A Tale of Two Lands Down Under

While it can, North Carolina should enjoy the coastal sand it's sticking its head into on climate change

As I write this, it’s a chilly, misty January day in Charlotte, a great day to kick back with a good book, some coffee and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth on Spotify, and it’s hard to remember those convection-oven days in late June and early July when the temperature reached 104 (maybe higher). At the time, I was in Nashville, which topped up at 109. No surprise, then, that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental United States, and that this news has been received with a giant collective shrug.

Not so among our Antipodean brothers and sisters, who are trying to endure an Australia on fire. Now, Australians are renowned for their insouciance in the face of all kinds of natural horrors — they refer to venomous snakes, of which they have plenty, as “wiggly-sticks,” and I am not making that up — but even the Aussies seem a bit freaked:

“The current heat wave — in terms of its duration, its intensity and its extent — is unprecedented in our records,” said the Bureau of Meteorology’s manager of climate monitoring and prediction, David Jones.

“Clearly, the climate system is responding to the background warming trend. Everything that happens in the climate system now is taking place on a planet which is a degree hotter than it used to be.”

As the warming trend increased over coming years and decades, record-breaking heat would become more common, Dr Jones said.

“We know that global climate doesn’t respond monotonically — it does go up and down with natural variation. That’s why some years are hotter than others because of a range of factors. But we are getting many more hot records than we’re getting cold records. That’s not an issue that is explained away by natural variation.”

Oddly, Dr. Jones’ acknowledgement of the obvious seems not to have occasioned howls of “fraud!” among the more conservative figures in Australian public life, perhaps because they are sane, or because they can detect what’s in front of their faces. It’s already the weekend Down Under, and temperatures in the vast interior are expected to near 50 degrees Celsius, well into the 120s Fahrenheit. We’re talking Death Valley-in-August, climate map-altering, smart phone-jeopardizing heat the likes of which even the Outback isn’t accustomed to.

So what does this have to do with us folks in the Cackalackies? You might remember some other climate news from the summer:

A new law in North Carolina will ban the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise, prompting environmentalists to accuse the state of disrespecting climate science.

The law has put the state in the spotlight for what critics have called nearsightedness and climate change denial, but its proponents said the state needed to put a moratorium on predictions of sea level rise until scientific techniques improve.

The law was drafted in response to an estimate by the state’s Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) that the sea level will rise by 39 inches in the next century, prompting fears of costlier home insurance and accusations of anti-development alarmism among residents and developers in the state’s coastal Outer Banks region.

Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue had until Thursday to act on the bill known as House Bill 819, but she decided to let it become law by doing nothing …

The law, which began as a routine regulation on development permits but quickly grew controversial after the sea-level provision was added, restricts all sea-level predictions used to guide state policies for the next four years to those based on “historical data.”

Which is a neat trick, like calculating the terminal velocity of a rock dropped from a mile up based only on data from the first 200 feet. But it seems to have worked for everybody concerned in Raleigh, even the recently departed Democratic governor, who left the CRC, and all of us, this thoughtful parting gift:

Former Gov. Bev Perdue appointed to the Coastal Resources Commission one of the leaders of the group behind legislation to slow sea-level rise forecasting in the state.

Larry Baldwin of Carteret County is a leader of NC-20, a coastal economic group critical of climate change science. NC-20 pushed to have the state calculate sea-level rise based only on historical events rather than predictions of accelerated increases…

Baldwin is vice president of Land Management Group, a company that does environmental consulting and has lots of contact with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources about coastal development rules. Baldwin said some coastal county officials wanted him on the commission to fill the “coastal development” slot.

“I know they were concerned about trying to get as much balance as possible,” he said.

Terrific. For balance’s sake, I’d be happy to submit an amicus brief to the commission arguing that, to me, that 104-degree high from July was really 54. Reasonable people can find a way to split the difference. The John Locke Foundation, bless ‘em, continues to do God’s and the Koch Brothers’ work on this issue. Meanwhile, nothing to get riled up over, but Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists that monitors climate change, projects a better than one-in-six chance that by 2060, the level of the Cape Fear River at Wilmington will be five feet higher than it is today.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest