Denying Truth on the Outer Banks

Sun Realty

Sun Realty

By Peter Galuszka

North Carolina’s Outer Banks have always been a touchstone for me – in as much as anyone can associate permanence with sandy islands being perpetually tossed  around by tremendous wind and water forces.

The Banks and I go back to 1954 and Hurricane Hazel when I was an infant. They mark many parts of my life. So, I read with great interest The Washington Post story by Lori Montgomery about how real estate officials in Dare County and other coastal parts of North Carolina are trying to alter clear-cut scientific projections about how deeply the islands will be under water by 2100.

State officials say that the ocean should rise 39 inches by the end of the century. This would mean that 8,500 structures worth $1.4 billion would be useless. Naturally, this has upset the real estate industry which is pushing for a new projection of an 8-inch rise 30 years from now. Think of it like a photo in a rental brochure. You don’t choose shots of dark and stormy days. The skies must be blue.

Ditto science. The insanity is that so many still don’t believe what is going on with climate change and carbon dioxide pollution. Over the past several years, Virginians, many of whom vacation on the Outer Banks, endured and paid for former Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli’s legal attacks against a former University of Virginia climatologist who linked global warming to human activity. The assaults went nowhere.

Instead of addressing such profoundly transitory events, too many in the region say it isn’t so or pick away at what is really happening as we speak. And as Mother Jones magazine points out, it isn’t because weather change deniers, usually conservatives, don’t understand science.

The Outer Banks are an extreme example because of their incredible fragility. Anyone with even a cursory understanding of the islands knows that they are completely under the thumb because they are where two major ocean currents meet.

The only reason Hatteras has developed at all is the Bonner Bridge, an ill-conceived, 51-year-old span over Oregon Inlet so decrepit that it is often closed for repairs. Replacing it has been constantly delayed by the lack of funding and the threat of lawsuits. The federal government has been complicit for decades by spending at least hundreds of millions on sand replenishment programs or offering flood insurance coverage.

About 15 miles south of the bridge is Rodanthe, a flyspeck village just south of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuse. It is at the point of the Banks that sticks out farthest into the Atlantic and is under the strongest attack by ocean currents and storms. Route 12, the only way to evacuate by car when a hurricane comes, is on a narrow spit of constantly shifting sand trapped between the ocean and Pamlico Sound.

I’ve been going to Rodanthe for years. Starting in the 1980s, friends and I would pool our money and  rent one of the big beach houses. We have been constantly amazed how the distance between the structures and the surf is disappearing. One favorite spot was “Serendipity,” a skinny, tall beach house that we rented perhaps twice and featured fantastic views from the top-floor bar.

It was dressed up as a bed and breakfast in the movie ”Nights At Rodanthe,” a 2008 weeper starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. The film was panned and the house was equally threatened. In fact, the next year, the owner had the whole thing placed on a truck and moved nearly a mile down the coast where there’s a little more sand.

More hurricanes followed, cutting a new inlet a few miles into Pea Island and its watery bird impoundments. The oceanfront houses we used to rent are in trouble. The ones across Route 12 now have dramatic new views.  A small, new bridge spans the inlet.

One can argue that building on the Banks is madness, global warming or not. There’s a lot of truth to this. But rising ocean water is truly going to accelerate the changes no matter how hard politicians or North Carolina’s real estate industry say it isn’t so.

18 Responses to Denying Truth on the Outer Banks

  1. Excellent article Peter!

    ” Even with an eight-inch forecast, 414 Dare County properties worth $70 million would be marked for inundation. If the state ever activates the Web site that lets potential investors search by address, Kelly said, “all of a sudden, those properties would be worthless.”

    I call this – “skepticism” meeting reality – and running and screaming away from it.

    and I think this is the fundamental problem with dealing with the realities of climate change. People cannot bring themselves to accept the economic consequences that are forecast. In other words, the “forecast” itself is also assuming the dimensions of a “conspiracy” – i.e. actually providing a website showing which addresses will be flooded” and made worthless.

    the refusal to accept the reality by arguing against providing the list of addresses – shows the depth of the “denial”.

    and in terms of govt tax revenues to pay for service, this is going to be like Detroit – as more and more properties essentially are abandoned as the subsidized flood insurance goes away as well as any loan mortgages.

    Is this a “conservative” or “liberal” thing?

    do the liberals accept the realities and the conservatives see it as a horror they cannot accept and so call it a unreliable “forecast” and take the “see no evil” approach?

    or is that too simplistic of a view?

