Commentary

Another state blasts NC’s leaders — this time for denying sea-level rise

Another day — no, make that another hour — another embarrassment for North Carolina beyond its borders. This is the lead editorial in yesterday’s Virginian-Pilot:

N.C.’s blindfold on coastal planning

WALK FAR ENOUGH south in Virginia Beach, and a nice Carolinian will hand you a pair of blinders. They’re to keep you from daring to look more than 30 years in the future, where today’s bad planning decisions are likely to have devastating effects on coastal communities.

North of the border, Virginians have no such hobble. The result is a community — Hampton Roads — that has begun to recognize the devastation coming, thanks to rising seas, and started to build the public capacity vital to dealing with it.

The trend has been obvious in Norfolk for decades. The best science today estimates that seas will rise by at least four feet in the next century, though the further into the future scientists forecast, the less precise the estimates become.

In large part, today, that’s because sea level rise is accelerating, and because the impact of melting glaciers and tundra can only be estimated. A study this month on the Antarctic ice sheet indicated the potential sea rise here is likely to be closer to seven feet by 2100.

In Virginia, policymakers and scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Old Dominion University are using the best information they can to make the best decisions for the next century.

They’re figuring out how fast seas are rising, how quickly the rate of change is accelerating, and what that may mean for the future.

They are advising local policymakers faced with immediate decisions about planning and infrastructure, as well as sometimes skeptical state politicians who will set policies more widely.

Those same seas are also rising in North Carolina, and probably by similar amounts. But state officials there are specifically barred from making similar calculations. Or from fully understanding the science of the dangers.

That’s what happens when developers and demagogues decide climate policy. Read more

Commentary, News

New evidence that climate change is making North Carolina more like Florida

A lot of deniers will never be convinced, even when the water is lapping at their ankles, but for anyone interested in scientific facts, this article on the NC Coastal Review (“Climate Change Evidence All Around”) is worth a read this morning.

“Despite what you might hear, there’s strong evidence that climate change is having an impact on North Carolina: Look carefully at the fish.

That was one of the messages from Pete Peterson, a researcher and professor at the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. He was among the scientists, TV weathermen and journalists on the boat Friday touring the marshes of the White Oak River. The boat trip was part of a workshop on climate change’s effects on coastal habitats organized by the N.C. Coastal Federation….

Peterson, whose work involves research and teaching grad students in paleoecology, invertebrate fisheries management, estuarine habitat evaluation and barrier island ecology, said that it’s fairly easy to see the effects on local waters and fish.

For example, he said, a thermometer hung for decades in the water off the bridge to Pivers Island – home of NOAA’s Beaufort Lab and the Duke Lab – clearly shows a 1.8-degree Fahrenheit rise in water temperatures in the past two decades.

At the same time, Peterson said, there’s been an equally clear shift in the composition of fish stocks in some locations. The NOAA lab, he said, has for decades sampled reef fish, and has found that over the past four decades, there’s been a marked decrease in the number of northern, temperate species, and a corresponding dramatic increase in the number of tropical species.”

In other words and in lay people’s terms, North Carolina is slowly but surely starting to look more like Florida. And anyone (i.e. the Koch-funded groups on the right) who denies this plain reality and helps stymie the efforts to address it is contributing to this potentially catastrophic problem.

Commentary

Recent floods ought to be another wake up call for state leaders

Image: NC Department of Public Safety

Image: NC Department of Public Safety

The murky flood waters haven’t all receded yet in South Carolina (or parts of North Carolina for that matter), but it’s already crystal clear that our state’s shortsighted attitude toward climate change, rising sea levels and investments in infrastructure have been powerfully refuted once more.

The Associated Press reports:

“Long before the historic floods of the past week, crumbling roads, bridges and dams and aging drinking water systems plagued South Carolina — a poor state that didn’t spend much on them in the first place and has been loath to raise taxes for upkeep.

Now the state faces hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars’ worth of additional bills to fix or replace key pieces of its devastated infrastructure.

As the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and other disasters shows, the federal government will cover much of the costs, but isn’t going to pay for all of it.”

In other words, much as we’d like to chalk disasters like the destructive floods of recent days up to “acts of God,” the plain and undeniable fact is that they are actually part of the new normal on our warmer, more populated and increasingly paved-over planet. Moreover, we avoid preparing for them and attempting to preemptively mitigate them at our own great peril and expense.

