Once upon a time, the great King Canute, strolling on a beach with his courtiers, ordered the waves to halt. Yet they kept on coming. It was a lesson intended for the monarch's fawning sycophants. Canute was showing them that there are limits to power. Even a king can't stop the sea!
This lesson seems to have been lost on the members of North Carolina's legislature. They are getting ready to vote on a bill that would prohibit government agencies from preparing for the estimated three feet rise in coastal sea levels which a state-appointed science panel has predicted will occur before the end of the current century. In fact, this forecast may soon be stricken from the public record -- because it takes into account the impact of global warming. And global warming isn't happening, right?
Sounds like something you would read in the satirical weekly, the Onion. But no, it's right there in the Charlotte Observer, North Carolina's leading newspaper. The headline reads: "Coastal N.C. counties fighting sea-level rise prediction." These counties have banded together, the paper says, to pressure the state lawmakers to cut the bad news about the ocean from the report of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission.
If the Republican-dominated legislature votes as expected, scientists will be prohibited from factoring in the anticipated impact of climate change and the accelerating melting of the polar icecaps on Carolina's low-lying coastal communities. By legislative decree, the state's own researchers will be forced to base their predictions solely on historical climate data, rather than the acceleration of global warming that climatologists expect to occur in the coming decades.
Why are these politicos forcing the hand of the scientists? That's simple! Because North Carolina, home to Cape Hatteras and roughly two thousand square miles of low-lying coastlands, could stand to lose untold millions in developer dollars if the news about rising sea levels got out.
Never mind that the news already is out. Never mind that continuing to build up this hurricane and storm-surge alley is inviting disaster -- even at current sea-levels.
What's proposed is just crazy for a state that used to be a leader in marine science," East Carolina University geologist Stan Riggs who studies the evolution of the coast told the Observer. "You can't legislate the ocean, and you can't legislate storms."
But apparently you can in North Carolina, which is bent burying its head in the sand, as far as climate change is concerned. If you don't admit that you have a problem, maybe it will just go away. That seems to be the idea in North Carolina. The Observer reports that several local governments on the coast are not waiting for the legislature to act. They have already passed their own resolutions against sea-level rise policies.
Yet increasing beach erosion on the Outer Bank is evidence that higher seas are already taking their toll in the Tarheel state:
"As a result of the acceleration of outlet glaciers over large regions, the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are already contributing more and faster to sea level rise than anticipated," according to Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "If this trend continues, we are likely to witness sea level rise 1 meter or more by year 2100," he adds, citing a figure which -- while alarming enough -- is regarded as being rather conservative in some scientific circles.
Based on the growing consensus of scientific opinion, other coastal states are now dealing more realistically with climate change in their contingency planning. Maine is preparing for a two-meter sea level rise by 2100, Delaware anticipates 1.5 meters, Louisiana one meter and California 1.4 meters. Southeastern Florida is looking for a two-foot rise by 2060. North Carolina, by contrast, expects to be exempt from the sea's advance, and plans for only an 8 inches rise by the end of the present century.
Good luck, North Carolina in your goofy tilting at the climate change windmill. But when your emergency preparedness plans come up disastrously short, your insurance costs shoot through the roof, and your brand new coastal developments get swept out to sea, don't come crying to the rest of us to bail you out!