Well, well, well. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for that great southern state of North Carolina. First, they distinguished themselves earlier in May by passing a state ban on gay marriage (which, for those who are curious, will likely be considered by the Supreme Court along with California’s Proposition 8).
Now, focusing their energy on climate change denial, state lawmakers have introduced a bill which proposes a truly unique solution to the problem of sea level rise: make the science illegal.
Just in case you think I’m joking, it might be time to worry – I’m not. A bill has been proposed in the North Carolina General Assembly that would make it illegal for coastal communities to use scientific models which predict accelerated sea level rise (which is all of them) for future planning. The bill mandates a linear model, because, you know, politicians are totally qualified to know that sort of thing, and totally within their rights to dictate it to local governments. The gist of it is well summarized here:
One North Carolinian writing in Scientific American said the proposed bill 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.”
It’s hard to enumerate everything disturbing about this: The fact that lawmakers from the same party (thanks, GOP!) claim EPA has no right to dictate what they do with their land and water, yet hand down to their own local communities a mandated formula for coastal planning? (Seriously, do they not see the contradiction?) The hints that this is part of an orchestrated attempt by coastal economic development groups to undermine climate change action for their own financial gain? Or simply the fact that our country has actually gotten so backward that we think scientific facts can be outlawed just because we don’t like them?
As a sidebar, and perhaps to give some historical perspective: science upsetting politically powerful groups is not without precedent. Galileo did get himself an inquisition because his discoveries were rather inconvenient. But that was 1615. I thought we’d moved forward at least a little. Yet, the Roman Inquisition investigating Galileo’s model of the solar system actually sentenced him because they concluded that his view of the universe was a possibility – a mere model or theory – but certainly not accepted fact. Sound familiar?
Before we all just go cry in a corner, though – could there be anything encouraging about this? O.K., ‘encouraging’ is a strong word, but consider the following: if climate science is so sketchy, inaccurate, and implausible that it should be made illegal, why wouldn’t someone just show us where it’s wrong? Why wouldn’t they just poke holes in the science itself?
The reason: because they can’t. The results in question are supported by NASA, the National Academies report to the U.S. Navy, and every major scientific organization on the globe. One of the major organizations backing these efforts has already been denounced by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Maybe, having lost the research battle, politics is the only arena they have in left in which to fight. That doesn’t make it less scary that someone in our country – which is based on freedom of speech and information – thinks it’s O.K. to just make using certain results illegal.
I’m not quite sure when America became so afraid of science, but in case this has ruined your morning, I suggest Stephen Colbert’s take on the proposed legislation. Also, I don’t think I’ll be buying property on the North Carolina coast anytime soon. Because, you know, I’m guessing there won’t be many gays moving down there anytime soon, and without that, they’re all going to be really badly dressed. Well, that, and because of sea level rise, but, mostly fashion.