If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.
— Stephen Colbert
Back in 2010, North Carolina’s Coastal Resource Commission released their North Carolina Sea Level Rise Assessment Report. It suggested that communities should be prepared for 1 meter (that’s over 3 feet) of sea level rise this century. They didn’t say there would be 1 meter of sea level rise … but it was a distinct possibility, so communities should be prepared.
It caused quite a furor; real estate agents and moguls and coastal developers objected that it could mean higher insurance rates for homeowners, it could re-define flood zones (make them much larger), it could undercut the value of existing property tremendously, and of course it would be a severe obstacle to future development in some areas. Leading the charge against the report was “NC-20”, a group claiming to represent the 20 North Carolina counties which border the Atlantic ocean.
Also in 2010, both chambers of the state legislature flipped from democratic to republican, which made it easy to persuade the state legislature not just to ignore the report, but to pass a law prohibiting the state government from basing policy on its recommendations.
Dave Burton, a member of the board of directors of NC-20, objected that the “science” in the report was speculative, and wasn’t sound. He (and in general, all of NC-20) claimed that the only valid “science” to use was to fit a straight line to the data from the past, and extrapolate that into the future. And, he was quick to point out, the past — at least, in North Carolina — showed a steady rise in sea level, at a snail’s pace, with no hint of acceleration to faster speeds. Here’s his version of a graph of sea level as measured at Wilmington, which has the longest tide gauge record in the state:
Here’s my graph of the same data:
The rate of rise — based on data available at the time — was only 2 mm/yr, which only amounts to about 8 inches in 100 years. That’s a far, far cry from the 39 inches (1 meter) which the report suggested communities prepare for. In the 75+ years that sea level had been monitored in Wilmington, it had only risen about 6 inches. Expect only a little more than that in the next century, said Dave Burton and NC-20.
What has happened to sea level in North Carolina since then?
As it turns out, it didn’t take a century for the tide gauge at Wilmington to measure “a little more than that.” It has happened already.
Problem not solved.
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