Big Sur California coastline

Climate change and environmental policy

UofSC-trained experts map a path forward for business and government

The debate is over. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that Earth’s rising temperatures and related phenomena — more frequent and severe drought, flooding and wildfires — are a result of human-caused climate change. But humans can also be part of the solution, and there is a veritable army of researchers working to better understand, mitigate or adapt to the effects of climate change.

Scientists who earned their Ph.D.s from South Carolina are applying their expertise to help corporations adopt more eco-friendly approaches to doing business and developing more equitable policies for coastal land use. 


Reem Deeb

Project manager, climate change and sustainability services, Ernst & Young

Degree: Master’s of Earth and Environmental Resource Management, 2013

Focus: Helping companies address environmental, social and governance issues in the age of climate change.

Why it matters: Companies that reduce their carbon footprints are key to mitigating the effects of climate change.

“There are companies going bankrupt because of climate change — think of Pacific Gas & Electric — and a lot of companies at the heart of the climate change crisis are losing investors, especially in oil and gas,” says Reem Deeb, who assists companies in better understanding their long-term business operations in light of climate change challenges. For some, developing water resilience in water-scarce regions is key; for others, it’s a matter of responding to stakeholder demands for more environmentally friendly practices. Ultimately, ignoring the threat of climate change is bad for the bottom line, Deeb says.

Deeb on the future: “Some companies are responding to climate change, but the response is not as strong as it should be. I do think we can make changes that will help if we want to, but it’s very difficult to make tremendous changes fast enough.”


Sumi Selvaraj

Environmental justice manager, California Coastal Commission

Degree: Master’s, geography, 2016

Focus: Environmental justice impacts in permitting, sea level rise adaptation and vulnerability assessments

Why it matters: Coastal areas are experiencing the effects of sea level rise, and California has a lot of coastline — the nation’s longest apart from Alaska.

With a long and diverse coastline to manage, California must juggle the often-competing interests of public access, residential and commercial development and protection of vital ecosystems. Sumi Selvaraj works to ensure that the state’s environmental justice communities, including communities of color and low-income populations, have a voice in coastal management decision making. “We have to continually ask ourselves: How good are our decisions on public access?” she says. “How good are our decisions on ensuring development is safe from coastal hazards, sea level rise and climate change? Are we trying to do those things in a way that’s equitable for communities that have faced injustice in the past?”

Selvaraj on the future: “We’re all going to try to adapt to climate change, but it’s more about who is going to win. Maybe we should try to think in terms of ‘We want everyone to win.’ It shouldn’t be just the ones with power and deep pockets.”

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