In a move that would make The Onion proud, North Carolina lawmakers have decided to tackle global warming threats to their coast in one of the most asinine ways one can imagine. When faced with potentially frightening scientifically derived sea-level rise predictions, they are simply outlawing the measurement methods.
Yes, the lawyers, insurance agents, dentists, etc. that comprise the North Carolina general assembly have listened to the real estate developers of the NC-20, all of whom surely know better than the coastal geologists who have spent their academic careers studying marine geology and sea-level.
It is the decidedly non-scientific opinion of the NC-20 that a “backwards” look is the best way to predict future sea-level fluctuations. This of course creates a nice clean un-alarming straight line with a slight upward trend which makes everyone feel good and paves the way for future coastal real estate development.
The coastal geologists on the other hand use fancy and complicated multivariate computer models based on what the climate is predicted to do (hence the term, prediction), and their models show a dramatic 1 meter rise in sea level over the next century. Lawmakers in North Carolina couldn’t quite stomach those predictions so they literally have enacted legislation which prohibits the use of models that might scare real estate developers away.
The original house bill 819 was a masterpiece of anti-intellectualism.
The Division of Coastal Management shall be the only State agency authorized to develop rates of sea-level rise and shall do so only at the request of the Commission. These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise.
The senate bill that was approved on June 7 is a slight improvement, but not by much:
[Rates] shall be determined using statistically significant, peer-reviewed historical data generated using generally accepted scientific and statistical techniques. Historic rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise unless such rates are from statistically significant, peer-reviewed data and are consistent with historic trends.
That legislation sounds a bit more scientific, with words like “statistically significant” and “peer-reviewed” but it’s still a bunch of politicians telling real scientists how best to conduct science.
The bottom line is that scientifically derived sea-level predictions are based on the effects of a warming planet, and many if not most of North Carolinia’s lawmakers don’t “believe” in global warming, ergo they have a nice piece of legislation which is tantamount to saying, “if I close my eyes, then you can’t see me.”
I feel for them. Global warming by definition is beyond the control of individual lawmakers in North Carolina and no one likes to think of their beautiful coastlines succumbing to a rising sea. So they are really faced with a choice.
On the one hand, they can continue down the road they are on. They can simply ignore what’s going to happen (most of these lawmakers will be dead and buried in a hundred years anyway). They can follow the NC-20’s advice which is to just smash and grab as much wealth as you can now, and kick the can to the next generation or two; those are the folks that get to watch all that coastal development get washed away to oblivion during the first serious hurricane season.
But on the other hand, they can take the lead. But this requires courage – a trait politicians aren’t exactly known for. One would think that having coastal areas in the crosshairs might actually create the motivation, even for North Carolinian lawmakers, to quit listening to talk radio hosts for their climate advice and start listening to the experts whose lives are devoted to understanding what is actually happening in the real world, to take the bull by the horns, and to lead the charge to combat global warming and prepare for its likely deleterious results.