  2. A big part of the problem is that there is no comprehensible plan. We have Obama trying to end coal – fired electrical generation. Meanwhile, his cronies (like Jay-Z, George Soros and George Clooney) jet about from continent to continent on private planes.

    Some will say, “Well anything that helps is a step in the right direction”. If American politicians were anything other than totally corrupt that might make sense. However, American politicians are totally corrupt (How are we doing with banks that were “too big to fail” for example?).

    The only real approach is a complete top-to-bottom plan that includes all the major contributors to CO2 generation. Take food production for example. Is Obama ready to throw the beef, chicken, pork industries under the bus? Or will he join the endless parade of American presidents who have bowed before the farm lobby and BigAg?

    What is the comprehensive plan?

  3. Peter, I totally agree with your larger point. I am a huge fan of the Outer Banks and vacation there with some frequency. However, it is madness to build there. If people want to build there, they need to shoulder the risks associated with their decision — and those risks are huge regardless of whether you are a global warming alarmist (like you), a global warming realist who recognizes that global temperatures are rising but not catastrophically so (like me), or a global warming denier (apparently like the Realtors on the Outer Banks).

    The simple answer is this: No more bail-outs. Stop subsidizing flood insurance. Make vacationers pay tolls to maintain the bridges that access the islands. It doesn’t matter whether you think global warming is a looming disaster, something we can adapt to or a total hoax, just stop the subsidies.

  4. the CAUSE of the sea level increase is only tangential (I agree) to HOW the folks are reacting to the forecast – but it does show clearly how economic interests lead to denial and actions to hide the reality … and while Bacon says stop the subsidies – you know what these folks who claim to be conservative business and political types are doing – hide the truth until they can unload the properties on poor schmucks who will claim they got the deal of a lifetime on a beach-front property.

    Anyone who supports fair play and protection of property rights for everyone should see the dishonesty in what these guys are wanting.

    and no.. they don’t care if it is caused by GW or not.. and that’s the big problem with deniers.. .they will deny, and defend what they have and then just offload the financial loss on to others when they can no longer fend off the reality.

    this is how GW will play out. the “deniers” will be jumping ship like rats… and until then they will deny – and obfuscate and try to shift the loss on others.

  5. Thinking about – New Jersey and Sandy, the Chesapeake Bay and subsistence (plus sea level rise), and now the Outer Banks – I think this is going to become a familiar story all up and down the East Coast – and it’s not just rising seas that is the direct issue because for decades, we’ve known that storms take homes on the beach.

    But two things going to bring this issue to the front – and it’s probably going to stay there.

    1. – FEMA flood maps
    2. – Reductions/removal of FEMA subsidized flood insurance

    and there are some cross-cutting issues here – that have to do with the purpose and role of government.

    Is it the govt role to produce flood maps?

    Is it the role of govt to provide subsidized flood insurance and to use that role to influence localities land-use, zoning, and infrastructure planning?

    I think I’m starting to hear – from Conservatives/business / real estate /investors that they don’t want the govt involved in anything – except the subsidized flood insurance. Get out of making the maps and get out of telling localities how to do land-use and zoning with respect to water.

    Would I be bad for suggesting this… perhaps the involvement of the Agenda 21 folks… etc?

  6. Ahhh… the memories… of hysteria past…

  7. It is most likely true that humans are contributing to some degree to global warming but to assign all the credit to humans is folly. And we need to better understand all the forces working for global warming and see if humans can do anything to prevent it and what we ought to do as it is just down the road of history.
    For example, Earth has been warming steadily for 12,000 years ago when the sea level was some 390 feet below what it is today. Ice sheets covered northern Miss and Ala in 12000 and the shore of the outer banks was at least a mile beyond where they are today. So independent of human activity the seas are going to rise but no another 390 feet because the ice cap (source of water for the oceans to rise) is dramatically smaller than it was 12,000 years ago.
    And we know that periodically we have cooling spells like the Little Ice Age that was ending when Jefferson lived in the White House. The Little Ica Age was around 300 years long from roughly the time of Columbus to Jefferson. (Back then the James River froze over down close to Richmond and the NYC harbor froze over so much that one could walk on the ice from Manhattan to Staten Island.)
    And we had another cooling scare in the 1970s when data (celebrated by Congressman Al Gore) seemed to indicate a cooling of the planet. Gore was scared of a Nuclear Winter before he was frightened by Global Warming.
    So this issue should not be political and if the seas are rising we need to thoughtfully look at all the causes and what we as humans might do to stave off economic change due to the planet’s warming.
    Just a thought.

