North Carolina Bill Would Require Coastal Communities To Ignore Global Warming Science

Some North Carolina GOP legislators want to stop the use of science to plan for the future. They are circulating a bill that would force coastal counties to ignore actual observations and the best science-based projections in planning for future sea level rise.

King Canute thought he had the power to hold back the tide (in the apocryphal legend). These all-too-real lawmakers want to go one better and mandate a formula that projects a sea level rise of at most 12 inches this century, far below what the science now projects.

A state-appointed science panel reviewed the recent literature and reported that a 1-meter (39 inch) rise is likely by 2100. Many coastal studies experts think a level of 5 to 7 feet should be used, since you typically plan for the plausible worst-case scenario, especially with expensive, long-lived infrastructure.

The 2011 report by the National Academy of Science for the U.S. Navy on the national security implications of climate change concluded:

Based on recent peer-reviewed scientific literature, the Department of the Navy should expect roughly 0.4 to 2 meters global average sealevel rise by 2100, with a most likely value of about 0.8 meter. Projections of local sea-level rise could be much larger and should be taken into account for naval planning purposes,

Rob Young, a geology professor at Western Carolina University and a member of the state science panel, pointed out to the North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF) that this proposed law stands against the conclusions of “every major science organization on the globe.” Young notes, “Every other state in the country is planning on three-feet of sea level rise or more.” The Charlotte Observer notes:

Maine is preparing for a rise of up to 2 meters by 2100, Delaware 1.5 meters, Louisiana 1 meter and California 1.4 meters. Southeastern Florida projects up to a 2-foot rise by 2060.

In place of science, the bill would mandate that only the Division of Coastal Management can put out an estimate of the rate of sea-level rise — and they must use an arbitrary, low-ball formula:

These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise.

As the National Academies report to the Navy pointed out, observations suggest SLR won’t be linear: Thanks to satellite data, “it is now possible to detect acceleration in sea-level rise over the past few decades.”

Here is NASA’s website with the data plotted showing the recent acceleration:

See also the Real Climate post, “Is Sea-Level Rise Accelerating?

A 2011 study led by the U.S. Jet Propulsion Laboratory using satellite data concluded, “The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating pace.” The JPL news release explains how the authors concluded we face 1 foot of sea level rise by 2050:

The authors conclude that, if current ice sheet melting rates continue for the next four decades, their cumulative loss could raise sea level by 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) by 2050. When this is added to the predicted sea level contribution of 8 centimeters (3.1 inches) from glacial ice caps and 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) from ocean thermal expansion, total sea level rise could reach 32 centimeters (12.6 inches).

Sadly, even if this inane bill never becomes law, anti-science forces are already winning the battle to block sensible adaptation to global warming in North Carolina, one of the states most threatened by sea level rise.

A coastal economic development group called NC-20 attacked the state science panel’s recommendation to the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission to plan for 1 meter of SLR. And even though the panel reconfirmed its findings again in April, the Charlotte Observer reports, “NC-20, named for the 20 coastal counties, appears to be winning its campaign to undermine them”:

The Coastal Resources Commission agreed to delete references to planning benchmarks – such as the 1-meter prediction – and new development standards for areas likely to be inundated.

The N.C. Division of Emergency Management, which is using a $5 million federal grant to analyze the impact of rising water, lowered its worst-case scenario from 1 meter to 15 inches by 2100.

Several local governments on the coast have passed resolutions against sea-level rise policies.

NC-20’s science adviser is physicist John Droz. Climate Progress readers know him as a long-time wind opponent — see Memo: Group Wants To Create Fake Grassroots Wind ‘Subversion’ Campaign That ‘Should Appear As A Groundswell’. He is also a senior fellow at the ultra-conservative American Tradition Institute. ATI is devoted to spreading doubt about climate change, opposing state-level renewable energy targets, and stripping away environmental regulations. The ATI is so extreme that it was denounced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for contributing to an “environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas.”

One North Carolinian writing in Scientific American said the proposed bill is “exactly like saying, do not predict tomorrow’s weather based on radar images of a hurricane swirling offshore, moving west towards us with 60-mph winds and ten inches of rain. Predict the weather based on the last two weeks of fair weather with gentle breezes towards the east. Don’t use radar and barometers; use the Farmer’s Almanac and what grandpa remembers.”

The irony is that North Carolina celebrates scientific and technological achievement on its license plate and state quarter — the Wright Brothers “First Flight” at Kittyhawk. Oh, and its state motto is Esse quam videri, which means “To be, rather than to seem.”

You’d think such a state would pass laws based on science and what actually is, rather than what seems to be popular with narrow economic and ideological interests.

75 Responses to North Carolina Bill Would Require Coastal Communities To Ignore Global Warming Science

  1. Peter M says:

    Many states that deny global warming face the biggest risk factors in the now and in the future. They lie mostly in the South, Great Plains, some in the lower Midwest) A great chunk of this country. The are setting themselves up for an experience that rivals Hades or the Great Flood with Noah. It truly amazes me how this country has swung so far to the right in many regions- perhaps the last darkness before the light? But at what cost?

  2. kindler says:

    Science denial is rising to the level of a mass pathology.

  3. M Tucker says:

    Sure NC will celebrate the Wright Brothers. What’s not to be proud of? A new technology that takes advantage of the internal combustion engine is a winner for NC! It validates 150 years of crude oil exploitation.

    As for sea level rise…it doesn’t seem like it is rising too fast. When the barrier islands are no longer safe NC politicians and those who elect them may finally come to their senses.

  4. Joan Savage says:

    It looks rather like a cheesy attempt to avoid what might become major NC state expenditures if coastal areas try to hold the line against sea level rise, instead of retreating inland.

    Under the legislation, the state could only be called on to subsidize measures for up to 12 inches of sea-level rise, and after that…nada.

    Note the most populous cities of NC are Charlotte and Raleigh, and both metropolitan areas are inland and at higher elevation than the coastal population.

  5. Alex says:

    I’m beginning to think it’s time to force the South out of the United States. They’re just too dumb, and we can’t afford to take care of them anymore, or to put up with their idiocy and holding the rest of the country back.

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    That’s exactly how I read it, Joan.

    NC is drawing a line in the (underwater) sand in terms of financial responsibility.

    But we all know this won’t stand. Once the sea level rise starts to hurt people in the fine state of NC, they’ll come running to their state legislators and, of course, the federal gov’t, for help. And they’ll blame those dastardly scientists for “not making a sufficiently compelling case when we could have done something about this” all the while.

  7. caerbannog says:

    For those of us who live and Southern California and have to deal with the possibility of catastrophic earthquakes, this is a great idea!!

    We can have the legislature pass a law forbidding any fault in Southern California from cutting loose with an earthquake greater than magnitude 3.5!

    Not only will that eliminate the risk of future catastrophe, we’ll be able to relax our building codes to stimulate the economy!

    Those NC legislators must be gobbling down “smart pills” like popcorn…

  8. Lore says:

    I’m sure NC insurers will have a different take.

  9. Monica Hoeft says:

    Now how many degrees do the legislators think they have?? Well they obviously have a medical degree because the can dictate to women how to manage their reproductive health, oh yes – and now a degree in science and climatology – well whup-dee-doo!!! guess we don’t have to worry our lil heads ’bout nuthin!! Dem thar lejishlaters got evrythin under kontrol!

  10. Thomas says:

    Let ’em drown. But let ’em secede first.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s the March of the Morons, promoted assiduously by the omnicidal Right and their MSM hate machine. These Cnuts are pretty clearly representatives of various psychopathologies, the Dunning-Kruger malady in particular.

  12. Paul Magnus says:

    Surreal. We are homo insanum.

  13. RobLL says:

    IIRC Knute was making the point that even kings cannot control many things

  14. Matt H says:

    Here’s a good local response to all of this:

    But is it more than little moot that the Assembly wants to use HISTORICAL data, when even that HISTORICAL data says the beach is eroding/water rising by inches every year?

