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North Carolina's wishful-thinking solution to global warming

June 05, 2012|By Patt Morrison
  • Tropical storm Dennis floods Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Sept. 6, 1999.
Tropical storm Dennis floods Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Sept. 6, 1999. (Reuters )

On what political tout sheet is North Carolina listed as a swing state?

Because it looks like it's already swung, and not in the direction of the Democrats, who hold their convention there in September.

First came last month's vote to put a ban on same-sex marriage in the state's Constitution (a San Diego church has put up a billboard in Charlotte, the site of the Democratic convention, apologizing for the "narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative" vote).

Now the state’s Legislature is considering a law that would, for all intents and purposes, give all the legislators doctorates in climatology. Because the law allows the Legislature to decide what is useful scientific data and what isn’t.

As a coastal state, North Carolina faces the same global climate challenges of rising sea levels and turbulent weather that island countries and other coastal regions have begun to confront, and to ask what to do next: Do they build walls? Draw their population inland and upland?

Here's the NoCa solution: pretend it’s not happening. Pass a law saying it can't happen because we say it can't. Which is to say, ban any government agency from using the standard scientific tools like extrapolating data to figure out what's happening, and thus avoid all those scary, silly scientific facts and figures.

Global warming? Flooding seas? Not in North Carolina. Why? Because they say so, that's why.

News reports point out that businesses and local governments along the state's coast lobbied for the law, which declares that only data from years past can be considered in calculating future sea levels; essentially, if it didn't happen before, it can't happen, period. The pending law bans using real scientific techniques and formulas about rising sea levels because that could mean rising building costs, rising insurance rates and rising restrictions on coastal building. So instead, let's invoke wishful thinking and say it isn't so.

The state's Coastal Resources Commission, which looked into that soon-to-be-forbidden future, had anticipated a sea level rise of more than three feet within 90 years. The precise figure, 39 inches, has now been deleted from the commission's policy.

In Scientific American, science writer and North Carolinian Scott Huler lays out this sardonic fantasist extrapolation about what else his state might consider declaring to be reality:

"According to North Carolina law, I am a billionaire. I have a full-time nanny for my children, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and I get to spend the entire year taking guitar lessons from Mark Knopfler. Oh, my avatar? I haven't got around to changing it, but by law, I now look like George Clooney. There's also a supermodel clause, but discussing the details would be boasting. You think I'm kidding, but listen to me: I'm from North Carolina, and that's how we roll. We take what we want to be reality, and we just make it law. So I'm having my state senator introduce legislation writing into law all the stuff I mentioned above. This is North Carolina, state motto: "Because that's how I WANT it to be."

It's gob-smacking to imagine science forced to operate under a set of legal restrictions that amount to  "because we've never done it before, we can't do it now."

Oh wait -- it already has done that. And look at the consequences. Anatomy, astronomy, biology, physics, life itself: Until science was legally allowed, by church and state, to look forward instead of backward, it wasn't fully science at all, and we weren't yet permitted to become the questing, learning, coping species that we are.

U.S. News & World Report quoted a North Carolina university professor named Stan Riggs, a coastline expert, as despairing of the Legislature that "clearly they don't understand science at all" to put such restrictions on analysis.

I tend to disagree. I think they know the science; at least they know the implications of it. They may just choose to ignore it because, after all, a beachfront condo in the hand is worth two in the tsunami.

North Carolina may be about to join the ranks of states like Kansas, which, for a couple of years, took evolution and the Big Bang hypothesis out of the state's science curriculum.

North Carolina's license plates bear bragging rights to the Wright brothers. "First in Flight," they say, about the Ohio siblings who, in 1903, journeyed to Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina's Outer Banks to test their flying machine, equipped with a lot of those doggoned projections and extrapolations.

If the Wright brothers tried their takeoff these days, North Carolina legislators might have stopped them at the state line, arguing, "If we'd been meant to fly, we'd have been born with feathers. Get that thing outta here."

Or, more accurately, they might be saying, "Glub, glub, glub." Because Kill Devil Hills, elevation seven feet, could, in a few years' time, find itself underwater. Unless the Legislature forbids the Atlantic Ocean to rise. That'll do the trick all right.

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