Sea level rise not a problem in North Carolina, where lawmakers wanted TO say, “No science, no worries”
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Sea levels are rising steadily around the world, and many low-lying countries and regions are taking the threat very seriously, recognizing the potential threats to coastal resources.
But in North Carolina, home to a spectacular stretch of Atlantic coastline, Republican lawmakers wanted magically solved the problem with legislation by simply making it illegal to use the best available science when planning coastal development.
Ultimately, the state adopted a bill that basically says do nothing about rising sea levels until at least 2016, according to Rob Lamme, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Coastal Federation, who described the legislative process in detail in this blog post.
According to Lamme, the final version of the bill “prohibits state agencies from doing much of anything regarding sea level rise until 2016. The final bill does mandate a study but there are no prohibitions or restrictions on the data or science used in that study,” Lamme wrote.
The see-no-evil approach favored by real estate speculators eager to sell a few more parcels of beachfront property before the next major hurricane washes it away, but it’s a step in the wrong direction for a state that once had a reputation for being a leader in coastal ecosystem research.
At first, it sounds almost comical, but the sad fact is that it’s a serious issue with life-and-death consequences, and numerous media outlets reported on the legislation last spring and summer, including Scientific American, not exactly known as a publication that espouses radical environmentalism.
The Colbert Report also skewered the state for its anti-science stance in this skit.
Here’s what’s at stake: Climate scientists are nearly certain that sea levels around the world will rise by at least one meter (about three feet) by the end of this century, and by most recent accounts, those estimates are conservative. Given the accelerated pace of Arctic melting, it’s quite likely that sea levels will climb higher and faster than most models now suggest.
A state-appointed science panel in North Carolina agrees with that assessment, along with science panels from a dozen other coastal states, but despite all that, a group of North Carolina lawmakers, under pressure from the development lobby, attacked the report. They claimed, without citing any research that shows otherwise (probably because there isn’t any) that the science is flawed.
The coalition of development interests and conservative politicians instead says the state should base its decision on historical trends, rather than on planning for a future when the rate of sea level rise is almost sure to increase. The law they passed requiring the state’s coastal commission to essentially ignore the best available science.
The same crowd also pushed the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management to revise its worst-case sea level rise scenario downward, from 1 meter to 15 inches.
Of course, when a major hurricane kills coastal residents and destroys millions of dollars worth of property sometime in the second half of the century, none of those politicians will still be in office, but their names should be enshrined in the no-brain hall of fame.