Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Towering Sea Flattens North Carolina

Some time ago, Eli remarks on the fact that sea level does not rise evenly, and that the North Carolina Coast was an area of very flat barrier islands and rapid sea level rise.  Elizabeth Harball reports on E&E about the current situation

Obdurate ignorance in the NC legislature egged on by property developer driven group called NC-20 and "citizen" scientist John Droz have lead essentially to the collapse of the science panel that advises the coastal commission. 

The situation is urgent as one of the current science panel members put it
Panel member Riggs noted that the better parts of six coastal counties today sit only 1 foot above sea level. In his opinion, it's not the slow, steady rise of the ocean but coastal storms that present the most urgent threat.
"The land along the shoreline along those areas is just being ripped out at 100 feet a storm," Riggs said. "The tipping point in my opinion is not 100 years from now at 2100, it's right now."
and town officials like Nags Head Town Manager Cliff Ogburn, need guidance, someone to tell them what to plan for
"Pick the number. ... We're just waiting for somebody to decide an accurate projection," he added. "I wish people 40 years ago would have imagined that we'd have houses falling into the ocean."
 Which is interesting because the lege also asked the science panel to put together a report by next March.  Science panel members are caught between a sense of duty and the knowledge that the commission and the legislature are shopping for the answers they want.  The people going to pick the number are not exactly playing with a full deck, or more accurately they want more jokers.
"We need to hear not just one side of the facts, we need all of the facts," Baldwin (Commission Chair -ER) added. "One of the things we'll hopefully be able to do is get people with the minority opinion on there."
Before an August 2013 CRC meeting intended to fill the empty panel seats was canceled, Baldwin had nominated four men who seemed to fit this description.

One was Nicola Scafetta of Duke University, who has argued that most climate warming since the 1970s can be accounted for by natural cycles in the solar system. Another was David Burton, NC-20's own science adviser, who largely rejects the panel's previous conclusions, denying that a warming planet will bring about accelerated sea-level rise.
about the only thing that might save the situation are the fleeing insurers or the USGS laying down the truth.


  1. Who knew facts have two sides?

  2. One is sunlit, the other forms the basis of the advertising industry.

  3. Unsure whether USGS is capable of doing that anymore.

  4. > "I wish people 40 years ago
    > would have imagined that
    > we'd have houses falling
    > into the ocean."

    By 40 years ago, they'd forgotten already:

    60 years ago:

    "... an 18-foot (5.5-meter) storm surge that would, as the U.S. Weather Bureau later said, nearly wipe out "all traces of civilization" along a 35-mile (56-kilometer) stretch of North Carolina's southeastern coast....
    ... riding the highest lunar tide of the year ...."

  5. We really can't run society's affairs at this scale. Small family groups and small bands, sure. Now? no.



  6. Bernard J.4/4/14 4:11 AM

    But, but, the overall cost is negligible according to Richard Tol!

    Except that Bob Ward has served Tol's arse to him on a plate...

  7. Scrap removal and reconstruction ups the GDP.

  8. SLR clearly played a major role in the loss of this house: It was built five years ago and global SLR since has been 10-15 mm. With the local hot spot, local SLR could have been 20 mm!

    Building houses on the edge of a constantly shifting barrier island is an inherently risky activity, especially on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Global SLR is slightly increasing that risk. So why does anyone build there? The government has been subsidizing flood insurance to promote economic development of these areas! These problems exist because of government regulation/intervention. Every community whose property values and economic well-belng depend on these subsidies knows that that SLR isn't the main issue when insurance prices depend on the number of feet the floors lie above projected flood levels.

    PS. Congress just gutted the Biggert-Waters Act mentioned in this article. Too many homeowners in flood-prone areas were asked to pay the real cost of their flood insurance, which in some cases was scheduled to become a substantial fraction of their mortgage payment.


  9. "We need to hear not just one side of the facts, we need all of the facts," Baldwin (Commission Chair -ER) added. "One of the things we'll hopefully be able to do is get people with the minority opinion on there."

    Ah yes, equal time! Just like we need to teach Creationism AND evolution in the science class, and let the kids decide which one they believe in more! It's not like anything's at stake here, right? We can afford to entertain all potential scenarios, including the ones that aren't. Reality is a buffet where you can just pick and choose the facts you like.

    And expertise? Pffft, that's just window dressing on, like, opinion, man!


  10. Insurers aren't fleeing - there is only one flood insurance provider and that is FEMA.

    Rates are set depending on the relationship of the first habitable floor of the home to the estimated level flood water will rise to in the event that supposedly has a 1% possibility of happening in a year. This is also referred to as the 1 in 100 year event. If your living quarters are below where the flood is projected to be your insurance rate is high and headed much higher.

    The idea that FEMA flood insurance subsidizes homeowners to take risks can be questioned, in most areas, to a certain extent.

    The flood insurance program was solvent (premiums collected made up for payments) until it went $18 billion into debt over the failure of the Army Corps to maintain its levees protecting New Orleans from Category 3 hurricanes, i.e. Katrina. The program went further into debt as a result of Sandy.

    Rates for all FEMA flood insurance have been rising rapidly since Katrina all over the US, and after Sandy, Congress came up with Biggert-Waters.

    Biggert-Waters, as I understand it, was intended to increase the flow of funds from the policy holders all over the US to pay for these disasters on the East Coast.

    Getting back to North Carolina. The attitudes Eli questions make a certain amount of sense. States have been allowed to have a say when it comes to determining what the Base Flood Elevation is that determines FEMA flood insurance rates. If N.C. requires that state authorities ignore recent scientific discoveries about sea level rise, it tends to allow more development to occur in areas where risk is increasing. The key is to understand what happens after a big "natural" disaster - the President declares a disaster, and the Stafford Act turns the zone into a massive redevelopment project. 80% or so of the loss is transferred to the US general taxpayer. The Act mandates rebuilding everything just as it was, if the locals so desire.

    N.C. benefits when the initial development occurs, and when the inevitable disaster happens, N.C. benefits again as federal funds flow in.

    There are a load of issues here. Scientific inquiry constantly increases our understanding of what the 1% risk actually is, and climate change means a wholesale change in risk levels.

    Studies in California, for instance, indicate that the catastrophic flood event of 1861-2, that turned the entire Central Valley into a lake and bankrupted the state, was dwarfed by several events in the past 1000 years, on about a 200 year cycle. Models are spitting out worse events as climate change proceeds. Economic modelling indicates even a lesser event than the 1861-2 event ranks equal with big earthquake scenarios.


Dear Anonymous,

UPDATE: The spambots got clever so the verification is back. Apologies

Some of the regulars here are having trouble telling the anonymice apart. Please add some distinguishing name to your comment such as Mickey, Minnie, Mighty, or Fred.

You can stretch the comment box for more space

The management.