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South Sustainable

image credit: Source: USGCRP
Chris Parker's picture
Principal Kingfisher Parker

Advisory & projects: Climate action, ESG, environmental markets, renewable energy, sustainability, CSR & conservation. Consultant to companies and nonprofits.

  • Member since 2020
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  • Aug 21, 2020
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For 320 years my family has lived in the southeastern U.S., which has provided a quality of life good enough to have them want to stay that long. The next several years are critical for determining the quality of life for our future generations in the southeast, as well as everywhere else on the planet. 2021–2030 has been declared by the UN, the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. To secure a habitable place for our grandchildren and their children, everyone has a responsibility, actions to take and the opportunity to contribute. Over the next decade we collectively and individually need to decarbonize economies, create sustainable food systems, protect and restore enough natural land, water and biodiversity, while providing jobs in the process. It’s an immense challenge, but with huge opportunity.

The effects of climate change will greatly impact the southeast; sea level rise, heat stress and hurricanes.

Rising tides — In south Florida, south Louisiana, Virginia Beach and Charleston, SC the real estate markets are already starting to adjust to the realities of the rising ocean. The term “climate gentrification” has begun in Miami, where inland, low income communities are being bought and transformed into new, more affluent developments because the higher elevation is a current and future benefit. Metro Miami already experiences inland tidal flooding, which will get worse.

 

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The Coastal Vulnerability Index used here is based on tidal range, wave height, coastal slope, shoreline change, landform and processes, and historical rate of relative sea level rise. Source: USGCRP

 

Hot — I grew up without air conditioning in a large 19th century wooden house in the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, FL. Ocean breeze, open windows and fans was how life went in the summer. I don’t see me wanting to relive that life style in a couple of decades. Under current GHG emission models, my hometown would have up to 40 additional days of temperatures above 95 degrees by mid-century. Heat stress is the southeast will have dramatic implications for human health, work force productivity, crop production, building cooling needs and water scarcity. Looking at the map below, the phrase — “hot as Georgia asphalt” will get redefined.

 

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Historic patterns from 1971–2000 to future estimates for 2041–2070 under a scenario with high greenhouse gas emissions. Adapted from: USGCRP

 

Hurricanes have always been a part of life in the south. In the 1980s, brown paper shopping bags from Winn Dixie grocery stores displayed a storm tracking map during hurricane season. The 2020 NOAA hurricane prediction is “extremely active” with up to 25 named storms and 3–6 major hurricanes. Already, from the activity of the past few years the names and details of storms are running together in the minds of coastal communities.

Without significant and collective action on climate change, the southeast is facing a crisis; one of health, economics and way of life. With a crisis is an opportunity. All around the southeast is great potential for climate action in energy, manufacturing, clean technologies and job creation. From past political and cultural dynamics, issues around climate and sustainability progressed more in the northeast and the west coast. As these issues are now central themes for business and a lot less about politics, the south has an array of catch up opportunities.

Climate action — southern style

Gone With The Wind — From Virginia to Florida, there is giant potential in power generation from offshore wind. A predictable, 100% domestic, renewable energy that can play a key role in corporate and government GHG emission targets is a feasible reality, if we want it. In an April release from American Wind Energy Association — 85 percent of voters agree wind energy is a clean, renewable, and affordable power source of the future, including 80 percent of Republicans. A primary reason for the fast growing support for offshore wind?

Jobs — Around 3500 oil and gas structures currently stand in the Gulf of Mexico. Thankfully, those rigs were never built on the east coast and its the prediction of this author, that they never will be. The oil and gas industry is retracting as investors, consumers and voters increasingly want to decarbonize our economy. The jobs that are going away in the Gulf of Mexico can transfer to the Atlantic. The offshore workforce skills already exist. According to E2(Environmental Entrepreneurs) it’s estimated for every 352 megawatts developed in the southeast, 4950 jobs are created through construction. Combining offshore wind development and power generation with the component manufacturing, port revitalization and supply chain businesses, creates a ton of economic opportunity.

