Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 10:40 AM


PILKEY, Orrin H., Duke University, P.O. Box 90228, Durham, NC 27708 and GLASS, Alexander, Nicholas School of the Environment Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708,

The impacts of climate change denial on national policies have been well-documented. Here we discuss the NC-20, a local North Carolina activist group that successfully thwarted state efforts to plan coastal development, based on the latest science-based sea level rise projections for 2100. This event serves as an example of how even small-scale, local activism can impact key political decisions. By shedding light on their strategies, we hope that the NC experience will serve as a dire warning to scientists who downplay or dismiss the capabilities of the local climate change denial community.

Analysis of the history of the NC-20 activities reveals five strategies that proved successful for the group: 1) portrayal of the NC science panel and its conclusions as rogue extremism, thereby ignoring other mainstream coastal studies around the country that have reached similar conclusions; 2) drawing on presentations of so called “experts” from the far fringes of the scientific community that present a dubious façade of credibility at public symposia and policy hearings; 3) obfuscate the public’s perception of the scientific consensus by listing “numerous scientists” who back the group’s conclusions about sea level claims. Not surprisingly, these experts are the “usual suspects” of the denier community whose ideas have already been analyzed and rejected by the scientific mainstream; 4) taking a populist approach by simply bypassing established scientific discourse (e.g. peer review, consensus forming) and instead asking the public to judge the merit of their science when presented with “all the facts”, and finally: 5) magnifying scientific uncertainties and providing a distorted and incomplete picture of the scientific rigor behind mainstream conclusions.

Although such egregious practices and abuses of science are transparent to scientists, they go unnoticed by the public. The NC-20’s activities must remind us how readily the public and policy makers can be swayed by invalid scientific arguments that are presented enthusiastically and with confidence. These activists are well-educated and sophisticated. The scientific community needs to be more vigilant and take seriously the efforts of the deniers no matter how ludicrous their claims. Global change deniers are formidable.