Jim Tolbert, outreach director for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a grassroots nonprofit that supports climate change legislation, addressed board members of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority regarding the effects of climate change on the tourism industry during the public comment portion of the organization’s Jan. 30 meeting.
Piggybacking off comments about extensive recent flooding damage to the city’s John B. Lewis Soccer complex by Demp Bradford, executive director of the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission, Tolbert explained how climate-related weather events could affect the future of tourism in Asheville.
“You’ve already talked about it with flooding; we’ve just seen rather minor flooding, if you look at the fact that North Carolina downstate has seen two 1,000-year storms since I last spoke to you,” Tolbert told the TDA members. “You can see the potential impact if any of those storms would have taken a little different track.”
Tolbert then pointed to other weather events that have caused damage to areas surrounding Asheville and their lasting effects on tourism.
“You can also look at the economic impact in Sevier County over in Tennessee, in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, after a severely dry season when the fires came over there,” Tolbert said. “We had some smoke over here. That might have scared some people away, but there they had a much harder time bringing people back after people heard what the fires had done.”
Tolbert encouraged TDA members to support the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (avl.mx/5nq), a bill that aims to reduce carbon emissions through a tax on fossil fuel companies.
The legislation, which he said “has Republican and Democratic cosponsors in the [U.S.] House,” would return the proceeds from this tax to U.S. households as a monthly energy dividend. He said the bill therefore provides a way to reduce carbon emissions without transferring costs to taxpayers.
“It keeps money in the economy. It keeps the economy healthy, which I think is critical to keep driving people on vacations. People will continue to have vacations. I think of it as, in terms of supporting tourism here, a very sound policy to maintain the whole economy,” Tolbert explained.
Speaking with Xpress after the meeting, Tolbert said his bid to the TDA is a part of a multipronged approach by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. The group plans to address all parts of local government to bring awareness and garner support for the bill and other climate change-related legislation.
“It’s relevant for the [BCTDA] to be talking about climate change,” Tolbert said. “It is their directive to increase overnight stays in Asheville, and to me part of that includes how we are looking at climate mitigation policy that actually will assure that we don’t hurt overnight stays.”
Reached after the meeting, Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of Explore Asheville, did not indicate that the BCTDA would give its direct support for the climate bill at this time. However, she acknowledged the efforts of Tolbert and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby in creating discussion around the issue.
“I appreciate the thoughtfulness of Jim and [Steffi Rausch] to highlight some of the impacts of climate change on tourism and the time they took to share those insights with the BCTDA,” Brown said.