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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.

Commentary

Sea-level rise 2For anyone who cares about the North Carolina coast, there is a “must read” in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by one of the state’s top experts on coastal geology.

As Dr. Rob Young explains in an essay entitled “That ‘more realistic’ sea-level report? Not good news for NC,” the notion that scientists have backed off of the troubling predictions that had developers in a lather a few years back is nonsense. Here’s Young:

“There seems to be a grand misimpression that a new sea-level rise report released by the Science Panel of the Coastal Resources Commission is different from a report released in 2010.

Here’s the shocking news: They’re essentially the same. The main difference is that the Science Panel first was asked to look 90 years down the road. The new report looks 30 years down the road. Interestingly enough, the first report includes a projection for 30 years that essentially matches the 30-year projection from the new report.

Any suggestion that the political establishment somehow chastened scientists into producing a ‘more realistic’ report is nonsense. The new report uses the same data sources, plus a few new ones, and the same approach. It even presents the predicted acceleration of sea level rise toward the middle of the century. (Full disclosure, I was an author on the first report but stepped down from the panel before the second report was completed.)

Yes, it is true that the new report includes different projections for the northern and southern North Carolina coast because northeastern North Carolina is subsiding. But the first report clearly acknowledged this difference. Why did the first report choose to use the higher northern Outer Banks rate for its SLR projection? Because the Science Panel was directed by the CRC to report only one number in that report. Had the CRC requested multiple rates, it would have gotten them.

The real lesson from this exercise is that five years of additional data haven’t changed the basic forecasts.”

As Young goes on to explain, the implications of these latest findings are hard and troubling but undeniable and the same as the ones he explained a couple of years ago in an NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation: Unless North Carolina wants to waste vast sums of money and actually make things worse in many places, we need a plan for managed retreat in some communities along the coast. Read More

Commentary

Sea-level rise 2Tempting as it may be to deny the hard reality of global warming and rising sea levels, the data continue to slap us in the face like so many crashing whitecaps on a rough day on the Outer Banks.

Many of those data are highlighted in a new, “must read” investigative report from the news service Reuters entitled “Water’s edge: The crisis of rising sea levels.” This report finds that: a) the data are overwhelming and, perhaps even more disturbingly, b) public officials are doing little-to-nothing about the problem except pouring more and more money down a very big drain — even when the impacted area is federal land:

For this article, Reuters analyzed millions of data entries and spent months reporting from affected communities to show that, while government at all levels remains largely unable or unwilling to address the issue, coastal flooding on much of the densely populated Eastern Seaboard has surged in recent years as sea levels have risen.

These findings, first reported July 10, aren’t derived from computer simulations like those used to model future climate patterns, which have been attacked as unreliable by skeptics of climate change research. The analysis is built on a time-tested measuring technology – tide gauges – that has been used for more than a century to help guide seafarers into port. Read More

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Sea-level rise 2The latest story comes from New York but it might has well be Florida or North Carolina. Once again, politicians (this time led by New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo) are opting for the politically expedient “quick fix” that will make everyone feel good for a few moments but do nothing to address the long-term scientific reality that confronts the American eastern and southern coasts.

This is from a “must read” editorial in yesterday’s New York Times by one of the nation’s leading coastal geologists, North Carolina’s own Prof. Rob Young of Western Carolina University:

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $207 million plan to dredge millions of tons of sand off the south shore of Long Island and spread it along the beaches and dunes. The Army Corps of Engineers, which will direct the federally financed project, says it will stabilize Fire Island and reduce the storm surge hazard for the mainland.

In fact, the project will do neither. It is a colossal waste of money and another consequence of the nation’s failure to develop a coherent plan to address the risks from storms faced by states along the eastern seaboard and gulf coast.

As Young goes on to explain, not only is the project unnecessary in that the barrier island in question is already naturally rebuilding itself (and that the dredging about to take place will disrupts important endangered wildlife habitats), but it’s also emblematic of a broader and even more serious problem: The U.S. literally has no comprehensive plan to deal with rising seas: Read More

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Sea-level rise 2As Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning, “Shored up,” the movie that North Carolina’s climate-change-denying state government didn’t want to be shown at the state Museum of Natural Sciences will get three public viewings this week.

“N.C. State University will screen it Wednesday night at the Hunt Library as part of a presentation on the North Carolina coast and climate change that will include a panel discussion.

Then, on Thursday night, there will be two screenings in Durham at the Full Frame Theater, sponsored by the environmental group The N.C. Coastal Federation. There also will be a panel discussion after the second showing that night.”

The panel discussion at the Durham Full Frame event at the American Tobacco Campus, will feature our own Chris Fitzsimon. Click here for more information.