Susan Crawford

SC - Commentary: Charleston-focused book on climate and race shortchanges both

Susan Crawford has a keen eye for marketing, but less so for honest journalism. Her recently released book, “Charleston: Race, Water, and the Coming Storm,” purports to explore the linkage between Charleston’s tragic history of racial oppression and the existential threat that sea level rise poses for the city. But Crawford’s conflation of the subjects of race and sea level rise fails to illuminate either one, much less offer solutions.

Not only does she misrepresent the situation in Charleston, she also neglects many of the people and organizations that have struggled with these issues for more than three decades. Further, the author ignores the important and instructive progress on climate that is already underway in the Lowcountry.

Crawford correctly raises the alarm that despite volumes of scientific research pointing to an impending catastrophe in coastal cities, two municipal administrations spanning 48 years have failed to take the steps that could save Charleston from disaster — an oversight that is sadly representative of almost every city on the East Coast. But the book’s authority is undermined by factual errors and omissions that careful research would have avoided.

For example, Crawford describes the Coastal Conservation League, an organization I founded in 1989, as a “single-issue group” that “will back someone (a political candidate) who opposes new highways and is thinking about conservation, but that person will never mention housing and equity and transportation.”


Read also

Charleston: Race, Water, and the Coming Storm Hardcover – April 4, 2023 (Amazon)

by  Susan Crawford  (Author), Annette Gordon-Reed  (Foreword)

Q&A with Susan Crawford, author of ‘Charleston: Race, Water and the Coming Storm’


As a Harvard law professor, Crawford should know that the Conservation League, like all tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations, is prohibited from “backing” political candidates of any sort, regardless of what they do or what they don’t mention.

Crawford also praises new urbanist developer Vince Graham — a former board member of the Coastal Conservation League — for questioning the extension of Interstate 526 to Johns Island.

Had Crawford thoroughly delved into the highway debate, she would have discovered that the “single-issue” Conservation League, in collaboration with black and white citizens on Johns and James islands — including the all-volunteer Nix-526 and the invaluable leadership of the late Johns Island leader Abe Jenkins — conducted a multidecade campaign against the 526 extension.

Notably, the coalition has called for exactly the comprehensive solution of equitable housing, intermodal transportation and climate resilience — “dense, affordable development on high, dry ground” — she claims the Conservation League has ignored.

Another initiative Crawford overlooks but that is a central part of the climate solution, is the South Carolina land conservation movement. Over the past 40 years, a coalition of conservation groups — leveraging local, state, federal and private dollars (with Charleston County having contributed the largest sum among the coastal counties) — has protected more than 1.25 million acres in the coastal plain of South Carolina.

One of the most effective strategies for mitigating carbon in the atmosphere, and reversing the threat of climate change, is to protect and restore forests, which rank among the greatest repositories of carbon on the planet.

The land conservation movement in the Lowcountry has achieved unparalleled success in this arena and is today a model for land conservation across the country.

Forests also attenuate the surge of water from increasingly severe storms. This was dramatically illustrated during the 2015 “rain bomb” spawned by Hurricane Joaquin.

Preceding the hurricane’s arrival, state resource agencies had predicted that Georgetown, just 60 miles north of Charleston, would be inundated with 3 feet of water.

Read more.