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Today’s “must read”: The hard truth about NC’s new sea-level rise report

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.

“The only long-term solution for places like North Topsail Beach is to realize that there will be some sections of oceanfront investment that we will not be able to protect. If we took the dollars being wasted on this losing battle and used them to shore up the amenities of the parts of NTB that will be viable far into the future, wouldn’t that be a better use of public funds?

As sea level rise continues, many communities will have to face these questions. Certain sections of oceanfront will become very expensive to keep a beach in front of. Communities need to plan now for how they can change their vulnerability footprint in a way that will not waste public funds and will preserve the local economy for everyone – including the small hotel owner three blocks away from the beach. That hotel owner needs a high-quality public beach for the use of guests, not to preserve the value of every oceanfront home.

So, my advice is this: Breathe your sigh of relief about the new sea-level-rise report and then get down to business creating a realistic vision for how to manage the coastal economy during the challenges of the next few decades.”

You can read Young’s entire op-ed by clicking here.

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