  15. Sasparilla says:

    March of the Morons – says it so well.

  16. Patrick Linsley says:

    Climate Cnuts. I like that!

  17. Sasparilla says:

    Perfectly put….

  18. The Wonderer says:

    Of course the state will make out and save money when the (hated) Federal Government bails them out due to their bad decision making.

  19. The Wonderer says:

    Is an entire state eligible for the Darwin Award?

  20. Doug Bostrom says:

    I suppose this is what Judith Curry means when she speaks of “post normal.”

  21. ozajh says:

    I understand from another source that Cnut the Great actually ordered the tide to stop rising specifically to show his overly sycophantic courtiers (who he had placed to seeward of himself) that there were things beyond his control as High King.

    I wonder if any other major historical figure is remembered in the popular imagination for so PRECISELY the opposite of what they actually did.

  22. ozajh says:

    “seeward” = “seaward”

  23. Dan Miller says:

    I was working with Jim Hansen on his TED talk and he asked me for a picture of Florida under 18 feet (5m) of water. I protested and said we should focus on things that could happen this century. He replied that it could happen this century! He believes under BAU we will see 2 to 5m of sea level rise this century. Even 1m (3 ft.) will have devastating consequences. Jim did point out that BAU continuing for the century is an unbelievably strong forcing, but we do seem to be trying to keep it up.

    Preliminary data shows mass loss from Greenland and Antarctica has a doubling time of about 10 years. Now assume that about 1mm of the 3mm of the current sea level rise is due to ice mass loss. With a 10-year doubling time, that 1mm/year will grow to 1m/year in 100 years! Now, there may be limits to the annual sea level rise, but you can see that exponential growth is not your friend and 5m end-of-century SLR is an actual possibility!

  24. The best current estimates for scenarios similar to the MIT no-policy case project a 1.4m (4.6 foot) rise in sea levels from current conditions by 2100 (based on 5 degrees C warming by the end of the century, with another degree C still “in the pipeline”, so sea level rise won’t stop at 1.4m in that case). And no, that work doesn’t account for big runaway feedbacks like those lurking in the tundra, peat bogs, and methane hydrates.

    Here’s the source from which you can derive the result above: Vermeer, Martin, and Stefan Rahmstorf. 2009. “Global sea level linked to global temperature.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. December 7, 2009. []

    For info on the MIT no-policy case, see

    For a few more details and a funny related op-ed, see

  25. Scott says:

    Odd that the authors mentioned dont include the contribution from ground water pumping….

  26. John Hollenberg says:

    The one thing we can say for certain is that science denial is currently rising faster than sea level. By the time sea level rise is faster than the rise in science denial, it will be too late to do much about it.

  27. Billy Snapp says:

    Of course. Ronald Reagan.

  28. Raoul says:

    What sea level rise? I’ve been vacationing to a seaside resort this spring, and the sea is right where it was last year! QED.

  29. Mark E says:

    This is great!

    The same legislatures who, out one side of their mouths, regularly complain about a big government (Wash DC) telling smaller units (states) what to do, are now talking out the other side of their mouths to tell smaller units (cities) what THEY have to do (e.g., ignore science).

  30. wvng says:

    More simply, the next southern state that says it wants to secede, we can say “go right ahead.” And then build a fence to keep them out.

  31. Mark E says:

    If you are suggesting that other states are at LESS risk then I could not disagree more.

    Where are other states going to get their food?

    What crops will they be able to grow? Remember that temp and moisture extremes on both ends of the scale are going to intensify, and the timing and of rain and percolation down to the roots is also going to change.

    Where are the people from flooded or dustbowlified areas going to go to live?

    Pennsylvania, for example, might not be dustbowlified as soon or as bad as Western oklahoma, but its civilization as we know it is at just as much risk. (Ironically, when climate refugees arrive there, they’ll find frack chemicals in the groundwater).

  32. Frank Johnston says:

    Canut was skeptical of advisors who never troubled the king with inconvenient truths. He demonstrated that the sea does rise.


