Sea No Evil – Disputes Arise Over North Carolina Sea Level Rise Bill
June 4, 2012

Sea No Evil – Disputes Arise Over North Carolina Sea Level Rise Bill

Brett Smith for

The battle over climate change is heating up again this week with a proposed bill from North Carolina state legislators who are looking to ignore a rising sea level prediction for the sake of coastal economic development.

A 2010 state-sanctioned panel report that predicts that a 1-meter rise in sea level by 2100 will threaten anything built along the Tarheel State´s low, flat coastline. Business group NC-20 has questioned the validity of the report, saying the panel used flawed methods to reach their conclusion. The group has seemingly used their clout to force North Carolina´s Division of Emergency Management to lower its worst-case scenario prediction from 1 meter (about 39 inches) to 15 inches by 2100.

“If you´re wrong and you start planning today at 39 inches, you could lose millions of dollars in development and 2,000 square miles would be condemned as a flood zone,” said NC-20 Chairman and economic development director in Beaufort County Tom Thompson.

NC-20 cited a critique by physicist John Droz, who said he consulted with 30 sea-level experts in his analysis of the panel´s work. Droz and his unnamed team asserted that the panel failed to do a balanced review of scientific literature and made unsupported assumptions.

In addition to the lowering of the government´s official prediction, some Republican legislators took a further step in the name of economic development. A bill circulating amongst lawmakers authorizes the coastal commission to calculate how fast the sea is rising be based only on historic trends, leaving out the potential impact of glaciers melting due to increased temperatures.

“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 seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly,” the bill reads.

Panelists from the report have stuck back against critics, lawmakers, and those taking steps to diminish the validity of their work.

“We´re throwing this science out completely, and what´s proposed is just crazy for a state that used to be a leader in marine science,” East Carolina University geologist Stan Riggs and panelist said of the proposed legislation. “You can´t legislate the ocean, and you can´t legislate storms.”

Several other states have made official preparations for sea levels at or above North Carolina´s initial prediction. Maine is preparing for a rise of up to 2 meters by 2100, Delaware 1.5 meters, Louisiana 1 meter, and California officially predicts a rise of 1.4 meters.

Ultimately, the climate change bout could be settled by an independent arbiter – the free market. The trade publication Insurance Networking News published an article earlier this year that said financial and insurance industry stakeholders should issue a “call for action” to discuss the potential financial impact the climate change could have on risk and finance.

The article quoted Cynthia Hale, a director at the business advocacy group Ceres, in saying that our “climate is changing, human activity is helping to drive the change, and the costs of these extreme weather events are going to keep ballooning unless we break through our political paralysis, and bring down emissions that are warming our planet.”