According to North Carolina law, I am a billionaire. I have a full-time nanny for my children, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and I get to spend the entire year taking guitar lessons from Mark Knopfler. Oh, my avatar? I haven’t got around to changing it, but by law, I now look like George Clooney. There's also a supermodel clause, but discussing the details would be boasting.
You think I’m kidding, but listen to me: I’m from North Carolina, and that’s how we roll. We take what we want to be reality, and we just make it law. So I’m having my state senator introduce legislation writing into law all the stuff I mentioned above. This is North Carolina, state motto: “Because that’s how I WANT it to be.”
You know, of course, about our passing May 8 of Amendment One, which has now written into our constitution anti-marriage discrimination against anyone who doesn’t fit one group’s image of marriage. It’s just as ugly as it sounds – just as ugly as the last time we wrote such marriage discrimination into our constitution, in 1875, when instead of protecting us against the idea of same-sex couples marrying, it was protecting us against racial miscegenation – down to the third generation, mind you. Good times!
Okay, though. These are hard days, people are crazyish, and you just have to soldier on, right? But then it turns out that North Carolina legislators are now tossing around bills that not only protect themselves from concepts that make them uncomfortable, they’re DETERMINING HOW WE MEASURE REALITY.
In a story first discussed by the NC Coastal Federation and given more play May 29 by the News & Observer of Raleigh and its sister paper the Charlotte Observer, a group of legislators from 20 coastal NC counties whose economies will be most affected by rising seas have legislated the words “Nuh-unh!” into the NC Constitution.
Okay, cheap shot alert. Actually all they did was say science is crazy. There is virtually universal agreement among scientists that the sea will probably rise a good meter or more before the end of the century, wreaking havoc in low-lying coastal counties. So the members of the developers' lobbying group NC-20 say the sea will rise only 8 inches, because … because … well, SHUT UP, that’s because why.
That is, the meter or so of sea level rise predicted for the NC Coastal Resources Commission by a state-appointed board of scientists is extremely inconvenient for counties along the coast. So the NC-20 types have decided that we can escape sea level rise – in North Carolina, anyhow – by making it against the law. Or making MEASURING it against the law, anyhow.
Here’s a link to the circulated Replacement House Bill 819. The key language is in section 2, paragraph e, talking about rates of sea level rise: “These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly. …” It goes on, but there’s the core: North Carolina legislators have decided that the way to make exponential increases in sea level rise – caused by those inconvenient feedback loops we keep hearing about from scientists – go away is to make it against the law to extrapolate exponential; we can only extrapolate along a line predicted by previous sea level rises.
Which, yes, is exactly like saying, do not predict tomorrow’s weather based on radar images of a hurricane swirling offshore, moving west towards us with 60-mph winds and ten inches of rain. Predict the weather based on the last two weeks of fair weather with gentle breezes towards the east. Don’t use radar and barometers; use the Farmer’s Almanac and what grandpa remembers.
Things like marriage rules involve changing social mores and those who feel that certain types of marriage are wrong can be understood and even forgiven. They’re certainly on the wrong side of history, but it’s a social issue where emotion understandably holds sway over things like evidence.
But while the rising sea may engender emotion, it exists in a world of fact, of measurable evidence and predictable results, where scientists using their best methods have agreed on a reasonable – and conservative – estimate of a meter or more of rising seas in the coming century. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave a hesitant estimate of up to 59 centimeters of rise —but even two years later that estimate already appeared low and scientists began to expect a rise of a meter or more.
No matter in North Carolina. We've got resorts to build and we don’t care what the rest of the ocean does – our sea isn’t going to rise by more than 15.6 inches. Because otherwise it’s against the law.
No information on whether the scientists on the panel, like Galileo, have stamped their feet and muttered “And yet it rises!” But there’s no doubt that NC’s legislative inquisitors will be classified along with Galileo’s papal persecutors and their own forebears who outlawed interracial marriage, as on the wrong side of history.
But these folks will also be wet.
I'd love to write more, but I have chores to do and kids to manage. Man -- all this housework after a full day of work at my desk just doesn't seem right. There oughtta be a law. Hey, wait a minute ....