  33. Robert Levi Marenda says:

    I really don’t like this climate progress comment format. I can barely read the comments. I think I will just avoid all climate progress articles until this is changed.

  34. Gene Hoglan says:

    It’s more of an insurance scam than anything else. Most of these developers are from New York and New Jersey; they’re trying to get the state, which currently uses the correct methodology in highway and natural resource planning, to use fake numbers instead so they have something to point to get lower insurance rates on developer-owned properties.

    Building on an ever-shifting string of tiny barrier islands is a fool’s game to begin with, and the market is run by fly-by-night crooks who try to sell product as quickly as possible before the dupes in the luxury vacation rental market realize their million-dollar investments will be in the ocean in 20 years.

  35. The South won the Civil War — they forced the North to take them back.

  36. Michael Cote says:

    Simply not true: “since you typically plan for the plausible worst-case scenario, especially with expensive, long-lived infrastructure.”

    High-end infrastructure developers, be them rail, road, or even naval bases, comply with local, state, and federal building laws. None (ZERO!) require “worst-case scenario” planning. The worst case ratio is 1:500 year storm, projects built to meet this are so incredibly rare in America as to be negligible to the thrust of this column. If the US infra planning ratio was mandated to the range of 1:2,500 to 1:10,000 years storm used by the Dutch, Romm would be out of a column.

  37. maya says:

    my gosh, these Republicans… they’re regressing and becoming more backward with each passing day..

    come on Americans, you keep voting for these backward ignorant wackos.. maybe in a few decades they will finally have succeeded in turning the U.S. into a third-world country (even many third-world countries are more educated and civilized than American right-wingers when it comes to global warming..)

  38. noen says:

    In forty years we will no longer be able to grow wheat in the continental US. Just ponder that. Think about who will be able to get and afford food and who will not. It won’t be our children.

  39. Mitch Beales says:

    NORTH CAROLINA: when the tide covers the beach you will drown even if your head is buried in the sand.

  40. Joe Romm says:

    You must be on a smart phone. Comments are big on my Apple and you can always make ’em bigger. Anyway, they’ve been the same for many years now.

  41. Joe Romm says:

    This isn’t true. Lots of folks plan for 100-year storms. And lots of states are planning for the plausible worst-case of sea level rise.

  42. LJL says:

    It could possibly be explained to those bible loving southerners by saying that ignoring science is absolutely like Noah having ignored God’s warning about the flood. So if they won’t even take a lesson from their bible who should care if the down there get their feet wet?

  43. Perhaps next those fine folks in NC should tackle the persistent problem of gravity.

  44. colinc says:

    No offense but I think Peter Gabriel “wrapped it up” pretty neatly nearly 40 years ago with this little ditty…

    The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging

  45. Gus diZerega says:

    NeoConfederates have only opposed big government they do not control. When in power they have no interest in ‘states rights’ and at any level of power they have no interest in individual rights.

  46. Mark says:


    so what was done with a Democratic President, democratically controlled Senate, and House of Representatives?

    because I read this site, I am quite sure it was


  47. colinc says:

    Both perspectives are accurate so we really should be referring to a singular “party” with 2 “sects” that vary only in minutiae. Therefore, if we take democrats and republicans we get demonicans! :D

  48. mij61 says:

    From 1870 to 2000 sea level hasn’t risen by the thickness of two dimes (approx 2 mm)according to observational ground data. I don’t see the gloom and doom scenarios the liberals are enjoying.

  49. SeaDog says:

    Brilliant! Anyone who suggests Reagan had a brain is definitely misremembering him!

  50. Joan Savage says:

    That 18 ft sea-rise projection would turn the port of Wilmington NC into a bunch of islands or mini-peninsulas.

  51. M Tucker says:

    The House DID pass a bill to limit GHG emissions. The Senate is not controlled by the majority but the minority and Harry Reid did not have the votes to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Since 2010 the House reverted to Republican control and YES the new ultra-reactionary, fringe dominated Republican Party IS THE PROBLEM.

