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Senator hears climate change concerns at Hobcaw

  • Friday, April 25, 2014

Eileen Keithly/For South Strand News Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse views native fish species in the 1,200-gallon saltwater aquarium in the Hobcaw Barony Discovery Center.

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U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, listened to the concerns of local residents and scientists about the effects of climate change on the southeastern U.S. coastline, as he explored the marshes of Hobcaw Barony by land and sea on Tuesday.

As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, Senator Whitehouse has helped lead the fight in Washington for action on climate change.

“Tell me about this beautiful property,” Whitehouse asked George Chastain, executive director of Hobcaw Barony, “I want to know more.” Using one of the large, detailed maps in the Discovery Center, Chastain took Whitehouse on a brief historical tour of the 16,000 acres. Drawing attention to the Hobcaw coastline in particular, Dr. James T. Morris, Director of the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences remarked, “Much of the water that you will be boating across this morning was once forest.”

Delivering more than 60 speeches on the Senate floor urging Congress to respond to the threats of changing climate, Senator Whitehouse is now taking his message to new audiences along the coast of the Southeast. His trip included stops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It will conclude with a Climate Science Briefing and Panel and a Rally for a Climate Ready South Florida, hosted by the CLEO Institute.

Senator Whitehouse believes that the strength of communities, like ones around Georgetown, depend on the health of our oceans.

Extreme weather and warming, rising, and acidifying seas put them at risk. When asked how he plans to rally communities that are rich in both coastlines and companies that emit carbon pollutants, such as Georgetown’s paper mill, Whitehouse responded, “That is a very difficult situation, and one that I am just learning how to address. It is one of the reasons for my trip.”

Whitehouse went on to say, “In Rhode Island, we are starting to see more mid-winter blooms of summer flowers, and people are starting to see that it truly is carbon pollutants causing these changes … Hopefully people in this area will begin to see the same thing is happening in the changes to their coastlines, and that is a direct result of carbon pollutants.”

After touring the Discovery Center, Senator Whitehouse fielded questions from the small crowd, and then was taken to Clambake Landing, where he and his staff boarded a boat from the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences, and headed out to inspect the coastline. Providing scientific observations along the way were: Dr. James T. Morris, director of the institute, Dr. Carol Boggs, director of University of South Carolina’s School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment, and Dr. Timothy A. Mousseau, director of the Chernobyl Research Initiative and professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina.

Answering Senator Whitehouse’s question on the current rate of erosion, Dr. Morris pointed out, “The current acceleration of sea level actually started with the onset of the Industrial Revolution… the current rate of erosion is dynamic.”

Before leaving on his boat excursion, Senator Whitehouse pledged to continue his effort to hold events such as this trip along the coast to highlight the risks posed by climate change to public health and coastal communities.

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