Tragically, however, this painfully obvious reality continues to escape our state’s political leaders and the “free market think tanks” on whom they rely for policy advice. Indeed, as was explained by the good people at the Sierra Club earlier this week, a so-called “regulatory reform” bill currently awaiting Gov. McCrory’s signature would directly contribute to more of the kind of flooding experienced in the Carolinas in recent days by further limiting protections of the kinds of intermittent streams that help absorb runoff and alleviate flooding.

The bottom line: North Carolina can pay a lot now or vastly more later to address the impacts of our changing planet and growing population. And for the time being, it’s clear that we’ve opted for the latter option.

Commentary

Must read: The utter folly of sandbagging the NC coast

If you had any doubts about the futility and long-term destructiveness of propping up well-heeled property owners along the North Carolina coast with sandbags and so-called “terminal groins” of the kind favored by the well-heeled property owners who run the North Carolina General Assembly and the McCrory administration, read this excellent essay in today’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by coastal geology Prof. Rob Young. As Young explains:

“Is North Topsail Beach the most poorly managed beach community in the country? If not, it certainly seems to be taking a good shot at it. I have watched in dismay as the town has struggled to preserve a small stretch of oceanfront property at all costs. In doing so, officials have destroyed their beach and created significant access issues along more than a half-mile stretch of shoreline. Perhaps even more disconcerting is that this damage has been done with the permission of the N.C. Division of Coastal Management and the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission.”

But wait, it gets worse:
“I fear that the story of North Topsail Beach may become the story of coastal management in many North Carolina communities. Lax oversight and a desire to return decision-making to the localities will prove to be economically disastrous and waste public funds. The best example is the most recent. North Topsail Beach was given a Public Beach and Waterfront Access grant to build a parking lot to improve public access to the beach (it’s hard to climb over all those sandbags). The parking lot was constructed this spring. It is already falling into the sea.”
And here is the excellent conclusion:

“Ultimately, it is time for the residents of North Topsail Beach and similar communities to understand that protecting the oceanfront at all costs is not fair to the vast majority of property owners whose homes are in more reasonable locations. How much personnel time and real dollars has the town had to spend to protect a very small part of its tax base? And how has the complete degradation of the public beach (everyone’s economic resource) affected property values, rental income and the visitor experience?

It is also time for the CRC and the DCM to take a hard look at the variances they grant. Protecting the property values of some can seriously degrade the amenity that others expect. Coastal communities are far more than that one line of oceanfront homes.

North Carolina was once the national leader in wise coastal management. Look at the northern end of NTB and decide whether this is the vision we have for the fate of all North Carolina beaches. I surely hope not.”

Click here to read Young’s entire essay.

Commentary

Yet another editorial blasts scheme to allow more hardened beach structures

With news reports indicating that lawmakers have reached a backroom deal to expand the number of so-called “terminal groins” allowed along the North Carolina coast, the frequently conservative editorial page of the Jacksonville Daily News has reprinted an editorial this morning from the Wilmington Star News that does a great job of shredding the whole idea.

“A terminal groin is a big wall or hardened structure stretching out into the ocean, usually perpendicular to the coastline. Groins are built to change the effects of beach erosion. Jetties, on the other hand, are built so a channel to the ocean will stay open for navigation.

The trouble is — as almost every geologist and oceanographer will tell you — groins don’t really work. They stop or slow erosion in the immediate vicinity, but worsen erosion farther down the beach by halting the natural flow of sand.

Beach sand migrates and trying to stop its natural course is like old King Canute trying to keep the tide from coming in. It’s folly — potentially expensive folly.

Senior homeowners on Social Security and inland residents could wind up being taxed for “beach nourishment” to protect pricey oceanfront real estate. And what may help one property owner surely will end up badly for someone down the beach.

For three decades, North Carolina had a good rule barring any form of beach hardening. In 2011, the General Assembly, in its wisdom, chose to water down that rule allowing four “test” groins.

Not content to see how the tests perform, the N.C. Senate is ready to wash away all precaution.”

And, sadly, it appears the House is going along with this as well. Read the entire editorial by clicking here.