Perhaps searching for a way to one-up their much derided anti-marriage law, North Carolina lawmakers are considering ban on science with a new bill that would essentially make it illegal to predict a rise in the sea level.
After a state-appointed board of scientists determined that a one meter rise in sea level is likely by the year 2100 — echoing the scientific consensus on the issue — a coastal economic development group called NC-20 decided to push back against the results. They are upset that such an estimate would thwart development along the coast, as it would be illegal to build in the “flood zone” where there is under one meter of elevation.
“If you’re wrong and you start planning today at 39 inches, you could lose millions of dollars in development and 2,000 square miles would be condemned as a flood zone,” Tom Thompson, the chairman of NC-20, told News & Observer of Raleigh.
So, with NC-20’s support, Republican lawmakers circulated Replacement House Bill 819. The key language can be found in section 2, paragraph e:
[Rates of sea level rise] 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 to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise.
Scientific American‘s Scott Huler explains why this is completely insane:
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.
Which, yes, is exactly like saying, do not predict tomorrow’s weather based on radar images of a hurricane swirling offshore, moving west towards us with 60-mph winds and ten inches of rain. Predict the weather based on the last two weeks of fair weather with gentle breezes towards the east. Don’t use radar and barometers; use the Farmer’s Almanac and what grandpa remembers.
According to Rob Young, a geology professor at Western Carolina University and a member of the state appointed board, North Carolina is the only state to ignore the scientific evidence that the sea level is rising exponentially.
“Every other state in the country is planning on three-feet of sea level rise or more,” he told the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “This bill requires the state of North Carolina to live in total ignorance of that. It basically prevents DCM [Division of Coastal Management] from even considering that sea level rise in the future might be different than it is today.”
Of course, making it illegal to predict that the sea level will rise a meter over the next 100 years does not mean that it won’t happen. Developers may get rich today by building in the flood zone, but given that North Carolina’s coast is especially vulnerable to flooding, it’s easy to imagine bridges, airports, and other structures that will be in use for decades being rendered useless by rising water.
As East Carolina University geologist Stan Riggs told News & Observer of Raleigh, “You can’t legislate the ocean, and you can’t legislate storms.”