The Republicans who took over the General Assembly two years ago aren't doing North Carolina's image any favors. The latest public relations embarrassment is a bill that orders the state not to listen to scientists who have studied and have predicted rising sea levels. The scientists predict a rise in sea level of 39 inches, but the GOP-controlled state Senate has said, no, the sea level can only rise 8 inches by the year 2100.
Well, that's not exactly what the bill says, but that's the way it's being interpreted in national media. North Carolina, once proud of its status as a Southern state that was not as bad as Mississippi and not as backward as South Carolina, now finds itself as a political King Canute bravely ordering the sea: "Thou shalt not rise."
This was not a necessary fight. What the Senate has ordered is not a limit on sea level but a limit on the state's planning to deal with sea level rise. Who knows who's right: Will the sea rise 8 inches or 39 inches over the next 90 years? Either way, the rise will be a major problem for coastal North Carolina. An abundance of caution (isn't that a conservative value?) would recommend planning for the worst-case scenario, not the best-case scenario.
The state has done a pretty poor job of coastal planning as it is, without taking into consideration predicted sea level rise. Every time a hurricane strikes the Outer Banks, Highway 12 gets overwashed or severed. The north end of Topsail Island is an invitation to destruction with its multi-story developments standing foolishly on low, flat shifting sands. Other beaches are similarly vulnerable. The barrier islands are not capable of sustaining major development, and all those beachfront houses are buildable only because the federal government subsidizes flood insurance and assists in rebuilding infrastructure wiped away by storms.
The end of this century is a long way away, and by then, maybe no one will remember the state Senate's brave stand against science. But by then, all those beachfront houses, hotels, roads and bridges might be washed away. An orderly plan for dealing with a worst-case rise in sea level might have mitigated some of the costs and the damage.