[Marxism] North Carolina, Warned of Rising Seas, Chose to Favor Development

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 13 07:47:46 MDT 2018

NY Times, Sept. 13, 2018
North Carolina, Warned of Rising Seas, Chose to Favor Development
By John Schwartz and Richard Fausset

As Hurricane Florence bears down on North Carolina, the state may face 
the consequences of policies minimizing the impact of climate change and 
allowing extensive development in vulnerable coastal areas.

The approaching storm almost certainly gained destructive power from a 
warming climate, but a 2012 law, and subsequent actions by the state, 
effectively ordered state and local agencies that develop coastal 
policies to ignore scientific models showing an acceleration in the rise 
of sea levels.

In the years since, development has continued with little regard to the 
long-term threat posed by rising sea levels. And the coastal region’s 
population and economy have boomed, growing by almost half in the last 
20 years.

The law, known as H.B. 819, was widely criticized and even ridiculed 
when it passed, but it was favored by the state’s business interests, 
which argued that it was needed to protect property values. Business 
leaders had been jolted by a state commission’s 2010 report saying that 
sea levels could rise as much as 39 inches by the year 2100, which would 
devastate the coast and swamp billions of dollars’ worth of real estate.

Stanley Riggs, a retired research professor at East Carolina University 
who helped prepare the 2010 report, said that the research could have 
been used to tackle the difficult problems of development on the state’s 
delicate coast.

“We were ready to step up to the plate and take a hard look at this 
long-term problem,” he said. “And we blew it.”

Supporters of the bill, including David Rouzer, a member of the General 
Assembly at the time, incorrectly argued that the science of climate 
change and sea level rise could not be validated and their use in 
forming policy could have “a negative impact on coastal economies.”

A pro-business group, NC-20, which lobbied for the measure, said its 
goal was to “demand responsible science concerning sea level rise,” but 
based part of its argument on inaccurate claims that “despite 80 years 
of man-made carbon dioxide increase, there is no acceleration in sea 
level rise.”

Opponents, like Deborah K. Ross, a former member of the state 
legislature, said that turning a blind eye to the science of climate 
change was self-destructive.

“In order to protect our people, our property and our environment, we 
need the most information that we can have, in order to mitigate risk,” 
she said. “When we ignore facts, we do it at our peril.”

As Hurricane Florence bore down on Wednesday, residents and business 
owners boarded up homes and businesses up and down the North and South 
Carolina coasts. Tens of thousands of people headed inland after state 
and local officials ordered mandatory evacuations of low-lying coastal 
counties, where the National Hurricane Center has predicted a 
“life-threatening storm surge.”

“We’ve said time and again, we know a lot of our coastal residents have 
ridden out storms before,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “This should not be one 
of those storms. Don’t risk your life riding out a monster.”

Storm-force winds are expected along the shore beginning on Thursday, 
and the storm is expected to crawl inland after that, drenching a wide 
area with extremely heavy rains. Both the volume and the geographic 
extent of those rains are likely to be 50 percent greater than if there 
had been no climate change, according to a team of climate scientists 
led by researchers at Stony Brook University.

The North Carolina state legislature pushed back against the 2010 sea 
level warnings even though researchers and universities in the state 
have been at the forefront of the scientific work that produced them.

Early versions of the 2012 bill even dictated how officials were allowed 
to forecast sea levels: Only historical data could be used, and not any 
computer models that showed that the rate of rise would be faster in the 
future than in the past — an approach that would seriously underestimate 
the effects of climate change.

The final bill was softened a bit, but another factor helped shift 
policymaking in the same direction: The election of Pat McCrory as 
governor in 2012 meant that the Republican Party, which already 
dominated the legislature, now had total control of the state 
government, including the coastal resources commission, which was soon 
reshaped to be more friendly to business.

Before the Republicans gained the upper hand, North Carolina was “a 
leader in really thoughtful coastal management,” said Geoffrey R. 
Gisler, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

But the commission’s 2010 report about sea level threw a scare into real 
estate developers, as well as some coastal residents, who worried that 
the state would respond with new policies that would crimp their profits 
or their way of life.

