Storm-lashed South Carolina reassesses global warming’s role
By JEFFREY COLLINS
Monday, February 18
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — When he took the job 15 years ago, Horry County Emergency Manager Randy Webster figured his biggest disasters would be wind and surge rolling over his county’s beaches, South Carolina’s top tourist destination.
Instead, his worries have shifted inland, where rivers overflowing their banks have caused two massive floods in three years.
“We’re getting into this sort of unknown territory,” Webster said. “We typically in emergency management have some point of reference to work with. Two floods like this — it’s unheard of.”
Scientists say the Earth’s warming climate means more heavy rainfall over short periods of time, and that translates to larger, more ferocious storms on the scale of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey in Texas or 2018’s Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas. Florence dumped six months’ worth of rain on the Carolinas in the course of just a few days.
The growing realization that such events are going to become more common as the result of global warming is forcing Webster and other state officials to revisit how they prepare for and respond to natural disasters.
Late last year, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster created the South Carolina Floodwater Commission to figure out how to better combat flooding unleashed by hurricanes, rising ocean levels and other rain systems upstream that send rivers and creeks over their banks on the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
One thing that local governments must do is use forecast tools that predict several different scenarios based on possible temperature rise, rather than relying on flood maps of the past, when severe inundations were rare, said Larry Larson, a former director and senior policy adviser for the Association of State Floodplain Managers.
They also should be prepared to alter landscapes, divert runoff, and to buy up houses and other private properties that frequently end up under water, and to elevate those buildings if necessary, Larson said.
“These owners won’t sell after the first flood; they think they have another 99 years to go,” he said. “But they will sell after the second flood.”
Property owners are resistant because of the cues they get from weather forecasters and government officials, who still employ such terminology as “100-year” floods. Despite its name, a 100-year flood doesn’t mean once-in-a-lifetime. Instead, it means a level of flooding that has a 1 percent chance of happening in any particular year, said Susan L. Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.
“People are not really good at understanding probability,” Cutter said.
Dealing with the consequences of natural disasters is daunting even when residents receive advance notice. Emergency officials in Conway, a city of 23,000 about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the beach, took the map of Hurricane Matthew’s flooding in 2016 and — based on forecasts — drew the lines out a little farther, accurately predicting nearly to a home which ones would flood during Hurricane Florence in September. That gave residents a week or more to get whatever they could out their homes.
Kevin Tovornik was one of them. Tovornik lost his air conditioner and duct work in the 2016 flood. In 2018, he saved his furniture, but still ended up losing the house. For a while, he paid two mortgages: this one and one on a townhome he had to move into 30 miles (48 kilometers) away. To save money, he now lives in an RV in his yard in Conway. He hasn’t been able to start repairs on the house because too much rain has fallen over the past few months for anything to dry out.
Tovornik and his wife don’t want to rebuild. He said he would now have to elevate the house with no guarantee there isn’t another record flood to come on the Waccamaw River, which crested 3.5 feet (1 meter) above the level it reached during Matthew. But at the moment, he can only get back 75 percent of the appraised value of the house through the federal government’s buyback program.
“Where else in South Carolina right now is your house losing that kind of value?” Tovornik said. “It’s hard to get your feet back on the ground. You have so many strikes against you. You have a mortgage on a house that is uninhabitable.”
As they consider how to plan for and react to future weather events, the governor and fellow politically conservative members of the South Carolina Floodwater Commission aren’t quite ready to accept the general consensus among scientists that pollution and other manmade factors are largely to blame for climate change.
The commission’s leader, attorney and environmental professor Tom Mullikin said solving the problem can’t be derailed by what he described as politically charged debates over the cause.
“We are going to deal with the real-time impacts of a climate that has changed throughout all of time,” Mullikin said. “We — the governor — is not entertaining a political conversation.”
Whatever the causes of the extreme weather, meteorologists say it will strike again as it did last year, when more than 100 reporting stations, mostly east of the Mississippi River, recorded more rainfall than at any other time, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center. Weather experts are also investigating potentially record rainfall in South Carolina and North Carolina last year.
Pickens County Emergency Management Director Denise Kwiatek first got a sign the weather world was changing five years ago.
