North Carolina GOP Would Make Truth About Rising Sea Levels Illegal Rather Than Deal With It

Jun 08 2012 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

Thomas Jefferson once said “The ocean…like the air, is the common birth right of mankind.”  Apparently, the Republican Party agrees because if they have their way, we will all have the ocean lapping around our feet in our living rooms, all in the name of making a buck.

Personally, I’d say that’s taking things too far. I mean, I live pretty close to the ocean now, much closer than in my Midwest days, and I’d be perfectly happy to have the ocean stay where it belongs. But causation rules life and causation requires that water from melting ice caps go somewhere – namely and eventually – to your living room.

After it’s gobbled up a bunch of low lying areas like all those areas of the earth’s surface that tend to be at sea level or below.

I’ll get to the Republicans in a minute but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers some pertinent data:

Coastal areas are home to a wealth of natural and economic resources and are the most developed areas in the nation. The narrow fringe comprising 17 percent of the contiguous U.S. land area is home to more than half of the nation's population.

Between the years 1980 and 2003, population in coastal counties increased by 33 million people or by 28 percent. The largest gain was seen in the Pacific region. Additionally, in 2003, 23 of the 25 most densely populated counties were in coastal areas.

It’s apparently the same everywhere: According to, “Three-quarters of the world's mega-cities are by the sea.” And  predicted that “by 2010, 80 per cent of people will live within 60 miles of the coast.”

Obviously, 2010 has come and gone and as I’m about to show, with it all pretense of adherence to a fact-based world.

LiveScience reports that “The number of people living within 60 miles of coastlines will increase by about 35 percent compared to 1995” and that “increasing populations in coastal areas, which will expose 2.75 billion people worldwide to the effects of sea level rise and other coastal threats posed by global warming.”

Suffice it to say, a f*ckton of people live by the ocean, meaning unless we want to be wading through our living rooms we ought to care just a little about facts affecting rising sea levels.

But that’s not the worst part – or perhaps it is the worst part but not the most shocking. No, that would be that it might soon be illegal to talk about it in North Carolina.

Rather than deal with scientific fact, business-friendly Republicans would make it illegal.

You remember the story perhaps, of Persian King Xerxes ordering the sea to be lashed because a storm sank his ships. Futile, we’d say today. Silly. But that’s precisely the attitude of the North Carolina GOP.

As was widely reported this past week, North Carolina Republicans didn’t react well to a report by scientists of  the NC Coastal Resources Commission that the sea level is going to rise a meter or more (39-55 inches) by making it illegal to accurately measure that sea level rise.  As the North Carolina Coastal Federation put it:

A bill that could be introduced when the N.C. General Assembly convenes Wednesday would prevent state agencies and local governments from planning for the higher seas that many scientists expect later this century as the climate warms. 


Instead, the bill requires that any state forecast for future sea-level rise be based on the historical rise of the last century, and it prohibits state agencies and institutions and local governments from developing their own forecasts based on a different standard.

You would think that would be good information to have, wouldn’t you? Especially when the study says “NORTH CAROLINA has been identified by NOAA as one of three states with significant vulnerability to sea level rise.”

But as Beth Buczynski over at Care2 wrote the other day,

Rather than use science to accurately predict what might happen to its valuable coast areas, and thereby educate its citizens about what can be done to prepare for this change, North Carolina’s political leaders would rather just make the truth illegal.

Do they really think if we don’t talk about it that the ocean will just go away and leave us alone? Like I said, it’s about as futile and silly as lashing the sea for being, well…the sea.

It’s no wonder Republicans hate the EPA. Being a Federal agency states can’t shut it up, can’t simply order the EPA to lie. And what the EPA has to say about sea level rise isn’t promising at all: “During the 20th century, global sea level rose by roughly seven inches”:

Due to differences in land motion, estimates of future relative sea level rise vary for different regions. Climate change models project that global sea level rise will accelerate in the 21st century. Models based on thermal expansion and ice melt estimate that global sea levels will rise approximately 20 to 39 inches by the end of the century. However, due to uncertainties about the response of ice sheets to warmer temperatures and future emissions of greenhouse gases, higher values are possible and cannot be excluded.

And besides water in our living rooms, there are other problems to worry about according to the EPA:

Rising sea levels could also increase the salinity of ground water and push salt water further upstream. This salinity may make water undrinkable without desalination, and harms aquatic plants and animals that cannot tolerate increased salinity. [3] In the mid-Atlantic region, sea level rise is making estuaries more salty, threatening aquatic plants and animals that are sensitive to salinity.

Not so in North Carolina, where Replacement House Bill 819, the product of legislators from 20 coastal counties to be affected and developers’ lobbying group NC-20, outlaws the truth.

As Scott Huler writes at Scientific American blogs,

 The key language is in section 2, paragraph e, talking about rates of sea level rise: “These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly. …” It goes on, but there’s the core: North Carolina legislators have decided that the way to make exponential increases in sea level rise – caused by those inconvenient feedback loops we keep hearing about from scientists – go away is to make it against the law to extrapolate exponential; we can only extrapolate along a line predicted by previous sea level rises.

It’s more than ridiculous to suggest that sea level rise data from a century ago be used to predict sea level rise in the coming century but that’s what North Carolina Republicans want. In the face of unwanted news, they come up with this is a collective bury your head in the sand bill, a close your eyes, cover your ears, nyah, nyah, nyah bill.

Conservatives are conservative after all, but it’s taking defense of the status quo a little far to suggest that the past is more relevant than the present – or the future.

Because developers can’t build on ground under the ocean so the obvious solution is to ensure that land isn’t below sea level – think about the property values! Don’t think about all those millions of people living along the coast: think about those poor developers and the money they stand to make selling and developing land that’s going to be underwater.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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