 

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The first wind turbine in U.S. federal lease waters, as part of the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, June 20, 2020

“North Carolina has enough offshore wind resource potential to cover 100% of the state’s electricity usage more than nine times over. A full buildout of offshore wind in the Southeast could power the region more than five times over.” Katharine Kollins, President, Southeastern Wind Coalition

My great grandmother used to call people carpetbaggers who moved into town from the north. The migration from the northeast and midwest to the south continues. As the population of the southeastern U.S. continues to expand and diversify, it’s creating new potential, which include ways to contribute to innovation for climate action and sustainable economics.

Cleantech — Downtown Durham, NC was once dominated by tobacco facilities. Today those former plants and warehouses are redesigned and many of the new tenants are clean tech start ups and clean energy companies. Graduates and families working in high tech and venture capital, who years ago would have gone to Silicon Valley or Manhattan have discovered they can find nearly the same resources in Durham. A community of entrepreneurship and innovation has been established. New companies working on climate solutions can recruit the needed high end talent, with lower expenses and attractive quality of workforce life. The Triangle, which includes downtown Durham is filled with incubators, technology ventures and associations like Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster that’s fostering entrepreneurial business expansion.

Sunshine states — Part of the Triangle’s cleantech community was created in the success of North Carolina’s solar energy industry. From years of supportive state government and organizations like the NC Sustainable Energy Association made the state 2nd in solar energy generation behind California. South Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Georgia all have a lot of PV projects underway, trying to catch up. It’s worth remembering that unlike coal, gas and oil, solar energy is not a depleating commodity that requires extraction and being set on fire. Solar energy is really a technology that will keep getting more efficient and economical. A solar spill is just a sunny day.

 

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52-megawatt solar farm in Hazlehurst, Ga. Ever cheaper and better solar technology, available land and lots of sunshine are driving demand for utility-scale solar projects across the Southeast.

“We have essentially doubled our solar energy procurement every three years since 2013 and I expect that to continue until 2025.” Tim Echols, Vice-Chairman of the Georgia Pubic Service Commission

Electric Avenue — An important part of decarbonizing our economy is electrifying transportation. EVs are incrementally displacing gasoline vehicles. EVs can be manufactured in the south, because car production has already moved here from the rust belt and overseas. Where are these plants? Mercedes-Benz in Alabama, Toyota in Tennessee, BMW in South Carolina, Nissan in Mississippi. Porsche’s U.S. headquarters is in Georgia. Whoever gets the formula right for the electric pick up truck, look out.

The southeast has all of the climate risks, needs and opportunities to give everyone a role to play. Everyone can contribute. Governments, companies, investors, NGOs and consumers need to make decisions and actions around every opportunity in the next several years to make the south sustainable for the next generations.

“We have got to use every opportunity to improve individually so we can improve collectively.” Coach Nick Saban, Alabama football

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 21, 2020

When I moved to FL I purposely picked a spot in-state enough to avoid the most immediate climate impacts-- while joking that I was just pre-paying for what would become beach-front property. 

I do think in Florida, at least, we're starting to see real movement from those in power-- utilities, politicians, etc.-- that recognize the threat is real, imminent, and the longer we debate or drag our feet the more likely it is that people will suffer soon. I wish it didn't take 'something might affect me now' for people to act and was rather 'this is something we need to do, self-interest or not,' and hopefully we haven't waited too long!

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Aug 24, 2020

Chris, Great article and very timely. Florida is already having issues from rising sea levels. The surge and storms have really made it hard on those living there. My wife grew up there and loved living near the beach but in just 10 years trime since she moved it has become much more vunerable. 

  In FACT Florida is known as the Sun Shine state yet they have never devolped Solar PV as much as other states. We now live in Arizona and have had solar PV since 2001. No devestating storms or oceans to worry about but it can get pretty hot. 

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