Wednesday, 4 July 2012

North Carolina and the sea - an update

Is North Carolina asking citizens to think for themselves? Regulations, put in place with the best intentions, often turn against their purpose. Think of regulations that limit the height of the ladders window cleaners are allowed to use in their work; the idea behind them is increasing the safety of those who clean windows. But it results in window cleaners having to resort to scaffolding or boom lifts more often; this makes their services much more expensive. With the result that people will try to clean their own windows. Without the experience that comes with the profession. This law is reported to only have resulted in an increase in window cleaning accidents… And boom lifts aren’t fail-proof either; I found seven cases of death and 19 of injury due to boom lift in the Netherlands since 2003.

Source: Aubrey Dale, Creative Commons

So well-meant laws often have a reverse effect. But could it work the other way? As I wrote in a blog post in early June; North Carolina was considering making it unlawful to base coastal protection policies on up-to-date sea level change research. This law didn’t make it; the House of Representatives have voted for its revision. The new version, which will have to get an OK from the governor before it becomes a law, contains the clause that the Coastal Resources Commission shall direct its Science Panel to actually study scientific literature, and come up with recommendations only after that. They have until December 2015 to write the report. So the threat of North Carolina making it unlawful to be informed about sea level change is gone. On the long term, that is. The new version also contains a clause that says, and I quote, “The Coastal Resources Commission and the Division of Coastal Management of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources shall not define rates of sea-level change for regulatory purposes prior to July 1, 2016.”

An example of coastal erosion from California

Science (the magazine) considers this bad news; those who wish to know if it’s wise to build a new house somewhere on the coast get no guidelines from their state for the next four years. But it also means they are allowed to think for themselves. If policy makers are forced to give out meaningless guidelines, it may well go unnoticed by the consumer of these guidelines that these are completely detached from reality. But when the state publicly announces silence on the topic, people will be quite aware they have to find out for themselves. And not everybody will be pleased that they pay their tax, but still have to spend time on making their own guidelines; and some people will undoubtedly find incomplete or inaccurate information in their search, but altogether I think it’s a much better situation than one in which it is downright illegal to do the sensible thing. So this revised law is a watered-down version of a law aimed at keeping the people ignorant; this version may serve to make them better informed that they were before!

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