    • re: ” It is most likely true that humans are contributing to some degree to global warming but to assign all the credit to humans is folly. ”

      but science is not doing that – and remember this is 97% of the people who have real degrees in science and decades-long study as opposed to those who have no background other than reading anti-science propaganda and concluding the whole thing is a “hoax”.

      “And we need to better understand all the forces working for global warming and see if humans can do anything to prevent it and what we ought to do as it is just down the road of history.”

      agree. How do you do that by discrediting science and substituting one’s own beliefs?

      “For example, Earth has been warming steadily for 12,000 years ago when the sea level was some 390 feet below what it is today. Ice sheets covered northern Miss and Ala in 12000 and the shore of the outer banks was at least a mile beyond where they are today.”

      “So independent of human activity the seas are going to rise but no another 390 feet because the ice cap (source of water for the oceans to rise) is dramatically smaller than it was 12,000 years ago.”

      not to nitpick but how would you conclude that .. why is the “source” smaller than it was 12,000 years ago?

      “And we know that periodically we have cooling spells like the Little Ice Age that was ending when Jefferson lived in the White House. The Little Ica Age was around 300 years long from roughly the time of Columbus to Jefferson. (Back then the James River froze over down close to Richmond and the NYC harbor froze over so much that one could walk on the ice from Manhattan to Staten Island.)
      And we had another cooling scare in the 1970s when data (celebrated by Congressman Al Gore) seemed to indicate a cooling of the planet. Gore was scared of a Nuclear Winter before he was frightened by Global Warming.)
      So this issue should not be political and if the seas are rising we need to thoughtfully look at all the causes and we as humans might do to stave off economic change due to the planet’s warming.”

      but you don’t build credibility by bring personalities into the issue IMHO. I don’t care what Gore believes myself but never understood why he’s the focus of people any more or less than some of the current dunderheads who say that GW – all of it is a “hoax” ..

      “Just a thought.”

      and much appreciated – a WHOLE LOT MORE than the total “deniers”.

      I assume you approved of the approach we took with Ozone Holes.

      I have tried and tried to elicit responses here about whether that approach was a good approach or the Ozone Holes were also part of a “hoax”.

      what say you?

  8. Before the 1960s a grade school kid could visualize South America being part of Africa. Most highly educated scientists couldn’t.

    A week ago scientists couldn’t visualize Neanderthal poo being full of vegetable matter, while average uneducated country kids instinctively know that meat runs but plants don’t.

    There are tons of peer reviewed examples that verify a piece of paper is not a scientific genome linking the human subspecies Omniascire.

    • re: “Before the 1960s a grade school kid could visualize South America being part of Africa. Most highly educated scientists couldn’t.”

      not sure where you got that… no good science before 1960?

      “A week ago scientists couldn’t visualize Neanderthal poo being full of vegetable matter, while average uneducated country kids instinctively know that meat runs but plants don’t.”

      there were not meat-eating critters back then?

      “There are tons of peer reviewed examples that verify a piece of paper is not a scientific genome linking the human subspecies Omniascire.”

      there is TONS of stuff called “science” – the stuff that is peer-reviewed is a notch-up from the stuff that is not but it’s no absolute guarantee –

      HOWEVER, I’ll take science over armchair internet scientists any day of the week.

      when I see armchair scientists put satellites into orbit or discover new secrets of DNA or cure cancer.. I’ll consider them on par with the kind of scientists that have degrees and have worked in the field for their careers.

      until then – the armchair scientists can do what they do best – blather on the internet… to Luddite types, who believe the earth is 6,000 years old and whatever conspiracy theory pops up on their favorite sites.

  9. It is not true that everything scientists say or print is absolutely true. Albert E. won the Nobel Prize for his work and particularly the universal constant. But for decades hundreds of scientists denied the universal constant was real to the point where Albert began to doubt it himself.
    Then the Hubble telescope went up and took long distant photos which revealed that AEs constant had to be real. I wish he could have still been alive when he was proven right. So because a scientist says something does not make it the absolute truth.
    But what we do know is that the earth has been warming and warming for 12000 years and still is…we just still do not know the rate of warming independent of human activity.
    And I wonder about the Nobel Peace Prize that Gore won for his “scientific” stand on global warming or President Obama’s aid to global peace even before taking office.
    Talk about political…look at the Nobel Peace Prize.

