South Carolina Flooding Is The Scary New Reality For Businesses

"Businesses confront a lot of challenges and have a wide range of risks, but this is large and it is growing. It's just one you can't ignore."
Sean Rayford via Getty Images

Drenched dollars aren't easily spent.

In South Carolina, where heavy weekend rainfall caused the worst flooding in a millennium, the local economy has ground to halt. Rescue workers are evacuating those trapped in flooded neighborhoods of the counties surrounding Columbia, the state's capital. Officials have also warned other residents to stay home during the cleanup. In many parts of the state, customers can't shop and employees can't work.

"Without consumer demand, all the small businesses are hurting," Frank Knapp Jr., president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, told The Huffington Post by phone. "Even if they weren't inundated with water and flooding, they still were hurt severely by the loss of revenue."

The floods resulted from Hurricane Joaquin, which never made landfall over South Carolina but combined with other weather systems, soaking the region on Sunday. Nine people have died. It's unclear how costly the damage will be.

Such extreme events are expected to become more common in the coming years, as the already-irreversible effects of climate change take hold. And bad weather is not good for business.

"It's a reality of doing business, it's a reality of life for all of us," Cynthia McHale, the director of insurance at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, told HuffPost on Monday. "We're in for a lot of rough weather, among other things."

Wildfires that destroy property and uproot residents. Heat waves that, as refrigerators and air conditioners roar, cause outages on power grids. Droughts that make water for agriculture and manufacturing even more scarce.

"You need to know the climate change risks to you and your business and, in the case of floods, have an emergency plan for the evacuation of employees," McHale said. "At some point, you may decide you can't continue to operate your business where you have been."

Businesses can even feel ripple effects from storms and floods halfway around the world.

In 2011, deadly deluges in Thailand damaged factories in Bangkok's bustling manufacturing sector, disrupting supply chains for multinationals such as Apple, Toyota and Unilever. More than 800 people died in the floods, which caused nearly $46 billion in property damages, according to the World Bank.

To be sure, businesses around the world have awakened to the new realities of climate change and the need to mitigate its effects.

Earlier this month, during a series of announcements in New York for Climate Week, business leaders put pressure on political officials to curb carbon emissions.

An unlikely coalition of big corporations -- including Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson and Walmart -- formed to set dates by which they would completely convert to using renewable energy. Since last year, the number of companies vowing to wean off fossil fuels by setting internal carbon pricing has tripled.

Even bankers are waking up to the need for radical change. In a joint statement released last week, a group of six colossal U.S. banks called for a "strong global climate agreement" during the United Nations' conference in Paris in December.

"It's really gargantuan, it really is," McHale said of climate risks. "I understand that businesses confront a lot of challenges and have a wide range of risks, but this is large and it is growing. It's just one you can't ignore."

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