In the summer of 2013, Kwiatek knew a heavy storm was hitting a section of Pickens County in the northern part of the state, but conditions didn’t seem too bad in the middle of the county where she was. And yet, just 15 miles (24 kilometers) away, thousands of plant species collected over decades at Clemson University’s South Carolina Botanical Gardens were being swept away as 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain fell in a few hours.
“More of those little events are happening. We are learning to be more vigilant,” Kwiatek said.
South Carolina county wants disaster money for river gauges
GEORGETOWN, S.C. (AP) — Officials in a South Carolina county are asking the state to spend some of its disaster money on permanent gauges to measure river levels.
Georgetown County Emergency Manager Sam Hodge says temporary gauges placed during Hurricane Florence’s flooding last year were helpful.
But Hodge says because the gauges aren’t in place all the time, flooding forecasts struggle to include influences from ocean tides.
Forecasters predicted unprecedented flooding that never materialized.
Hodges says accurate forecasts could keep the county from evacuating thousands of people when only hundreds will be flooded.
City of Georgetown spokesman Ricky Martin says forecasts of 6 feet (1.8 meters) of floodwater downtown turned out to be no worse than the highest normal tides. Martin says inaccurate predictions could cause residents to ignore evacuation orders next time.
My Patients’ Health Depends on Addressing Climate Change
Climate change is going to put incredible stress on our already overburdened health system. We need to prepare now.
By Autumn Vogel | February 6, 2019
As a fourth-year medical student, I’ve learned plenty about caring for patients with common illnesses and injuries. But as a native of fire-ravaged Northern California, and a student in Pennsylvania — where I hear regularly about communities torn apart by the natural gas industry — I can’t help but worry about my ability to care for my patients in an age of climate change.
Climate change isn’t just an environmental crisis, after all. It’s a looming health crisis. More hurricanes, floods, droughts, and wildfires means more disease, dehydration, famine, injury, and death.
Our health system is already overburdened, and extreme climate change could put it over the edge. And it will unfortunately be our most vulnerable communities — low income communities, communities of color, and places where health care is already hard to come by — who will suffer the worst consequences.
While my medical school’s curriculum encourages deep thinking about how to expand health care for underserved communities, it’s included little if any acknowledgement of the coming climate catastrophe.
Some medical colleges are beginning to wake up to the need to prepare the future generation of physicians to handle these challenges, and more colleges are joining this critical effort each day. For example, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai recently launched a Climate Change Curriculum Infusion Project, which seeks to prepare future physicians by weaving the impacts of climate change on health into existing medical curriculum.
We know that climate change is real, manmade, and accelerating far beyond what researchers originally predicted. It’s not up for debate. There are countless studies to back that up — including the Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the 2018 Global Climate Report, and the Fourth National Climate Assessment, to name a few.
We didn’t create this pending catastrophe — an overzealous, greedy fossil fuel industry did. But my generation will have to bear the consequences of their recklessness, and a whole generation of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals will have to care for those who suffer.
As the data rolls in, we understand that climate change has already begun to make permanent
changes to our world — and that only rapid, sweeping changes to our energy system and environmental policies will even begin to mitigate the damage.
The truth is we’re moving too slow. Under the current U.S. administration, we’re in fact moving in the wrong direction if we hope to minimize this looming health crisis. We need to commit to zero emissions and an overhaul of our energy system to renewables — yesterday.
Whatever happens on the policy front, health professionals need to be ready for the disruptions we know are coming.
Medical colleges are in a unique position, and have a distinct obligation, to prepare future generations of physicians for the challenge of a lifetime. Medical students need our educators to help us — not only to prepare our medical practice, but to take leadership in pushing for the sweeping policy changes required to avert the worst consequences of this impending disaster.
We need everyone to wake up and see that if we don’t act boldly now, we’ll have a crisis too big for our system to handle — and too much for any budding physician’s hands to hold.
Autumn Vogel is a fourth-year medical student at Penn State College of Medicine and a student representative on the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
The Kids Might Save Us All
For years, I’ve been fighting to save the planet for my son’s generation. Now they’re fighting for themselves.
By Norah Vawter | February 12, 2019
I became involved in climate advocacy when I realized how dramatically my son’s life would be affected by climate change if we don’t do anything.
