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Adapt: Changing Climate in the Carolinas

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David Boraks and NASA
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WFAE
Top from left: Hyde County farmer Ray Tooley, Hurricane Florence approaches Wilmington in 2018, flooding in west Charlotte in 2020, and a wind turbine off the Virginia Coast.

More intense hurricanes. Floods. Rising sea levels. Extreme heat. All symptoms of climate change in the Carolinas and around the globe. It's not a question of when they might affect us, but by how much.

WFAE climate reporter David Boraks hosts this one-hour special report that examines how climate change affects the Carolinas and how we're responding. We hear from scientists, farmers, policymakers and other experts, as well as from activists concerned with the inequities of climate change. And we'll hear from reporters on the front lines of climate change in the Carolinas.

It used to be that we debated the reality of climate change. But now 72% of Americans believe global warming is happening, and nearly as many are worried about it, according to Yale University's survey of climate opinion. Now the debate is over what to do about it.

"People are more convinced than ever that this is a crisis that we need to deal with. And people are willing to deal with it. They want to deal with it. It's going to require system change," said Susan Hassol, an Asheville-based climate communicator.

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Rural Beacon Initiative
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William Barber III

Climate and environmental justice advocate William Barber III said we need to address the inequities of climate change as we try to address the causes of climate change.

"When we look at the data, it tells us a story. The people who are facing the immediate impacts of the global climate crisis are largely people of color, largely in the southeastern United States, and largely poor," Barber said.

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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
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High tide flooding in Charleston, S.C.

Among the highlights:

  • Helen Chickering of Blue Ridge Public Radio in Asheville talks with people who help translate and communicate the science of climate change. They think climate jargon like "mitigation" and "greenhouse gas emissions" should be more precise.  "Those are terms we need to be careful about explaining and sometimes avoiding. If you mean reducing emissions — just say reducing emissions," said Tom Maycock, a science editor with NC State University's North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies.
  • Boraks interviews reporter Tony Bartelme of the Post & Courier in Charleston about his award-winning project "The Greenland Connection," which draws a link between melting glaciers there and sea level rise on the East Coast. "What's happening in Greenland is actually the most important thing to know about in terms of what's going to happen to our city in the future," Bartelme said.
  • Celeste Gracia of WUNC, North Carolina Public Radio, reports on a study that identified "heat islands" in Raleigh and Durham. Those are areas where temperatures on hot days can be 9 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in some neighborhoods — usually those in lower-income communities of color. 
  • WFDD's Keri Brown talks to Guilford County farmers grappling with the effects of climate change. Farmer Stephen Farrell said he can only control 1% of what happens on the farm, so "you just have to be able to be flexible with whatever weather change that is.”
  • A panel of reporters from around the Carolinas discusses key issues, including "sunny day flooding" in Charleston and Wilmington, energy reform in North Carolina and how local governments are setting climate goals. 
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Kathie Dello
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Kathie Dello, North Carolina's state climatologist.

As we contemplate our changing climate, efforts to prevent the worst effects are in high gear — from the global level down to the local one. Many people are optimistic, like state climatologist Kathie Dello.

"There's still time for us to do something both on the mitigation side to slow the problem down and also on the resilience side. So all hope is not lost, we can imagine a better state, we can imagine better communities that are climate resilient, and climate thriving," Dello said.

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Susan Joy Hassol

People often ask, "What can I do?" Climate communicator Susan Joy Hassol offered this advice:

"Individually, you can vote for leaders that will take climate action at every single level. Engage in that civic action. Call your leaders, let them know that this is something you care about. You can also volunteer and support groups that are taking climate action.… Fly less, drive less, drive an electric car, or an efficient car. Vote with your dollars, in your banking, in your investments in your purchases."

WHEN: The special is scheduled to air during "Charlotte Talks" on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 1, at 7 a.m. It also will air as WFAE's Sunday Special on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 6 p.m. It's also airing on other stations across North Carolina.

"Adapt: Changing Climate in the Carolinas" was hosted and produced at WFAE in Charlotte by David Boraks. We had production and editing help from Greg Collard and Eric Teel at WFAE, Bethany Chafin at WFDD and Helen Chickering at Blue Ridge Public Radio. This special report was supported in part by the 1earth and Salamander funds.  

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.
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