    As for President Obama, he has always been confused on the issue. Mostly because he is, fundamentally, a middle of the road Democrat; not a socialist as the propagandists would have us believe. That means he wants very much to win Coal states in a general election and that is why he spoke so highly of “clean coal” during the 2008 campaign. I only got encouraged with him when he selected Holdren as science adviser and Chu as Energy Secretary. I could not imagine that Holdren would suddenly become mute on the issue after so many years of active messaging and that he would have absolutely no influence on Obama. Live and learn. For Obama political calculation is much more important than environmental and moral calculation. Still it is better than having a politician who insists climate change is a hoax, says jobs are the number one issue, yet only introduces bills to end a woman’s right to choose and to gut Family Planning.

  52. Ugeine says:

    King Cnut never thought he could control the tide, he was proving his piety. He was demonstrating his power was nothing compared to that of God.

    Basically, please don’t insinuate my long dead Saxon ancestors were as scientifically ignorant as modern day Republicans.

  53. Joe Romm says:

    I said it was probably apocryphal and linked to an explanation of that.

  54. Belgrave says:

    Look closely at the above graphs. During the 120 years to 1990 sea level rose at 1.7 mm per year, a total of 200mm. Since 1993, it has risen at an average of 3.17mm per year – a total of 60mm in only 18 years.

  55. Doug Bostrom says:

    Pretty feeble attempt. Surely you can do better?

  56. FancyNancy says:

    Don’t worry, guys. We can totally defeat science through the magic of bureaucracy.

  57. Tom Mallard says:

    Sea-level for humanity is pinned on the fate of Greenland’s ice-sheet, now losing 150-billion tons of ice a year more than falls as snow.

    Jakobshaven Glacier calves enough fresh-water to last NYC a year in two days.

    This ice-sheet will contribute a foot of sea-level in 88-years and counting down.

    CO2 will be 450-ppm’s in twenty years, Pliocene levels from Pleistocene mellowness between 250-300 ppm’s for a million years and now we’ll be 150-ppm’s above that in 200.

    Now, the melting of Greenland is a process that at the last interglacial peak melted 2/3rd’s of the sheet raising sea-levels 10m/33ft.

    When the melting gets high enough within the ice-sheet, some point, no matter how much snow falls the ice-sheet will waste away from this process we’re forcing which has happened before but not nearly this fast.

    That’s the game … for those in the dark on satellite data, we have all the actual stats available online:

    Sea-level, real-time satellite & sea-buoy readings, global to local, check coastal state records to see that sea-level doesn’t go up nice and smooth, it jumps up a foot and down a foot as we melt glaciers & ice-sheets it’s not linear.

    For a nice graph of what nature does and we are doing here’s the past 400,000-years of CO2, global temperature and sea-level as influenced by astronomial forces that brought on the glacial, then interglacial periods. There are ice-core records from ice-sheets along with sediment cores to create this:

    If you want to see where the sea-level is actually coming from and why it’s rising this is a NOVA special by a team of glaciologists and a main photographer to document some of the world’s largest glaciers using time-lapse cameras:

    Make up your own mind on what’s important in life, if you value the barrier islands, use 1m/3ft in 88-years or less and counting down.

  58. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The ‘Confederate States of the South’ is a state of mind, not a geographical reality.

  59. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    They have a Degree in Eschatology from reading the Good Book, in particular the paranoiacs’ favourite bed-side reading, the ‘Book of Revelation’. And a Degree in Scatology from studying the output of the Rightwing MSM propaganda cess-pool.

  60. Just add money and amazing how rapidly the US returns to stupidity.

  61. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The sad delusion that US voters have ‘choice’ in mainstream politics is quite befuddling. You live in a mostly hereditary plutocracy, where the Constitution was written by the richest in the land, to permanently protect their interests from the rabble. The two mainstream parties are both beholden to the wealthy, and co-operate to keep the rabble in line, whenever required. Just read Walter Karp’s ‘Indispensable Enemies’ for a good history. Obama is Bush III, and, in many ways, even more sinister than his predecessor. That he is back peddling his ‘Hopium’ shows real chutzpah, but I get the feeling that the Masters have opted for Romney, so I expect Obama to, as ever, follow orders and shimmy off to a rich retirement.

