Stan Riggs is now more than a burr under the saddle of realtors and developers who deal in coastal property in North Carolina. The East Carolina University geologist is outspoken and then some when it comes to rising sea levels that are likely in his view to shrink the North Carolina coast over the next decades.
Riggs was, after all, on a science panel that recommended coastal planners use a benchmark of a 39-inch, sea-level rise on the North Carolina coast by 2100. That would have put a crimp on coastal development now and in the future, and since coastal property is about as valuable as property gets, the figure was unacceptable to realtors and others who profit from buying and selling and building property on the coast.
The solution, in a government run by pro-business Republicans, was simple. Builders and real estate agents got legislation passed that prevented the planners from formulating rules based on that 39-inch number. Instead, the state has adopted a 30-year forecast that figures the rise at 8 inches.
Stuart Leavenworth, a former News & Observer reporter now with McClatchy Newspapers, quoted Riggs – who quit the science panel in protest – as summing things up this way: “The state is completely not dealing with this. They are approaching climate change with sandbags and pumping sand onto beaches, which is just a short-term answer.”
Of course, the state’s getting help with this self-delusion. President Trump, who’s waffled on whether or not climate change is scientific fact, has rescinded executive orders on the environment that came from President Obama. Those orders required the federal government, in the construction of infrastructure such as highways and levees, to account in its plans for climate change. No more.
Unfortunately for the “climate change deniers” the recent tragedies in Texas and Florida have stirred a climate change debate, or rather the rekindling of that debate. No, a catastrophic weather event such as a hurricane isn’t necessarily directly attributable to climate change, but the devastation caused by hurricanes does have people pondering the overall, seemingly dramatic changes in weather patterns.
And it has focused attention on scientists, such as Riggs, who don’t work for the realtors and home builders and tend to speak with stark, cold facts about the consequences of a state policy of governance of the environment with a combination of “don’t ask, don’t tell” or “ignore and it will go away” or “Climate change? What climate change?”
The state’s oversight may improve under Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, but Republicans in charge of the General Assembly can be counted upon to stand in the way of regulation when they can.
That kind of blind devotion to the dollar and those who make them off coastal property (and share with legislators in the form of campaign contributions) may not affect lawmakers, or their children or even their grandchildren. But the day of reckoning, with homes that never should have been built being reclaimed by the Atlantic Ocean, is coming – whether some in power want to deny it or not.