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North Carolina Lawmakers Legislate Sea Level Rise

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Posted on Jun 13, 2012
bee-side(s) (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A scene from Atlantic Beach, N.C.

State senators in North Carolina passed a measure Tuesday in open defiance of the laws of nature, making it illegal to take into account events such as melting polar ice caps when forecasting the rate of ocean level rise along the state’s 300 miles of vulnerable, tourist-saturated coast.


The bill, HB 819, requires North Carolina’s Coastal Resources Commission, which sets rules and policies for coastal development and grants permits, to base predictions of future sea level rise along the state’s coast on a steady, linear rate of increase. Opponents say that would prevent the commission from considering events, such as melting of polar ice caps caused by increased global temperatures, which might accelerate the rate at which seas are expected to rise.

The bill’s supporters, however, worry about the money it would take to plan for accelerated sea level rise, and that any predicted acceleration is based on flimsy data. They brush aside the fact that most scientists agree that rising seas will accelerate. “Science, according to [the science fiction author] Michael Crichton, is not about agreement, it’s about facts,” says Tom Thompson, chair of NC-20, a nonprofit advocacy group comprised of representatives from local businesses and governments as well as private citizens. “[And] there is no record of acceleration anywhere in the world that we know of.”

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The 34 legislators who voted for the law allege the government’s acceptance of high sea level predictions would scare investors away from coastal development projects and harm the region’s economy.

In the short term, perhaps. But the hubris of such a bid will likely have disastrous consequences for those living along the coast in the decades ahead. While North Carolina prepares for a sea level rise of a little over half a foot by the century’s end, Maine is getting ready for a wall of water at least 78 inches high. Delaware is planning for a 58-inch rise while Louisiana mounts a defense against a 39-inch one.

“Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook?” asked the author of the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible, acknowledging the absolute tyranny of nature over all men, including those foolish enough to think that they can ignore it.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

Also see Stephen Colbert’s take on the law when the North Carolina House passed the legislation last week.

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