  62. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign-no more water, the fire next time’. Typically slippery deity-it looks like we’re gonna cop both barrels.

  63. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    In ‘midge’ world science is a liberal plot. Upright, God-fearing ‘Coin-server-tives’ rely on the ‘Good Book’-the Wall Street Journal, and the thoughts of the Supreme Deity, Rupert, and his representatives on Earth.

  64. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    “The rabble” was John Adams’ favorite verbiage describing the ‘not him’ portion of society. See, for instance, the Aliens and Sedition Acts of 1798 – so heinous an overreach of government intervention into the bedrooms, the bathrooms, and the boudoirs of the populace that it could have been written by some of today’s Right-Wing Authoritarians. Adams’ VP, Jefferson, despised Adams, despised the Acts, and ran against Adams in 1800, in what may yet be the dirtiest campaign in US history. Today, both barely-ideologically-seperate parties ascribe their moral heritage to Jefferson, but execute policy more like Adams.

  65. Peter M says:

    you may disagree

    but the further south you go- the more the heat will become extreme- the more water will become scarce- even though extreme storms will occur- the heat will simply make any precipitation evaporate.

    Am I saying that my home in New England will not be buffeted by sea rise (yes) extreme weather? yes- I have seen that here already-

    Food costs for grains will skyrocket? yes-

    The weather here will become at times very severe- erosion along our coastal areas produce intolerable conditions- invasion of unwanted plants, insects and flora will become a huge problem- the only saving here is the climate will be less worse then many parts of the US to the west and south.

  66. Gregory says:

    Ugeine: Cnut was a Dane, not Saxon, so your ancestry may be a little different fom what you assumed.

  67. David Lewis says:

    I live in a flood plain in the Pacific NorthWest. FEMA is the only source of flood insurance, i.e., the Feds. The state could do whatever it felt like, say define the floodplain as a mountain range, and it wouldn’t matter to FEMA. You can’t get a mortgage where FEMA defines the area as subject to a 1 in 100 year flood event unless you pay for insurance.

    No bank will loan money to an ordinary person buying in a risk area unless the property is insured. Flood insurance or sea level rise insurance as it may become known is only salable to a small group compared to something like fire insurance, as fires can happen to anyone, so the price gets very high very fast if the risk is perceived to be increasing anywhere. Its insurance cost that will control development. Laws will just be made as people try to get other people to pay for their risk.

    I wouldn’t want to vote for a law like this even if I claimed to believe sea level rise was a hoax – if problems arise, N.C. has formally prohibited people from acting rationally based on scientific facts, so some may take N.C. to court when the sh*t hits the fan saying N.C. made me do it.

  68. Robert in New Orleans says:

    In North Carolina Can Anyone Hear The Ignorance?

    Apologies to Sir Ridley Scott

  69. Sean says:

    Someone probably already mentioned this, but King Cnut the Great went down to the shore to prove that earthly kings were not truly powerful, as no man can stop the waves.

  70. Joe Romm says:

    Does no one click on links any more?

  71. Kevin Schmidt says:

    I think this is an excellent bill, except for the fact that it is completely unconstitutional and completely unscientific. Other than that, it’s perfect!

    Go Dodos, go! You don’t have to change a bit. Jesus loves you just the way you are…

  72. Kevin Schmidt says:

    I think you mean the science of bipartisan fascism and unbridled greed.

  73. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’ve always admired the candour of John Jay, signatory of The Declaration of Independence and first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, one of whose favourite aphorisms was, ‘The people who own this country are going to run this country’, as it has been ever since.

  74. Riley Hunter says:

    Well, there’s got to be some way to stop this sea level rise stupidity and if it turns out that legislating against it is the only thing left to do, then I support it. Go the bill!

  75. Hazel says:

    You assume that FEMA will remain safe from the March of the Morons. What happens if Romney is elected, or one of the even more dastardly wingnuts?