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The Real Story Is Not ‘Climate Change’, But Climate Speed Or Something

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Well, this is a new Talking Point, which builds on the whole “climate change is here, now! Yearrrrrrrggggg (Howard Dean style scream)”

Forget about climate change. The real story is climate speed.

A two-hour cloudburst drenched Charleston on Wednesday, turning downtown streets into swirling rivers. Nearly 5 inches fell over the city’s hospitals, turning the medical district into an island. Five inches fell on Johns Island, turning parking lots into lakes. It was a mess. And it’s not normal.

Set aside the notion of climate change. The climate has always changed. The real story is about speed. The pace of change. From rain bombs to higher sea levels, the impacts are coming faster. This is as real as Wednesday’s storm. And the one four weeks ago. And so many others in the past five years.

In the coming months, The Post and Courier will explore these accelerating forces and their many ripple effects. We’ll explore the underlying science and responses by our elected leaders. We’ll look at the winners and losers. We’ll examine potential course corrections.

And we’ll do this in real time, as the king tides rise, the hurricanes gain strength, amid the thunder and lightning. Why? Because a breaking news story only skims the surface of what’s really happening. Deeper currents can remain hidden amid the immediate need to stay dry or move your belongings to higher ground.

In other words, they’ll assign witchcraft, er, anthropogenic causation, to ever storm and tide. Especially in Charleston, where the Post and Courier is located, which is only a few inches above sea level, but is now flooding more than ever. Couldn’t have anything to do with all that construction, could it?

And given what scientists have learned in recent years, big changes are happening now: Seas are rising faster than they did a few decades ago.

And the pace is picking up.

Scientists have good data on this. They’ve been measuring the sea level in Charleston Harbor continuously since 1921. Since then, the sea level here rose about 1 foot.

Part of this has nothing to do with saltwater. When the last ice age ended 20,000 years ago, sheets of ice melted in what today is New England. Freed from the weight, land there moved upward while land to the south, including South Carolina, sank like the lower end of a seesaw.

Known as subsidence, this sinking has happened at a relatively slow rate — about 5 inches during the past century. This gives marsh-building sea grasses time to trap sediment and rise with the water, as long as the pace isn’t so quick.

Hmm, subsidence. They do do something you almost never see: attempt to offer data

From 1990 to 2000, the sea level rose 1.4 inches.

From 2000 to 2010, it added an additional 2 inches.

From 2010 to now: 2.7 inches more.

But, where’s the data from before 1990? Because there are peaks and valleys. And it is still below the rate one would expect during a Holocene warm period.

The sea level data from NOAA actually doesn’t show any real acceleration.

Follow this curve into the future, and you see a growing threat — a sea level that rises an additional 3.2 inches by 2030.

Then 4.1 inches between 2030 and 2040

And 5.3 inches between 2040 and 2050.

And now we’re into prognostication. But, climate speeding, people! Will it catch on?


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