“A lot of folks who have interests in developing areas that are 
currently vulnerable, and would become more vulnerable with sea level 
rise, objected to the public finding out that there was this projected 
significant sea-level rise,” Mr. Gisler said. “And so the legislature 
decided to prohibit looking that far out.”

Mr. Gisler said that while its direct effects were limited, the 2012 law 
went hand in hand with a broader weakening in the state of environmental 
regulations that developers had opposed.

Under the new governor, the revamped coastal commission produced a 
report in 2015 that looked forward 30 years — a “shorter, more credible 
time period,” according to its chairman, Frank Gorham — and foresaw only 
six to eight inches of sea-level rise. “Everyone looked at the 2100 time 
period, and the people that hated it dismissed it completely, and we 
just lost credibility,” he said of the earlier report.

Robert S. Young, a coastal geology professor at Western Carolina 
University who had worked on the original report, responded in a 
newspaper column that “local officials may breathe easier having to look 
only 30 years down the road, but six to eight inches of sea-level rise 
are no reason to celebrate.”

North Carolina was not alone in turning away from the direr warnings of 
climate science. The administration of Gov. Rick Scott of Florida 
discouraged the use of terms like “climate change” and “global warming” 
in official communications.

A law enacted in North Carolina in 2012 effectively ordered state and 
local agencies to exclude climate change from scientific models used to 
develop coastal policies.CreditEric Thayer for The New York Times
President Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” and some federal 
agencies have played down terms like “climate change” in their reports, 
publications and websites. But the Trump administration’s actions go 
beyond just words: it is attempting to roll back dozens of environmental 
and climate regulations.

Michael Mann, a climate change expert at Pennsylvania State University 
whose work has shown the links between greenhouse gas emissions and 
sharply rising temperatures, said that the administration’s policies, 
including a recently revealed effort to relax Obama-era restrictions on 
energy companies’ release of methane into the atmosphere, will 
accelerate climate change.

Mr. Mann said it was ironic that Hurricane Florence, “fueled in part by 
bathwater-hot Atlantic Ocean temperatures warmed by human carbon 
emissions,” came as “the Trump administration engages in another assault 
on policies aimed at curbing carbon emissions.”

Bob Emory, who was chairman of the coastal commission when the dire 2010 
report was released, was at home in New Bern, N.C., on Tuesday, 
wondering whether he should pack up and evacuate inland to escape Florence.

He said in a telephone interview that he stood by the report but felt 
that its purpose had been misunderstood. The commission, he said, had 
failed “to provide sufficient assurance to local governments and to 
anybody else that our intention with that report was to provide 
information — it wasn’t to regulate anybody.”

The election of another new governor in 2016 — Roy Cooper, a 
pro-environment Democrat — has begun to reverse the shift in the state’s 
tenor on environmental issues. For one thing, Governor Cooper 
reappointed Mr. Emory to the coastal commission over the summer.

Even so, the legislature remains in Republican hands. Robin Smith, a new 
appointee to the commission who served for years as an environmental 
lawyer for the state, said that, “based on the legislature’s approach to 
other environmental issues in the interim, I suspect there’s a high 
degree of suspicion, bordering on hostility, still, to new regulation 
based on sea level rise.”

Instead, she said, she expects the commission to concentrate on 
supplying information and working with county and local governments.

Ms. Smith said her first meeting with the commission, scheduled for next 
week, had been canceled because of the storm.

While North Carolina has come under criticism for the law, the state has 
also been home to some of the nation’s most advanced coastal science. 
The leading scientific model used to forecast storm surge and its effect 
on coastal areas, known as Adcirc, was created in large part by Rick 
Luettich, director of the institute of marine sciences at the University 
of North Carolina.

In a telephone interview during a break from boarding up the windows of 
his home in Morehead City, on the coast, Mr. Luettich noted that before 
2012, the state pursued progressive policies that put it in the 
forefront of coastal management. When the legislature pushed back 
against the clear scientific evidence underlying climate change, he 
said, “it came as a shock.”

There is a lesson in that, he said.

“The process of converting scientific research into policy is one that 
we take for granted at times,” Mr. Luettich said. “What we learned is 
that you can’t take that for granted. We need to have a closer dialogue 
with policymakers, to make sure we’re on the same page.”

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