Wind and water from Hurricane Florence damages the highway leading off Harkers Island, N.C. on Friday, 14 September 2018. Photo: Jordan Guthrie / AP

By Erin Durkin
12 September 2018

(The Guardian) – When North Carolina got bad news about what its coast could look like thanks to climate change, it chose to ignore it.

In 2012, the state now in the path of Hurricane Florence reacted to a prediction by its Coastal Resources Commission that sea levels could rise by 39in over the next century by passing a law that banned policies based on such forecasts. [cf. North Carolina Senate approves law that denies sea-level science. –Des]

The legislation drew ridicule, including a mocking segment by comedian Stephen Colbert, who said: “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.”

North Carolina has a long, low-lying coastline and is considered one of the US areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels.

But dire predictions alarmed coastal developers and their allies, who said they did not believe the rise in sea level would be as bad as the worst models predicted and said such forecasts could unnecessarily hurt property values and drive up insurance costs.

As a result, the state’s official policy, rather than adapting to the worst potential effects of climate change, has been to assume it simply won’t be that bad. Instead of forecasts, it has mandated predictions based on historical data on sea level rise.

“The science panel used one model, the most extreme in the world,” Pat McElraft, the sponsor of the 2012 bill, said at the time, according to Reuters. “They need to use some science that we can all trust when we start making laws in North Carolina that affect property values on the coast.”

Storm-Surge Forecast for North Carolina and South Carolina for Hurricane Florence landfall on 14 September 2018. Data: National Hurricane Center. Graphic: The Weather Channel

The legislation was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and allowed to become law by the then governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat who neither signed nor vetoed the bill.

The law required the coastal resources commission to put out another study in 2015, looking at expected sea level rise.

That report looked only 30 years ahead, rather than a century. It found that the rise in sea level during that time was likely to be roughly 6in to 8in, with higher increases possible in parts of the Outer Banks.

Some outside studies have offered more dire warnings. A report last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists said 13 North Carolina communities were likely to be “chronically inundated” with seawater by 2035.

The state’s stance has shifted under the current governor, Roy Cooper, a Democrat who took office last year. [more]

North Carolina didn't like science on sea levels … so passed a law against it

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