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

This week’s most hopeful NC news story: Prominent meteorologist comes around on climate change

Image: WRAL.com

Image: WRAL.com

Most readers have probably already seen something about this story as it has been public in one form or another for weeks, but it seems worth reiterating and celebrating today after it received front page treatment in yesterday’s edition of Durham’s Indy Week. I speak, of course, of the recent actions and statements of Greg Fishel, the much-beloved (and devoutly Christian and conservative) meteorologist at Raleigh’s WRAL TV, in which he finally and publicly discarded his skepticism about global warming and the contributing role that humans are playing.

As Fishel explained in an article for WRAL.com last week, the science is simply to overwhelming to deny or ignore any longer.

“We have known for almost 200 years what gases make up our atmosphere, and what the radiative properties of those gases are. We know for a fact that the pre-industrial revolution levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the difference between life and death on this planet. In other words, without the natural levels of these gases, the earth would be an iceball and uninhabitable. That is fact, not conjecture.

We know for a fact that the earth’s temperature is rising, and that it’s not the sun. If it were the sun, the entire atmosphere would be warming, but it’s not. The troposphere, where most of the weather occurs, is warming up, and the stratosphere is cooling. This is all part of the radiative adjustments that are taking place because of what man is doing to the composition of our atmosphere.

Satellites confirm that the amount of long-wave radiation leaving the earth is decreasing and is emanating from a higher and higher altitude. Again, the exact response one would expect from human forces.

We know for a fact that the lifetime of carbon dioxide molecules is on the order of hundreds and even thousands of years, unlike water vapor molecules whose lifetime in the atmosphere is just shy of two weeks.”

In both his article and the Indy week story, Fishel laments the fact that so many of his fellow conservatives see acceptance of the facts of climate change as some kind of surrender of their core values. This is from the WRAL article:

“In closing, I believe science is a gift from God. We benefit from science in our daily lives 1,000 times over through all the conveniences we enjoy. Why have we chosen to turn our back on science when it comes to basic chemistry and physics? It is time to stop listening to the disingenuous cherry-pickers and start taking responsibility for learning the truth about climate change.

For those of you who are ardent skeptics, it’s going to be uncomfortable. I know, I have gone through the entire process. But in my mind, I didn’t make a mistake, I simply grew as a human being. There aren’t too many experiences in life that can top that.”

In the Indy Week story Fishel even opines that the issue has become a new passion for him that may even become the “focus of my life from here on.”

To which all a caring and thinking person can say in response is: Congratulations, Greg. Thanks for your honesty and courage.

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

The real threat to NC beaches is not sharks

Sea-level rise 2In the aftermath of the troubling shark attacks that have plagued North Carolina beaches this summer, there’s been a natural tendency to worry about the economic impact — both short and long-term — on the beach tourism economy. Bloody, weekly attacks by wild animals are not exactly what you call good publicity.

As Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer explained over the weekend in an essay reviewing coastal expert Orrin Pilkey’s new book, “The Last Beach,” however, there’s a much bigger threat looming to the beach economy. It’s called humans.

Here’s Barnett:

“Beaches move, and with rising sea levels they are moving faster. People try to slow or halt the process by dredging up sand or erecting imposing seawalls, but those are destructive and doomed efforts. To save the beaches, we must let beaches go where and how they want.

That humans should harmonize with beaches rather than try to control them is the theme ‘The Last Beach,’ a new book by Orrin H. Pilkey and J. Andrew G. Cooper. The book looks at the embattled state of beaches around the world where foolish beachfront construction, Sisyphean beach re-nourishment efforts and pollution from sewage, garbage and oil are ruining one of the world’s idyllic wonders, the broad stretches of sand where the land meets the sea.

‘Can we imagine a world without beaches?’ the authors ask. ‘As inconceivable as it might seem, such a loss is a distinct possibility, thanks to the way we abuse the shoreline at this time of rising sea level.’”

Pilkey’s message is the same one that scientist Rob Young delivered a couple years back at an N.C. Policy Watch Crucial Conversation: Humans may be able to stave off destruction for a few more years with their dredging, beach “re-nourishment,” and sea walls, but the price will be huge. Basically, by fighting nature, we’re just making things worse.

The bottom line: It’s understandable that beachfront property owners love their little pieces of paradise and want to freeze them in time time, but such acts are not only futile; they’re helping to assure that future generations will be denied the joys of beach/ocean tourism. And that’s one very extreme and costly way to cut down on the number of shark attacks.