Charleston 2030 Project
What would a climate conscious Charleston look like?
We have built every aspect of our society -- our buildings, transportation, food systems, waste, and energy systems -- around carbon pollutants. We're now fully aware that throwing up greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will flood, heat, and wreck the Lowcountry as we know it. So the path forward is clear: we must embrace creative climate solutions to change the structures in which we live, and we must do it as swiftly and vigorously as possible.
In the first phase of the Charleston 2030 Project, we're researching the most exciting and promising climate actions out there -- vertical sorghum farms to suck up CO2 from the ports, buildings with plant-covered roofs made from pressed earth and hempcrete, universal composting and landfills built to get fuel from methane -- and then doing the hard work of figuring out how they would translate to the Lowcountry.
However, lowering emissions is only one piece of this. We must hold equity at the center as we research climate solutions and work with the communities who will be most affected by the climate crisis — the same groups who are often denied a voice in these discussions.
In the short term, we want actionable policies that we could implement tomorrow and begin drawing down our emissions and forming a more livable, equitable Lowcountry. In the long term, the Charleston area is going to have to look very different. We hope this aspirational, eco-futurist vision can serve as a roadmap for getting there.
Charleston 2030 Climate Action Guidelines
You wouldn't construct a building out of ivory. Load-bearing ability aside, you wouldn't be able to look at it without thinking of the elephantine suffering and destruction that it required -- its injustice is inherent.
But what if that applies to every building in Charleston?
Concrete cement production is as much as 5% of global carbon emissions: every new building hastens the climate crisis that will ruin hundreds of millions of lives. And that's not mentioning the energy our buildings burn through, tying them to the coal plants and fracked gas that are worsening the climate crisis and polluting our air.
But it doesn't have to be this way! We're researching carbon-neutral and even carbon-negative building material, so new construction can fight the climate crisis, not contribute to it. We're also agitating for wide-scale energy efficiency retrofits to existing buildings, which both saves money and lowers climate impact.
As we're transforming this sector, we can build climate-friendly affordable housing and invest in weatherization of low-income households, so our most impoverished aren't uniquely vulnerable to extreme weather events or paying $500 a month on utility bills.
Charleston has a car problem. Traffic gets worse every year, and the solution we keep pursuing, expanding highways, has been proven to do nothing to ease traffic. Our Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) are higher than equivalent metro areas. That means tremendous emissions from all the cars on the road. That means something needs to change.
Expanding public transportation will be critical to getting cars off the road. That'll require a more robust CARTA, with higher frequency routes and expansion to the many transit deserts in Charleston County.
Walking and biking infrastructure requires more investment, so people can safely travel emission-free. BCDCOG has put together a great walk-bike plan for the tricounty that just needs funding.
But it's not just alternate forms of transportation that need to be addressed. Our transportation infrastructure means we lay a massive amount of asphalt across the county. We should use alternative, porous, carbon-neutral materials for roads and parking lots to combat flooding and lower the enormous carbon footprint of our transportation infrastructure. And while we're at it, we should add solar overhangs to all the real estate being taken up by parking.
You may not know it, but one of the biggest climate polluters may be sitting in your trash can. The scientists over at Project Drawdown, in ranking the various climate solutions by carbon drawdown potential, have Reduced Food Waste at number one -- over solar, over wind, over everything.
Clearly, we need to take food waste seriously. We recommend municipal composting and incentivization through a Save as you Throw program, which would mean you pay less for your trash if more of it goes into composting and recycling. In addition, we should implement robust food rescue programs to connect perfectly edible food with our many hungry Charlestonians.
Unbridled consumption is a big part of why we're in this climate mess, so what we really need is a circular economy. We can shift from overconsumption to reusing, repairing, and producing goods locally. There's no need to drive more industrial combustion when we could do so much more with what we already have.