I’d like to start this post with a North Carolina geography lesson. Our great state begins in the west with beautiful, lush mountains that slope into a hilly and fertile piedmont which, in turn, descends into a wide and low-lying coast fringed with barrier islands (the Outer Banks). In North Carolina, we love our coast — all 2,000+ square miles of coastal land that is threatened by climate change and the resulting rising sea levels.
I’m not a climate scientist, though I’ve read the work of many. And in reading the dire conclusions of study after study on the impacts of climate change, I imagine that climate scientists must start and end their days with a prayer that they are wrong. Like a doctor who has to tell a patient her cancer is terminal, they must check and recheck the data to ensure this bad news is true.
Which is why I am sure it must be frustrating to climatologists everywhere when legislators like those in my state of North Carolina circulate bills like this one. Active in this Summer’s General Assembly short session, this “coastal management policies” bill would legislate climate change denial into our state’s sea level rise planning.
Because of North Carolina’s wide and highly-developed strip of low-lying coastal land, FEMA funded the NC Division of Emergency Management to study the impacts of sea level rise on the state. Theoretically, developers would want to know if their bridges and condos would be knee-deep in water by 2100. The science panel responsible for informing that study reported that conservatively, we can expect a climate-change fueled sea level rise of 1 meter on North Carolina’s coast. And factoring in land ice melt and other feedback loops, we could be seeing levels rise up to 1.5 meters or more.
But thanks to pressure from a development organization called NC-20, our Legislators are pushing a bill that would not even allow climate change to be considered as a factor in our state’s plans for sea level rise; it would limit our state’s projections to linear extrapolations from historical data (predicting about 1 foot sea level rise). As we’ve seen from the last few years’ record storms and temperatures, climate change is creating a whole new normal, conditions we cannot predict with data from our old climate.
It’s bad enough that North Carolina will be losing so much coastal land, but now our legislature wants to deliberately keep us from preparing for when the waters rise. What’s worse is that placing corporate profit before the good of North Carolina’s people isn’t uncommon behavior for our General Assembly. It’s the same loyalty to industry’s short-sighted profitability that has informed the fracking, offshore drilling and nuclear debates in the last year. And it’s this blind devotion to profit that will bring those of us with our eyes on the future together to demand leadership that shares our vision.