Earlier this year scientists reported that surface temperatures in 2015 were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 15 of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred during the 21st century.
This increased warming and changes to our climate have significant global impact – from public health concerns, to increases in extreme weather fluctuations, to water shortages, to sea level rise and many other short- and long-term consequences.
Some of these consequences can be felt right here in North Carolina. On March 1, a group of scientists advising the state’s Coastal Resources Commission submitted a legislatively mandated report on sea-level rise in North Carolina. The report notes that the rate of local sea-level rise varies across the state’s coast with greater rise in sea level being seen in the northeastern region of North Carolina.
The CRC report is intended to provide guidance for landowners, governmental agencies, industry and political bodies in making planning, siting and infrastructure decisions. The report also illustrates in a very concrete way the effects of climate change as coastal communities will have to make adjustments in coming years to rising water levels.
The effects of climate change are not the concern of only scientists, policymakers and academics. These impacts are being felt by residents across the state of North Carolina. The changes are affecting the agriculture and fishing industries, recreation and tourism businesses, the management of our public parks and refuges, and many other examples.
The UNC Institute for the Environment, with financial support from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, is documenting these effects and interviewing everyday residents across the state. The project, Climate Stories NC, seeks to capture the voices of North Carolinians whose lives have been affected by changes in the climate. The short documentaries make these personal experiences visible from a variety of perspectives.
The project records the thoughts and insights of a diverse set of individuals across the state. A video featuring Michael Bryant, who manages six wildlife refuges in Eastern North Carolina, explores the impact of saltwater intrusion and its effect on habitat.
Bryant says that salt water is moving inland and killing tree species, such as pine, that are not salt tolerant. He also notes that refuges are looking at ways to adapt to saltwater intrusion and adapt to sea level rise to keep the refuges viable for the wildlife that depend on them and for the enjoyment of the public.
Another video documents a third-generation bee-keeper and owner of Bee Downtown, Kathryn Leigh-Bonner, who keeps hives on the roof of the American Tobacco Complex in downtown Durham. Bonner notes that honeybees are dying at an alarming rate.
A video filmed in the eastern part of the state focuses on commercial fisherman Willy Phillips based in Columbia, N.C., who cites higher water temperatures as the cause for significant impacts to the fishing ecosystems and the reason certain fisheries are migrating northward. Phillips questions why when the effects of climate change are so apparent that our society is not addressing and responding but rather passing along the problems for the next generations.
These are just a few of the stories that North Carolinians are experiencing as a result of climate change at the local level. While climate change and a warming planet are complex and global problems with impacts that will reach far into the future, it also critical to remember that climate change is affecting people’s lives in tangible ways today.
David Salvesen, Ph.D., is a faculty member with the UNC Institute for the Environment.
The Climate Stories NC project is intended to capture individual stories and put a spotlight on the need for local solutions. The full catalogue of Climate Stories NC videos can be found at climatestoriesnc.org/.