North Carolina tries to outlaw sea-level rise
By Jess Zimmerman
North Carolina is no stranger to the “if you dislike it then you should have made a law against it” model of legislation, but this is extreme: The state General Assembly’s Replacement House Bill 819 would rule that scientists are not allowed to accurately predict sea-level rise. By all legal calculations, the sea level will now rise eight inches by the end of the century. Sure, so far models have predicted an increase of more than three feet, but if they keep that shit up, they’re going to JAIL.
OK, there’s not really a prison sentence attached to this proposed rule, but that doesn’t stop it from being crazeballs. See, actual sea-level rise is nonlinear, because there’s feedback — the warmer it gets, the more the water volume expands, and the more stuff melts, and the more it expands, etc. That’s how most scientific models arrive at their predictions, because that is how physics works. But an increase that big is extremely inconvenient for a state with a beach-based tourist trade. So North Carolina’s solution is simple: Change how physics works, or at least change how people do physics.
Accordingly, this bill mandates that models use a linear increase — a consistent amount of change every year, based on historical data. This will lead to predictions that are much less catastrophic, and much more reassuring for people building resorts in the Outer Banks. The predictions will also be flat-out wrong, but that’s nothing new for North Carolina.
If it’s not obvious why this is stupid, look at it this way: In 1790, the year North Carolina is stuck in, the population was about 400,000. In 1900, it was 1.9 million. That’s an increase of 1.5 million in 110 years — so if there were an analogous rule for population, the state would prepare for 3.4 million residents in 2010. Which might cause some strife among the 9.7 million people who live there now, but you know, whatever — the law is the law, so screw you, math. If the 6.3 million people unaccounted for by the legal model wanted housing and services, they should have fallen in line with North Carolina reality.
Anyway, we wish North Carolina the best of luck in staving off disaster by legislating what mathematical calculations people can perform. It will probably be about as effective as fixing the health-care crisis through etymology, or balancing the budget with entry-level yoga. But if it works, I’m moving to North Carolina, where living in a fantasy world has the force of law.
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