The recent committee approval of House Bill 819 in the state Senate was, as expected, widely criticized by sea level rise “believers.” Members of NC 20, who are labeled “deniers,” are routinely accused of not understanding science and for requesting legislative intervention based purely on economics. Let’s take a look at those accusations.
First, note that fears of global warming and accelerated sea level rise are reminiscent of previous climate change concerns, only in reverse. Newsweek magazine, in the April 28, 1975, edition, in an article entitled “The Cooling World,” warned of “drastic decline in food production” and opined that “resulting famines would be catastrophic” due to global cooling. Foremost among the scientists predicting this doomsday scenario were those from NOAA, the very agency now part of the current doomsday scenario of global warming, massive ice melt and a “hockey stick” sea level rise. If the climate change community was totally wrong 37 years ago, shouldn’t we be a little bit leery of their prediction today of a massive sea level rise 88 years hence?
Second, despite warnings of an accelerating sea level rise, Dr. Robert Dean, professor emeritus at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and his co-author, Dr. James Houston, director emeritus of the Engineer Research and Development Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, concluded in a recent paper (which Dean summarized in a recent presentation to NC 20): “The results of all of our analyses are consistent – there is no indication of an overall world-wide sea level acceleration in the 20th Century data. Rather, it appears that a weak deceleration was present.”
Dean also surveyed the research of other climate scientists and found abundant disagreement with acceleration of sea level. Here’s one example: Woodworth, et al. (2009), International Journal of Climatology, note “… little evidence has been found in individual gauge records for an ongoing positive acceleration of the sort suggested for the 20th Century by climate models.”
NC 20 has been targeted frequently by those who suggest that we are endangering the coast by not planning for a massive, hypothetical increase in water levels (remember, the projected 39-inch rise would be added to previous flood levels for the final flood plain parameter). In fact, it is the other way around. The initial Coastal Resources Commission draft, to which we objected, included the following statement: “…new private development should be designed and constructed to accommodate sea-level rise impacts within the structure’s design life…”.
The cost of that policy, which is based on a 39-inch rise in 88 years, would be incalculable across our 20 counties. The cost of roads, buildings and public and private infrastructure would escalate dramatically. The “hidden” cost is the loss of additional investment in NC 20 counties, which include some of the poorest areas of the state.
Why? Because of the expense of preparing for such a dramatic and hypothetical outcome would deplete the coffers. Surely, DOT is not going to give us additional millions to elevate roads, so in effect we would get fewer roads and less road maintenance. And, since there is no verifiable science showing the least bit of accelerated sea level rise, we would be sitting here in 2100 craning our necks to see our shining, elevated palaces, built upon the sand.
Why not wait a few years until global cooling resurfaces? Or, more pragmatically, until some evidence of acceleration appears. There will be decades before any meaningful increase appears, even according to the most aggressive estimates.
Tom Thompson of New Bern is chairman of NC 20.