South Carolina is home to just over 5 million people. 40th in size among the states, it covers just over 30 thousand square miles of land and boasts a 187-mile ocean shoreline consisting of the Grand Strand, an unbroken beach stretching from the North Carolina border southward for more than 100 miles before giving way to the tidal and freshwater marshes of the Sea Islands, which extend into Georgia. Before colonization, South Carolina was home to Native American tribes such as the Catawba, Chicora, PeeDee, Creek and Cusobo. English colonizers established a large settlement that would become North and South Carolina in 1670, and began bringing captured peoples from Africa to labor on plantations. Boone Hall, the oldest plantation in the country, can be found in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
Sea level rise, fueled by warming waters, poses an urgent threat to South Carolina’s coastal ecosystems, economy (which is primarily agricultural and tourism), as well as the lives of almost 230 thousand people who live in risk of coastal flooding — a number expected to increase by over 50 thousand within thirty years. Cities like Charleston are already seeing frequent floods during high tide. As severe storms and hurricanes grow more frequent and more intense, with 29 federally declared disasters between 1954-2020 for water related incidents alone, the general sea level rise compounds the threat of a storm surge. By 2050, a 100-year flood will become nine times more likely, or an approximately 1-in-11-year event. A changing climate is also likely to change the composition of South Carolina’s forests, which cover two-thirds of the state.
Nuclear energy is the leading source of electricity generation in South Carolina. By 2018, the state ranked third in the nation for both generating capacity and annual generation. South Carolina has, however, no petroleum, coal or gas reserves or production. All their fossil fuels come from outside the state, primarily by rail or by pipeline. Coal still accounts for about one-fifth of the state’s electricity generation – down by half from a decade ago; natural gas slightly exceeds one-fifth surpassing coal for the first time in 2018. South Carolina’s primary renewables supply the rest (about 6%), including hydropower facilities, biomass-fueled power plants that use wood waste or landfill gas, and solar energy.The state’s even has an anaerobic digester, which came online in 2011, generating power from methane gas captured at a hog farm and from another that uses poultry waste in 2013. Generating more electricity than it consumes South Carolina pumps its surplus across the regional grid to other states.
While South Carolina does not have a statewide climate adaptation plan, the state has passed legislation aimed at adaptation efforts. For example, the 2018 update to the South Carolina Hazard Mitigation Plan, without once mentioning climate change, analyzes risks affecting the state and identifies actions to mitigate their impact. Earlier, in 2014, South Carolina passed a Voluntary Renewables Portfolio Standard bill for the state to reach 2% renewable energy by 2021. The state has not updated that standard to reflect either the urgency of the climate crisis or the growth of renewables’ role in its energy mix.