Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 10:15 AM


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

Despite the scientific consensus about the reality of climate change, skepticism remains widespread in the public mind. Critically, denial of potential impacts of climate change continues to be successful in US political discourse. Here we present a startlingly bold example from North Carolina of how climate change deniers seek to prevent policy responses to climate change-induced sea level rise (SLR).

In 2010, a North Carolina science panel report recommended that the state should consider a 39 inch (~1 m) SLR by 2100 when making future coastal development decisions. In response a local activist group known as the NC-20 began a public campaign in which the report was strongly criticized and ridiculed. Their activities culminated in the introduction of House Bill 819 to the NC legislature. Contrary to the scientific estimates, the bill boldly asserted that future sea level rise will be limited to a linear increase, barring policy makers from considering any acceleration in SLR unless it is “consistent with historical data”. In short, planning must only consider an 8 inch (0.2 m) SLR by 2100 and disregard future acceleration due to climate change. Although passed by the senate, a revised, but still damaging version of the bill was adopted by the House: it bars policy making decisions until a new science panel SLR assessment report is published in 2015.

Although climate science lost in North Carolina, the event should mobilize scientists and educators to become more involved in local policy making. Perhaps having learned from the dismissive attitude initially held by evolutionary biologists with regards to “scientific” challenges by the creationist movement, many scientists in the climate change community have shown remarkable personal efforts in addressing attacks on their own science. Fortunately for educators, a long list of resources, science blogs, and easy-to-understand rebuttals, often written by the scientists themselves, are readily available. Scientists and educators must not commit the grave error of placing climate change deniers and their arguments into the same category as other pseudoscience proponents. Many of the climate change deniers are sophisticated, well-educated, and well-funded. Dismissal of and failing to directly address their arguments in the classroom would be a serious mistake.