The mark of the land against the sea is not a static thing: a good storm can change the coastline in a matter of hours, as Hurricane Irene did in 2011, opening a new inlet across Hatteras Island. Changes wrought by tides and other natural phenomena are measured in years, centuries, even eons.
The state recognized this in 1972 and passed a slate of laws designed to protect our coast and the 20 counties on it, resulting in the creation of the Division of Coastal Management under the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources.
One of the things the DCM did to protect our coastline was to hire a bunch of scientists in 2010 to report on rising sea levels. That sea levels are rising is accepted fact, but there is disagreement on the causes — though not in the scientific community, the overwhelming majority of which believes that human activity is mostly to blame — and the rate.
The state’s science panel found that the sea level could rise as much as 39 inches by 2100, obliterating the Outer Banks and drastically changing our coastline.
It’s good news for the Triad because it means we’ll be that much closer to the beach, but business interests on the coast refuted the number, and enticed their friends in the NC General Assembly to change it — not by creating legislation that might slow down climate change, but by passing a law dictating how scientists are allowed to measure the rise in sea levels.
HB 819 is a joke. Literally. “The Colbert Report” did a whole segment on it earlier this month. The punchline is that some state lawmakers, at the behest of the moneyed interests that command them, seek to change reality with words on paper, making a mockery of the state motto — To be and not to seem — and also of the nature of scientific inquiry itself.
“It’s like Galileo when he announced that Earth was not the center of the universe,” Stan Riggs, a coastal geologist from Eastern Carolina University, told the Raleigh News & Observer. “The religious and political leaders said, ‘You’re wrong. It’s heretical.”
The Senate passed the bill last week without debate. And yet, the sea still rises.
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