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Reality Laughs Again at North Carolina


It’s not just Nate Silver.

Certainly Silver’s election math beat-down is the most noteworthy example of science delivering a dope slap to superstition, to “gut feeling,” to magical thinking: "Come on, you knuckleheads."

But reality is striking back everywhere – in some places with a kind of fierce appropriateness that borders on comedy, or tragedy, or both. Consider North Carolina, where recent events demonstrated that the age of irony is far from over. It turns out that North Carolina – state legislature motto, “Boo Science!” – is feeling some of the most significant measured effects of climate change in the world.

Recall the North Carolina state legislators who tried to legislate away measurement of sea level rise. Finally, in the face of global ridicule, they decided not to explicitly outlaw the measurements but instead to address the crisis by pledging not to do anything at all for at least a few years. The antiscientist knucklehead behind these crusades, David Rouzer (he also pledged to do away with the Department of Energy because he was shocked to see people there reading books) ran for U.S. Congress and is currently engaged in what promises to be a long and dispiriting recount, though one can hope that his 500-or-so vote deficit holds and the man who resisted scientific evidence because “there could be a negative impact on coastal economies” will not be a member of the U.S. Congress.

Which is where the irony comes in. Because regardless of NC legislation, that whole science thing has kept going on. Which meant that on election day its own self, the Geological Society of America met – in, the universe being the trickster that it is, North Carolina. There, the usual scientific types engaged in more of that sciencey stuff, talking especially about a piece published in June in Nature Climate Change that noted that of global sea level rise hotspots, the North Carolina coast was among the world leaders.

Due to a lot of factors – subsidence, for example – sea level rise is not uniform all over the world. Some places it accelerates, some places it even slows down. And in North Carolina it’s accelerating, which may lead to a rise of closer to five feet in a century than the three feet or so that got our legislators so exercised in the first place.

So, ha ha – while you’re telling the universe that you don’t care that for its laws of physics, it’s using those very laws of physics to drown you. Laugh now, denier.

Rouzer is at least honest – he doesn’t so much doubt the science as choose to ignore it because there’s short-term money at stake. If any of his descendants have the capacity to tread water, they probably won’t be laughing so hard.


The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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