He was three years old when I started to imagine what his world would be like when he graduates from school, when he gets his first job, when he wants to start a family, and when he’s ready to retire. In different ways, the impacts of climate change will affect all of these moments.
Climate change will disproportionately affect my kid’s generation, and all future generations. And that terrifies me.
I want my little boy to inherit a beautiful, healthy world — not just to grow up in, but also to grow old in. There are a lot of other issues I care about, but if we don’t address climate change, and soon, the rest won’t matter.
At first I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to do with my outrage and my worries. But I was lucky enough to meet like-minded individuals who were already fighting for a healthy planet and a hopeful future for humanity. Together we founded a local climate advocacy group and organized our first annual climate rally in Northern Virginia.
Many if not all climate activists share my motivation: We want to save the planet for our children, and our children’s children, and all future generations. But here’s the thing: The children might just end up saving us all.
Children, teens, and young adults are becoming influential leaders in the climate movement. We might be fighting for them. But they’re fighting for themselves, too.
They aren’t just marching — they’re affecting the political process in many different ways. Just as the March for Our Lives and other youth organizations have become a big deal in the larger gun control movement, youth climate organizations have a huge voice and ambitious reach in the climate movement as a whole.
For 13 years, YOUNGO, an international network of youth organizations, has had an official voice at U.N. climate conferences and hosted an annual “Conference of Youth.”
The Sunrise Movement, the primary activist group leading the call for a Green New Deal, was founded by 20-somethings seeking to organize young people all over the country.
Co-founder Varshini Prakash sums up their determination and optimism: “My nightmares are full of starving children and land that is too sick to bear food,” she said. “But my dreams are also full of a rising tide of people who see the world for what it is, people who see the greed and selfishness of wealthy men, of fossil-fuel billionaires who plunder our earth for profit.”
Zero Hour, a group that organized the Youth Climate March in D.C. and sister marches around the country last July, is led by teenagers. It was founded by Jamie Margolin when she was just 16. Now 17, she’s one of the most influential climate activists in the country.
These young people aren’t just taking to the streets, but they’re also taking on the legal system.
In Juliana v. United States, youth plaintiffs aged 11 to 20 are suing the U.S. government for failing to protect public resources — that is, the planet we all share — and therefore violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This lawsuit has inspired similar legal action at the state level, in all 50 states.
When my son is a teenager, I hope that he’s as politically and socially engaged as these young activists. I can’t think of better role models for him. I want my kid to care desperately about his future, to speak up loudly and frequently, to act deliberately, to work hard, and to create a better reality.
I look forward to working alongside him.
Norah Vawter is a freelance writer living in Northern Virginia. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
School board in Virginia may end transgender bathroom ban
By BEN FINLEY
Monday, February 18
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — For nearly four years, Gavin Grimm has been suing his former school district after it banned him from using the boys bathrooms in high school.
Along the way, he’s became a national face for transgender rights. His case almost went to the U.S. Supreme Court. He graduated and moved to California but kept fighting.
The school board in Virginia may finally be giving in, although not in court. It will hold a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the possibility of allowing transgender students to use restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
“I have fought this legal battle for the past four years because I want to make sure that other transgender students do not have to go through the same pain and humiliation that I did,” he said.
The Gloucester County School Board’s meeting comes just months before a trial is set to begin over its current bathroom rules.
Grimm said the proposed policy “is far from perfect, but would represent an important first step for Gloucester.” The policy “would also send the message to school districts across (Virginia) and the country that discrimination is unacceptable,” he said.
Grimm has also been expanding his case against the school board. A federal judge ruled Thursday that he can sue over its refusal to change the gender on his high school transcript, which still lists him as female.
Grimm said the unchanged transcript will stigmatize him every time he applies to a college or potential employer that asks for it.
“I shouldn’t have to be outed against my will in every situation where I would have to give that document,” Grimm said during a phone interview from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he moved after graduating in 2017.
A court order legally made Grimm a man. And he is listed as male on his birth certificate, passport and a state-issued identification card in California.
The issue of Grimm’s transcript highlights another concern in the transgender community that, like bathroom policies, remains far from settled across the nation.
Federal law does not directly address the issue. Some states, such as Massachusetts, provide explicit guidance to schools for updating records. Others, such as Virginia, do not provide a clear path forward to schools.
“The issue is certainly rising as more students express their gender identity,” said Francisco M. Negron Jr., chief legal officer for the National School Boards Association.
“We would hope states offer clear guidance,” he added. “The alternative is that students would have to make the case on their own, and school districts would not have the benefit of clarity under state law.”
Paul D. Castillo, an attorney for the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, said Grimm’s effort to update his transcript is “not an isolated incident.”
“But it might be one of the first challenges based on federal law to update a student’s legal record,” Castillo said.
David Corrigan, the lead attorney for the Gloucester County School Board, declined to comment on the case or on how it could be impacted by a possible policy change. The district is located about an hour east of Richmond.
Grimm’s lawsuit has followed a circuitous path that almost included a stop at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court had scheduled arguments for 2017. But they were scrapped after the Trump Administration withdrew recommendations from the Obama-era to allow students to use the bathroom of their chosen gender.
As recently as December, Gloucester was still fighting the lawsuit as well as Grimm’s efforts to bring his transcripts into it.
Grimm and the American Civil Liberties Union claim the policy violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and federal policies that protect against sex discrimination. They make the same argument about Grimm’s transcripts.
The school board had argued that its bathroom policy did not violate Grimm’s rights but protected students’ privacy.
Regarding the transcripts, the board says such records are a matter of state law, which shouldn’t be argued in federal court.
Plus, the board said, Grimm has ignored federal guidance on such matters. The guidance recommends holding a hearing with school officials to discuss changing “misleading” or “inaccurate” information on a record.
If the board refuses to make a change, the guidance says a person can then place a statement with the contested record that lays out his or her point of view.
It’s unclear if a change in the board’s bathroom policy could lead to a change on Grimm’s transcripts.
Since moving to California, Grimm has been studying at a community college and working as an activist and educator.
He’s been able to avoid submitting his transcript to anyone so far. But that will likely change soon. He’s looking for more traditional work and will eventually apply to four-year schools.
“I’m still tethered to 2017 by this document,” he said. “It’s unfair that a high school that put me through so much is able to wield that much negative influence over my adult life.”
Now It’s Completely Normal for Women to Run for President
Gender isn’t a qualification for serving as president, of course. It’s just that for nearly two-and-a-half centuries, it has been.
By Jill Richardson | February 13, 2019
Something new is happening in the 2020 presidential election cycle. For the first time ever, running for president is a normal thing that women do.
In the past several election cycles, there’s been a token woman in the running in both major parties. In 2000, Senator Elizabeth Dole ran as a Republican. In 2004, Senator Carol Moseley-Braun ran as a Democrat. Neither was considered a serious candidate with an actual shot at the presidency.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton mounted a serious bid for president but was defeated by Obama in the primaries. That year, John McCain added Sarah Palin to his ticket as his running mate. In 2012, Representative Michele Bachmann ran in the Republican primary.
In 2016, Carly Fiorina ran as a Republican, and Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote as a Democrat, but lost the electoral college.
In each election cycle, women have gotten increasingly closer to the Oval Office. And it appears there’s been an unspoken quota of one woman per party per election cycle.
This time, that’s changed.
On the Democratic side, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard have all officially declared as candidates for president. (So have a number of men, of course.)
My excitement at this stage isn’t over any one specific candidate; it’s simply over the fact that there are five women running. Women are no longer merely tokens. Running for president is now a normal thing that women do. It’s even a normal thing that women of color do, since the field of candidates isn’t limited to white women.
Gender isn’t a qualification for serving as president, of course. I still hope the best candidate wins, regardless of gender.
The problem is that, in the past, gender was a qualification for serving as president. Power, authority, and expertise were seen as traits of men. Women were seen as better suited to making dinner than making foreign policy. If you wanted to be president, you had to be a man.
Our nation was founded with overtly patriarchal norms and laws. Married women couldn’t own property. Women couldn’t vote until well into the 20th century. Until the 1990s, in some states it was still legal for men to rape their wives.
We’ve been working our way toward gender equality since the Seneca Falls convention in 1848. We’re not fully there yet. But a field of candidates that includes five women shows we’re headed in the right direction.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in San Diego. Distributed by OtherWords.org.