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article imageIs North Carolina going to heed the science on global warming?

By Karen Graham     Sep 12, 2018 in Environment
Wilmington - In 2012, North Carolina legislators passed a bill banning policymakers from using up-to-date climate science to plan for rising sea levels on the state’s coast. With Hurricane Florence knocking on its door, that 2012 decision may prove to be wrong.
Now, with Hurricane Florence, a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 120 mph (195 kph) threatening 5 million residents from Virginia on down to Georgia, maybe, just maybe, legislators will rethink their decision 16 years ago.
In 2012, North Carolina had a Democratic governor, Bev Perdue - but Republicans were the majority in the state's Legislature. House Bill 819 was drafted in response to an estimate by the state's Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) that the sea level will rise by 39 inches in the next century, according to ABC News at the time.
The bill passed the Legislature in June that year, mainly on fears of costlier home insurance and accusations of anti-development alarmism among real estate developers and residents in the Outer Banks. However, there was nationwide scorn by many people who argued the state was turning a blind eye to the effects of climate change.
North Carolina topographic map. North Carolina s three topographic regions are evident: the Appalach...
North Carolina topographic map. North Carolina's three topographic regions are evident: the Appalachian Mountains in brown, the Piedmont in yellow, and the Atlantic Coastal Plain in green.
U.S. Government
You will notice from looking at the topographical map of North Carolina above that a great expanse of the state is a vast coastal plain. And it is prone to flooding. The governor knew that, but she never vetoed the bill. Governor Perdue never signed the legislation, opting instead to let it become law by doing nothing.
On the "Colbert Report," comedian Stephen Colbert mocked North Carolina lawmakers' efforts as an attempt to outlaw science. "If your science gives you a result you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved," he joked.
Tom Thompson, a climate change denier and president of NC-20, a coastal development group and a key supporter of the law, said the science used to make the 39-inch prediction was flawed.
"I don't want to say they're being dishonest, but they're pulling data out of their hip pocket that ain't working," he said of the commission panel that issued the prediction, the middle in a range of three predictions.
Hurricane Floyd ten hours prior to its North Carolina landfall; Floyd caused the worst modern disast...
Hurricane Floyd ten hours prior to its North Carolina landfall; Floyd caused the worst modern disaster in the state in 1999.
GOES-8 Visible Satellite - 1999
The list of North Carolina hurricanes includes 413 known tropical or subtropical cyclones that have affected the U.S. state of North Carolina. Due to its location, many hurricanes have hit the state directly, and numerous hurricanes have passed near or through North Carolina in its history; the state is ranked fourth, after Florida, Texas, and Louisiana, in the number of cyclones that produced hurricane-force winds in a U.S. state.
Republican State Rep. Pat McElraft, who drafted the law, called the law a "breather" that allows the state to "step back" and continue studying sea -level rise for the next several years. Well, it's been 16 years since that bill was made law, and there have been plenty of studies that back up the one made by the Coastal Resources Commission.
Tackling global warming and sea level rise
It was stipulated in the 2012 law that the CRC do another study in 2015, in itself, a smart move. That report looked ahead only 30 years and found that sea level rise would be about 6 to 8 inches by 2045, with higher levels in some parts of the Outer Banks.
Now 6 to 8 inches is some serious water, but residents and developers were of the mind that "we can deal with a few inches over a few decades."
And since 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has predicted sea level rise along the portion of the East Coast between North Carolina and Massachusetts is accelerating at three to four times the global rate. And that is just one report that disputes North Carolina's nonchalance over sea level rise and the impacts of global warming.
File photo: North Carolina Army National Guardsmen (NCNG) and local emergency services assist with t...
File photo: North Carolina Army National Guardsmen (NCNG) and local emergency services assist with the evacuation efforts in Fayetteville, N.C., on Friday, Oct. 08, 2016. Heavy rains caused by Hurricane Matthew led to flooding as high as five feet in some areas.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Shaw/ U.S. Army National Guard
The current governor, Roy Cooper, a Democrat who took office last year has a different outlook on the impacts of global warming. Cooper announced last September the state would be joining 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, according to The Guardian.
“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.”
And while what the governor said is all well and good, Orrin Pilkey, a retired Duke University coastal geologist, wrote in a recent op-ed in the News & Observer that North Carolina has still failed to take the steps 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.”
This hurricane may just be that catastrophic event.
More about North carolina, 2012 law, climate change denial, Hurricane Florence, coast line
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