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article imageNorth Carolina's 'climate change battle' rages on

By Karen Graham     Jun 29, 2014 in Environment
It started in 2011, when Willo Kelly, a resident of the Outer Banks in North Carolina attended a meeting held in a government conference room. There, she learned that by the end of the century, sea levels along the coast would rise as much as 39 inches.
Kelly, a lobbyist for Realtors and homeowners in the Outer Banks discovered her property would be swamped, or so said the state government officials at the meeting. The attendees were shown maps, and told a website was being set up so that homeowners could check their addresses to see if their properties would end up underwater.
The 39-inch sea level rise forecast was “a death sentence,” Kelly said, “for ever trying to sell your house.” Kelly was furious at the prediction, and resolved to prove the forecasters wrong. And this moment was the start of what has been called the "nation's most notorious battle" over climate change.
Kelly was able to rally climate change skeptics and homeowners to join together, making a formidable force in her battle to persuade North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature to nix the 39-inch sea level rise report. The climate change forecast had been one of the last pieces of legislation advanced by the state's out-going Democratic governor.
The big thing frightening many people was the economic impact rising seas would have on the economy. Fears of exorbitant home insurance rates and loss of income from a falling real estate market along the Outer Banks fueled the warriors. So, a group of Legislators from 20 N.C. counties who will be most affected by sea level changes was formed, Called NC-20,
Now, even though there is almost universal agreement that sea level rise will occur, and by more than 36-inches by the end of the century, NC-20 proposed the state of North Carolina make it a law that the sea will rise by no more than eight inches. Well, actually, no one was to mention sea level rise unless it was in historical context.
North Carolina had to create a forecast that would only show sea level rise for the next 30 years, which, according to the 2011 forecast, would put the increase at about eight or nine inches. That would certainly look better to anyone thinking of buying property along the outer banks. It took until August of 2012 before the N.C. Legislature passed a compromise bill banning scientific predictions on sea level rise. Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue waited until time had run out to act on the bill known as House Bill 819, deciding to let it become law by doing nothing.
North Carolina's attempt to "outlaw" sea level rise and global warming is seen as ludicrous by environmentalists, but even so, some climate change proponents are understanding of the actions of North Carolinians, saying theirs is a natural reaction to sea level rise estimates. After all, there are now too many studies, and the information is available for everyone to see.
"The main problem they have is fear," said Michael Orbach, a marine policy professor at Duke University who has met with coastal leaders. “They realize this is going to have a huge impact on the coastal economy and coastal development interests. And, at this point, we don’t actually know what we’re going to do about it.”
Some cities along the East Coast have taken the predictions seriously, such as Norfolk and Miami, mapping future inundation areas as a prelude to getting federal aid for sea walls, floodgates and other kinds of protection.
And in the Carolinas and Southampton, N.Y., some of the very-rich have taken to building bulkheads for the protection of their property. In North Carolina's Outer Banks, this is not possible. The Outer Banks are a 200-mile long stretch of barrier islands covering much of North Carolina's coastline and going on up into a small portion of Virginia. In some spots, the islands are barely 100 yards wide.
Environmentalists say that in the end, North Carolina is going to have to face the hard truth, and that is, the seas are rising, and the longer this fact is ignored, the harder it will be on everyone. Business is a tough bedfellow to dismiss, the Grand Stand and the Outer Banks depend on the money raked in from summer rentals and vacationers . Business people tend to overlook things, like the $36 million it took to repair beach erosion in 2011, hoping it won't happen again. And so, the battle continues, and North Carolina still has its head stuck in the sand, refusing to accept a harsh reality.
More about Nags Head, North carolina, Sea level rise, NC Environmental Agency, changing the forecast
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