. Turtles hatching in hot sand tend to be mostly female.

  • More "dead zones" in the ocean, where oxygen levels drop sharply, making it hard for marine life to survive. Some dead zones already have been found off Myrtle Beach.

  • Worsening droughts that kill marsh grasses. These grasses shelter young fish, crabs and other marine life.

  • Saltwater pushing farther into coastal rivers, killing off or depleting some species of fish and potentially affecting drinking water supplies. Sea level could rise as much as two feet in the next century.

  • Increased flooding on beaches and in marshes due to rising sea levels.

  • More diseases that affect shrimp and crabs, as well as vegetation.

  • For those of us who live on the coast and who rely on tourism and real estate industries driven by our unique resources and natural beauty, preparing for what's ahead and limiting negative impacts where we can is critical.

    A report paid for by the public and prepared by public employees on an important public policy debate should have been front and center many months ago.

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