Friday, 1 June 2012

The solution to sea level rise

Imagine the sort of country in which a threat is dealt with by the highest authorities by making it illegal to consider this threat. Let me guess; you are now picturing some Orwellian world. No need for such exoticism, I’m afraid! Just picture North Carolina. And I’m not joking.
North Carolina has a rather long coastline, with extensive coastal plains behind it. At many locations, the coastline  is eroding (look here for an interactive map). You would think a state like that is most interested in the latest developments in sea level research. You would want to know what the chances are of what areas being flooded or eroded away, right? If you have a coastal settlement, or are considering to build one, you would want to know how expensive it will be to defend it against the sea. If you may want to buy a house, you would want to know if it will be toppling into the sea within a few decades. But no.

North Carolina and its topography

What North Carolina wants is to ignore the problem and hope that that will make it go away. A bill has been proposed (Replacement House Bill 819; read it here yourself; it's hilarious!) which makes it illegal to try to accurately predict sea level rise. It also makes it illegal to adopt policies, rules or guidelines based on educated sea level predictions. You have to hand it to the Americans: they do think outside the box sometimes. So far out you are surprised any adult would be willing to admit to such thoughts.

So what will they base their policies on? If this bill will be passed, it will only be legal to make sea level predictions by linearly extrapolating sea level change since 1900. So that’s sorted then! The sea will surely be so polite as to take heed of such legislation. Those who want to live near the sea are best off to do so in this enlightened state; in other states, the sea might very well do what she pleases!

 So far the sea has not refrained from jeopardising property: coastal erosion at Cape Hatteras, NC. Picture: Gary Braasch, taken from the BBC website.

If this bill is passed it may set a precedent; I can see more problems being tackled. I can see a law in predicting economic growth (or shrinking). Only extrapolations from the last month could be allowed! That will sort the economy out.

But jest aside; evidently a bill like that can be proposed. And if you can propose a bill that makes it illegal for authorities to inform civilians about sea level rise, and protect them against it, then what else can you propose? There are many other things one would hope local and regional authorities protect their citizens from; can all of that be made illegal at the whim of someone with a vested interest and a big mouth? I sure hope the answer is no...

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