Georgia Southern professor, coastal expert discusses Biden administration’s climate change actions

Our Changing Climate

STATESBORO, Ga. (WSAV) — President Joe Biden recently signed executive orders that would help his administration address climate change-related issues both in the United States and abroad.

These actions, some of which include building modern and sustainable infrastructure and working toward an equitable clean-energy future, appear to show Biden’s intent to make good on his promise of aggressively tackling climate change.

Along coastal South Carolina and Georgia, sea level rise and warmer water temperatures are among the biggest threats, according to experts like Georgia Southern University’s Dr. John Carroll, who works as an associate biology professor at the Statesboro campus.

Much of the marine biologist’s research involves studying environmental issues affecting shellfish, like oysters, along Georgia’s coast.

“It’s called the Lowcountry for a reason, it’s low in elevation,” Carroll told WSAV NOW.

“When we have small changes in sea level, that can have big impacts in the communities that live along the coast, [like] Tybee Island,” he said.

The professor says the Biden administration’s initial steps to respond to the effects of climate change are necessary. 

“Just acknowledging that it’s a problem that we need to address is something that’s important,” he said. He notes that waiting any longer to put plans in action could prove costly as time goes on.

“Hurricanes, for example — last year, we had over eight storms that had over $1 billion worth of damage, that was the 10th straight year that happened,” Carroll said.

“The Georgia coastline generates about $2 billion annually in tourism, but it might cost over $130 million annually to deal with problems associated with erosion and sea level rise, so trying to deal with it now is a much cheaper option than all the negative costs that will be associated [with climate change] down the line,” he said.

In addition to the research Carroll conducts, he says many other Georgia Southern experts are taking a closer look at the impacts of climate change. 

The university’s biology and geology faculty members are working on a project with the Army Corps of Engineers to address the risk of disappearing marshes due to sea level rise.

“The Army Corps is trying different ways to protect those marshes, and one way that they’re trying in Georgia on a test site is something called thin-layer placement,” Carroll said.

It involves essentially pumping a lot of mud up onto the marsh, he explains, and Georgia Southern’s experts will monitor how well it works as a form of marsh stabilization.

Carroll says when an administration places greater emphasis on areas like climate change, it allows for more money to be made available for researchers like himself and his colleagues.

“It resets some of the priorities from the federal organizations that fund scientific research, both basic and applied scientific research,” Carroll said, adding, “In that way, it helps researchers to be able to continue to ask questions on the impacts of climate change and strategies that we could do along the coastline, for example, to manage our coastal communities, and keep protecting our shorelines and the species that live there.”

Carroll says steps to address climate change should be happening at every level of government, from federal and state levels down to local municipalities.

“I think having these task forces and having the federal agencies come up with plans, when those plans are in place, then there’s something that, say, the city of Tybee can look at in terms of federal guidelines on trying to protect things like their beaches and their community,” he said. 

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