Science, not politics, protects threatened resources

The political divide over global warming sometimes feels like the vax/anti-vax divide: science vs. politics. Seas are rising and warming. This intensifies storms and aggravates erosion and pollution. We can argue about who’s responsible and why, but our oceans, by most scientific accounts, are warming. This not only plagues those living or earning a living on the coast. Even if you’ve never swum, caught a crab, waded, or enjoyed the view of the Atlantic—any ocean, anywhere—you’re an affected stakeholder on the planet. 

Here’s what stakeholders could do now: Submit comments by Oct. 21 on the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s draft update to its Coastal Habitat Protection Plan to defend and restore coastal habitat and fisheries. The draft recommends nature-based solutions to revive wetlands. It addresses water quality through environmental rule compliance and wastewater infrastructure. It aims to map and monitor coastal habitat to protect submerged aquatic vegetation and improve water quality. Find out more, including how to comment, here.  

Even if you don’t “believe” in climate change, these sensible efforts can ameliorate ailing fish stocks and water quality.

In 2012, North Carolina lawmakers banned the state from basing policies on the latest scientific predictions of sea level rise, after N.C. Coastal Resources Commission forecasts showed levels could rise by 39 inches over the next 100 years. Lawmakers’ action was significant enough for a TV moment. “I think this is a brilliant solution,” comedian Stephen Colbert said that night. “If your science gives you a result that you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.” But three years later, in 2015, a new report looked out 30 years, not 100 years into the future, a more acceptable time frame, certainly to those whose livelihoods—watermen, coastal property owners, developers—if not terribly useful to infrastructure planners. 

Even climate change deniers know weather challenges when they see them: intensified storms, like Matthew and Florence. The latter amassed $17 billion in damages. Algal blooms. Mountain mudslides. Killer summer heat. Rain-wrecked crops. Warming waters may not all be traced to climate, but heat exacerbates pollution’s effects and worsens the population-related effects: overbuilding, overfishing, over-trashing, over-pollution.     

In 2020, Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 80 addressed climate change with strategies for marine fisheries, water infrastructure, air quality, and more. The weather playing the dramatic role is not specific to the coast. Hurricanes that start at the back end of nowhere can pack notoriously long, wide, often erratic and destructive punches miles from the N.C. coast. 

Already, myriad coastal projects are in place and working, reports Carolina Public Press, efforts that preserve shorelines, including oyster habitat, an essential ecosystem. Fisheries management, as some species decline, or fish migrate north, seeking cooler seas, may be controversial. But they often succeed.  Such environmental problems are characterized as “tragedies of the commons,” which refers to a resource everyone uses, but no one owns. The air, the oceans, and public lands are sometimes poisoned and overused/abused until ruined. We own these resources together. Let’s treat them right.

Betty Joyce Nash reported for the Hendersonville Times-News and the Greensboro News & Record before moving to Virginia where she worked as an economics writer. She co-edited Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, published in 2017 by the University of New Mexico Press; the anthology probes Americans’ complicated relationship to firearms. She writes for Carolina Commentary. For more information, see www.bettyjoycenash.com

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