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Durkin writes: "When North Carolina got bad news about what its coast could look like thanks to climate change, it chose to ignore it."

The Albemarle Sound floods the Nags Head-Manteo Causeway shortly after Hurricane Irene barreled through the Outer Banks, North Carolina, in 2011. (photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)
The Albemarle Sound floods the Nags Head-Manteo Causeway shortly after Hurricane Irene barreled through the Outer Banks, North Carolina, in 2011. (photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

North Carolina Didn't Like Science on Sea Levels ... So Passed a Law Against It

By Erin Durkin, Guardian UK

13 September 18

In 2012, the state whose low-lying coast lies in the path of Hurricane Florence reacted to a prediction of catastrophically rising seas by banning policies based on such forecasts

hen North Carolina got bad news about what its coast could look like thanks to climate change, it chose to ignore it.

In 2012, the state now in the path of Hurricane Florence reacted to a prediction by its Coastal Resources Commission that sea levels could rise by 39in over the next century by passing a law that banned policies based on such forecasts.

The legislation drew ridicule, including a mocking segment by comedian Stephen Colbert, who said: “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.”

North Carolina has a long, low-lying coastline and is considered one of the US areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels.

But dire predictions alarmed coastal developers and their allies, who said they did not believe the rise in sea level would be as bad as the worst models predicted and said such forecasts could unnecessarily hurt property values and drive up insurance costs.

As a result, the state’s official policy, rather than adapting to the worst potential effects of climate change, has been to assume it simply won’t be that bad. Instead of forecasts, it has mandated predictions based on historical data on sea level rise.

“The science panel used one model, the most extreme in the world,” Pat McElraft, the sponsor of the 2012 bill, said at the time, according to Reuters. “They need to use some science that we can all trust when we start making laws in North Carolina that affect property values on the coast.”

The legislation was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and allowed to become law by the then governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat who neither signed nor vetoed the bill.

The law required the coastal resources commission to put out another study in 2015, looking at expected sea level rise.

That report looked only 30 years ahead, rather than a century. It found that the rise in sea level during that time was likely to be roughly 6in to 8in, with higher increases possible in parts of the Outer Banks.

Some outside studies have offered more dire warnings. A report last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists said 13 North Carolina communities were likely to be “chronically inundated” with seawater by 2035.

The state’s stance has shifted under the current governor, Roy Cooper, a Democrat who took office last year.

Cooper announced last September that North Carolina would join the US Climate Alliance, a group of states that have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals of the Paris climate accord, even though Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement.

“We remain committed to reducing pollution and protecting our environment,” Cooper said. “So much of North Carolina’s economy relies on protecting our treasured natural resources.”

But Orrin Pilkey, a retired Duke University coastal geologist, wrote in a recent op-ed in the News & Observer that the state has still failed to take the steps that communities in Virginia and New Jersey have taken, to prepare for rising sea levels.

“Instead coastal development flourishes as more beachfront buildings, highways and bridges are built to ease access to our beautiful beaches,” he wrote. “Currently the unspoken plan is to wait until the situation is catastrophic and then respond.”

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+10 # Porfiry 2018-09-13 09:53
Reminds me of the story of King Canute who pretended to try to hold back the tide: Canute set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the incoming tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet "continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: 'Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws." Futile, unintelligent, actions by right-wing legislatures and executives won't work either.
+1 # Kootenay Coyote 2018-09-13 20:29
This was Canute's tactic with oilily flattering couriers. We still have problems with oily courtiers.
+18 # Working Class 2018-09-13 10:05
As hurricanes continue to pummel the East Coast those who believe in science should and will evacuate to safer ground. I encourage all the FOX watching, Trump loving types who don't believe in science to feel free to pack a picnic lunch and spend some quality time at the beach. Show the tree-hugging, liberal, fake news believing suckers what you are made of - Real Americans. Problem solved.
+1 # Working Class 2018-09-13 19:20
i might add it's Darwinism in action.
+4 # elizabethblock 2018-09-13 10:23
I wonder what the insurance companies - who are realistic about things like this - have done.
The real world isn't like Camelot, where (according to the song) the weather is regulated by law.
+6 # margpark 2018-09-13 15:11
He who builds his house upon the sand, is foolish. Spent many a summer vacation on those barrier islands and loved every minute of it, but it was foolish to put buildings on them.

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