AROUND THE STATE:Less cattle, less flooding?
South Carolina is finally focused on preventing flooding. Now we need to go deeper
A few blocks from the governor’s mansion in Columbia, billboards went up earlier this month urging Gov. Henry McMaster to combat flooding by paying cattle farmers to switch to planting fruits, vegetables and grains.
It’s part of a campaign by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to reduce the atmospheric levels of methane gas, which cows produce in great quantities and which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide.
The Washington-based group, which promotes plant-based diets, argues that we should concentrate more on methane because it’s 25 times as potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and dissipates more quickly, which means reducing production could pay off faster. Columbia’s State newspaper reports that the group decided to launch its cropsnotcattle.org initiative in South Carolina because flooding is such a huge problem here.
There’s no question that Americans eat more meat (and everything else, for that matter) than is healthy. And contrary to the impression you’d get from the hostile reaction from farm organizations, there’s nothing anti-farmer or even anti-cattle about suggesting the state provide incentives for any farmer who might want to switch to a more carbon-friendly operation.
Still, it’s a bizarre effort, since South Carolina doesn’t come close to being a major cattle producer and the only thing a governor could do about incentives is to ask the Legislature politely to create them. And we suspect that we speak for most South Carolinians when we say we have no interest in eliminating meat as a food source.
But the campaign is an important reminder that we need to be thinking — and acting — more broadly about how we can combat the flooding that poses an existential threat to Charleston and, by extension, a massive economic threat to our entire state.
Beyond buying out properties that repeatedly flood, discouraging or even prohibiting building in more flood-prone areas, improving drainage systems, building a wall around peninsular Charleston and taking other steps to mitigate the effects of higher sea levels and heavier rainfall events, we also need to focus on the higher global temperatures that are driving these catastrophic changes.
The anti-cattle group apparently wants Mr. McMaster’s S.C. Floodwater Commission to take on that broader challenge. But the commission made a deliberate decision to deal exclusively with the effects of flooding rather than its causes, and while it did come up with the idea of having a state resiliency office, it further made the decision to play up small, individual efforts, from cleaning out overgrown creeks to planting trees.
And frankly, our state faces such a dire threat that there clearly is a role for an organization focused solely on flood mitigation and encouraging individuals to make a difference — not just because it increases the political buy-in for any larger efforts but also because individuals can make a difference.
What we need is an entity — not necessarily a new state agency, or even an agency at all — that can take the lead on envisioning, encouraging and coordinating the many efforts our state needs to undertake to help address global climate change. But first, we need a lot more state and local leaders who are committed to that goal.
Reprited with permission from The State newspaper of Columbia.