How the NC-20 Succeeded

The basic motivation of the NC-20 is financial; the group is withholding information about coastal hazards from the public in order to keep area real estate and tourist markets up and running. None of the NC-20 leadership is qualified in any aspect of climate change science, but they certainly are savvy in the ways of public relations and information spinning. They are quite capable of reading the literature and exaggerating the uncertainties inherent to good science. The following is a summary of the points and strategies employed by the NC-20 in the group’s successful efforts to halt or delay any coastal management response to sea-level rise.

Directed criticism only at the North Carolina Science Panel.

The fact that at least a dozen such panels from as many coastal states came to the same conclusions as North Carolina’s did was ignored. Projections of sea-level rise by 2100 from other panels include Miami-Dade County: 1 to 2 meters; Rhode Island: 1 to 1.5 meters; Maine: 1 meter; Oregon: 1.4 meters; and Puget Sound: 1 meter. These numbers are sea-level rise projections (accompanied by scientific caveats about levels of certainty) for which the various science panels suggest their states should be prepared. To have asserted that all of these studies were wrong would have been a daunting task indeed for the NC-20.

Belittled the scientific rigor of the Science Panel.

The NC-20 portrayed the North Carolina Science Panel as rogue extremists of limited competence, despite the fact that most of the panel members are internationally renowned in their specialties.

Criticized the Science Panel’s report as merely being a literature review.

This is an odd criticism to make when this is indeed what the CRC requested of them. Apparently, the NC-20 would require that the Science Panel members visit Greenland and Antarctica to ascertain if the field results of others showing extensive melting were genuine.

Cherry-picked numbers and experts.

The NC-20 gives strong credence to uncertainties in our understanding of sea-level rise while ignoring the more credible lines of evidence. This approach has allowed the NC-20 to project a sea-level rise of 20 centimeters by 2100. The group heavily relies on the dubious work of Nils-Axel Mörner, former chairman of the now-defunct unit of Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics at the University of Stockholm. Mörner has stated that “sea-level rise is the greatest lie ever told” and has characterized the phenomenon as “the great sea-level humbug.” Mörner argues that changes in sea level are occurring but that there is no global trend, up or down. This makes him unique among scientists.

Accused the Science Panel of a personal political agenda.

The NC-20 stated that the Science Panel members “fully understand that genuine science is a major obstacle to achieving their ends.” The NC-20 characterized the two sides as a handful of CRC-selected scientists (the Science Panel) who are bent on promoting their own personal political agendas versus the NC-20’s “world-class group of experts” on sea-level rise. The NC-20 never explained the Science Panel’s political or economic agenda other than that scientists invented climate change and sea-level rise to assure grant funding.

Claimed that 35 sea-level rise experts agreed with NC-20.

Perhaps two of those 35 could claim some expertise. The others were the usual suspects from among the global climate change denier community.

Argued that there is no scientific consensus on sea-level rise.

Headlines that speak of scientists “proving” or “disproving” various ideas abound. Unfortunately, this absolutist characterization of scientific explanations and findings serves as welcome fodder to those who would wish to obfuscate levels of certainty and agreement within the scientific community. All that anti-science groups have to do is present a few of their own scientists who disagree and they appear to demonstrate that the given explanation is still open to rational debate and not yet proven.

The problem, of course, is that many scientific explanations fall into neither extreme — of proven or unproven — but exhibit various levels of certainty. What is considered a “good and justified explanation” and the level of certainty it enjoys is a matter of consensus within the scientific community. Consensus, however, does not require unanimity. In fact, one can always find someone within the scientific community (or more likely around its fringes) who will vehemently argue against the consensus.

AG and OP
Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 11:00