Global-warming forecast sparks battle in North Carolina

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Three years ago, North Carolina officials were warning that the Atlantic Ocean will be 39 inches higher by the end of the century, swamping homes on the Outer Banks.

In reaction, coastal residents joined forces with climate skeptics and attacked the science of global warming, according to a report in the Washington Post. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature ditched the projection, which had been advanced under the outgoing Democratic governor.

The state is working on a new forecast that will look only 30 years out and show the seas rising by no more than eight inches.

Environmentalists are appalled and North Carolina has been lampooned as a hotbed of greedy developers trying to “outlaw” the rising tide, the Post said. Some climate-change experts are sympathetic. They say the rebellion is an understandable reaction to sea-level forecasts that are rapidly becoming both widely available and alarmingly precise.

“The main problem they have is fear,” Michael Orbach, a marine policy professor at Duke University who has met with coastal leaders, told the Post. “They realize this is going to have a huge impact on the coastal economy and coastal development interests. And, at this point, we don’t actually know what we’re going to do about it.”

Cities such as Norfolk, Va., and Miami have embraced the data, identifying inundation zones as a first step toward planning — and seeking federal funds for — sea walls, floodgates and other forms of protection, the Post said. On lonelier stretches of the U.S. shoreline, however, government aid seems less likely than interference and abandonment, and the forecasts are sparking deep anxiety about the future.

In the Carolinas and Southampton, N.Y., isolated enclaves of ultra-rich shore-front owners have moved pre-emptively to build private bulkheads to protect their homes from the rising sea.

Such fortifications are not an option on the Outer Banks, a string of narrow barrier islands dotted with busy beach towns, isolated fishing villages and stretches of wild seashore. In spots, the islands are barely 100 yards wide.

“We don’t have any tools in our toolbox other than retreat,” Willo Kelly, a lobbyist for Realtors and home builders on the Outer Banks, told the Post during an interview in a Manteo, N.C., cafe that would be underwater if the sea were 39 inches higher. “In the backs of their minds, what everyone is thinking is that they just want people off the Outer Banks.”