by Belvin Olasov
We really do live in unprecedented times. The last time there was this much CO2 in the atmosphere, there were no ice caps, and Charleston was part of the ocean floor. The climate crisis and the Lowcountry as we know it are incompatible — it’s either one or the other. So we have two paths before us. We can band together and transform the Lowcountry into a climate action hub, doing our part to end fossil fuels, reduce car dependence, protect wetlands and forests, weatherize our buildings, and more to get the runaway heating of our planet under control. Or we can accept that Charleston and everything around it will die a slow death from heat, hurricanes, and the creeping tide.
The Charleston Climate Coalition came together in the fall of 2019 as a group of fired-up citizens rallying for the Global Climate Strike. We saw that the climate crisis was coming and the Lowcountry was frozen in place. Over the past two years, we’ve fought for action. We helped pass climate resolutions in James Island and Charleston County, pushed back against proposals by Dominion Energy to kill rooftop solar, and championed Charleston’s Climate Action Plan. We’ve worked to connect and bind together the climate community, establishing climate alliances of local groups and businesses, putting on community events like the Tour de Earth Day ecotour and Climate Faire, and surveying public housing residents on their environmental justice concerns.
It’s all to build towards that bright green future, one where we’ve made our systems and society just and whole — and finally liberated ourselves from the specter of the climate crisis. To join in that movement is one of the great calls to adventure of our lifetimes. We hope you’ll join us.
Charleston Climate Coalition Central Tenets
1. Climate activism should be joyful
Because the realities of the climate crisis are so dark and potentially overwhelming, we as activists must meet it with joy and creativity — to sustain us, nourish us, and revolutionize. Otherwise, we face burnout, depression, anxiety, and avoidance.
To do this work requires reckoning with grief, knowing what we’ve already lost to the climate crisis and accepting that. But grief, when processed, can deepen our love for what’s here and what can still remain — and can help us as activists to cherish the communities we work with, the land we protect, and the golden moment we live in when we can still save so, so much.
So we celebrate as we agitate and we sing as we fight. We make art and playful events and magazines. That way, everyone can wake up the next morning and choose to do this another day.
2. Climate action must mend injustice
The climate crisis will take the fault lines in the Black, Brown, and low-income communities of Charleston — the decaying and unsafe housing, food insecurity, wealth inequality, flooded neighborhoods, and environmental toxins — and deepen them into collapse. Already, these communities are taking the brunt of climate consequences. If we choose to be awake to the climate crisis, then we must be awake to the racist and oppressive structures that deepen the crisis, too.
It’s our duty as activists, walking in the footsteps of the civil rights movement, to recognize the Lowcountry’s need for repair work and to center that in our climate solutions. We need to concretely improve folks’ lives and health as we improve our climate’s health — to weatherize homes, expand transportation access, provide tree canopy and food access to neighborhoods in need, and stand with the local racial justice movement.
If mending injustice isn’t at the heart of what we do, then we face a real possibility of doing more harm than good. And we’re here to do good.
3. We need to build a mass movement
We humans are social beings. We naturally look to our friends and communities to know: are we safe? Is there danger? And if everyone is carrying on as if things are fine, then it’s the rare person who wants to be the odd one out. That’s been the Lowcountry the past decade — carrying on as if we’re not staring out at a hungry, rising sea, with only a small cadre of enviro-folks sounding the alarm.
This is a crisis situation, a real hair-on-fire scenario. The UN IPCC report has told us we have less than a decade to reverse warming before the consequences get distinctly apocalyptic. And we face powerful opposing forces, like the fossil fuel companies that have spread disinformation and lobbied politicians for decades to protect their fossil fuel portfolios and prevent us from acting on climate.
The only way to overcome the countervailing forces of capital and governmental inertia is with a broad, strong coalition of Lowcountry citizens from every walk of life. We need a rising tide of people power, a crashing wave of workers, artists, students, elders, shops, churches, and everyone else crying out for change. We need a Surge, if you will.
A PERSONAL NOTE
My father died in the summer of 2018 after a long, hard 3 years of cancer. Afterwards, I felt a need to reenter the world, and as part of that I wanted to do my part on the climate crisis. Bafflingly, there was no existing climate activism group to join in climate vulnerable Charleston, SC. So in time, I met up with local folks who cared, we put on a rally, we carried on as the Charleston Climate Coalition. Three years after dad passed, I’m still at it.
I think the connection is this: my dad’s cancer was terminal. There was nothing I could do to save him. But the climate crisis is not a terminal diagnosis, not yet. I can’t stand the idea of standing by while we have the treatment and letting our window pass and the world as we know it die. To be able to heal, still, is a gift, not to be wasted.
I don’t come from a background in science or the environment. I’m a writer whose primary skill is making things up. So I can provide ideas and visions. But I need you to help populate those visions — to find where what you’re good at, what energizes you, and what can help the planet intersect, and to throw yourself into that with your full heart.