    • “It is not true that everything scientists say or print is absolutely true. ”
      totally agree

      “Albert E. won the Nobel Prize for his work and particularly the universal constant. But for decades hundreds of scientists denied the universal constant was real to the point where Albert began to doubt it himself.
      Then the Hubble telescope went up and took long distant photos which revealed that AEs constant had to be real. I wish he could have still been alive when he was proven right. So because a scientist says something does not make it the absolute truth.”

      it never is – it’s a consensus. and even consensus can change – but that discussion is among people who have significant scientific backgrounds – not armchair types. When 99% of scientists believe you can get cancer from smoking cigarettes – it does not mean you cannot find examples of lifelong smokers who did not get cancer. What does it mean instead?

      “But what we do know is that the earth has been warming and warming for 12000 years and still is…we just still do not know the rate of warming independent of human activity.”

      when we say “we” – do we mean scientific study or non-science beliefs?

      “And I wonder about the Nobel Peace Prize that Gore won for his “scientific” stand on global warming or President Obama’s aid to global peace even before taking office. Talk about political…look at the Nobel Peace Prize.”

      Oh I totally agree….but should that mean that all science is bogus?

      but what about the Ozone Holes? Did we trust science? Or was it just as bogus as the issue with the earth warming from mankinds activities?

      We trust science to do DNA, treat disease and cancer, send satellites into orbit, cure polio, predict hurricanes…tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc – none of them with 100% guaranteed accuracy.. but do we trust THAT science?

      why? why not?

  10. Suure diabetics used insulin when it was taken from the pancreas of a hog in a slaughter house in Chicago and now diabetics use a man made insulin substitute called humalog. But scientists are constantly refreshing ideas adn we accept or reject them. It is certainly true that man made chemicals can affect the environment. But why focus on that without knowing if there are larger forces at work making the earth warmer as has been the case long, long before the industrial age. And when we figure that out maybe we can pay the Chinese and Indian governments not to build those 1,000 new coal fired electrical plants now under construction?

    Yes DNA and others science answers a lot of questions. See this article from the Smithsonian.
    DNA From 12,000-Year-Old Skeleton Helps Answer the Question: Who Were the First Americans?
    Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dna-12000-year-old-skeleton-helps-answer-question-who-were-first-americans-180951469/#caKkAMiSKwrfVeeb.99
    Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dna-12000-year-old-skeleton-helps-answer-question-who-were-first-americans-180951469/?no-ist
    “It helped that the cave she was found in—a submerged chamber called “Hoyo Negro” (Spanish for “black hole”) of the Sac Atun cave system, accessible only by divers climbing down a 30-foot ladder in a nearby sinkhole, swimming along a 200-foot tunnel, then making a final 100-foot drop—was littered with fossils of saber-toothed tigers, giant ground sloths, cave bears and even an elephant-like creature called a gomphothere. These creatures last walked on Earth thousands of years ago during the last ice age.
    But the researchers needed to get more specific than that. So they took a close look at regional sea-level data to get a minimum age at which the cave filled with seawater. Their analysis showed that the site, which is now 130 feet below sea-level, would have been become submerged between 9,700 and 10,200 years ago. Thus, Naia had to have fallen into the cave before then.”

    • “Suure diabetics used insulin when it was taken from the pancreas of a hog in a slaughter house in Chicago and now diabetics use a man made insulin substitute called humalog. But scientists are constantly refreshing ideas adn we accept or reject them. ”

      the point is that it is science that advances these things not armchair scientists.

      “It is certainly true that man made chemicals can affect the environment. But why focus on that without knowing if there are larger forces at work making the earth warmer as has been the case long, long before the industrial age. And when we figure that out maybe we can pay the Chinese and Indian governments not to build those 1,000 new coal fired electrical plants now under construction?”

      I think they focus on BOTH but again – you have to have to background to intelligently study the forces…. and .. it’s not up to scientists to “force” the Chinese or anyone else to do anything. They do the work – and then let people and politics decide what it means and what to do – or not.

      “Yes DNA and others science answers a lot of questions. ”

      as opposed to armchair folks answering questions?

      again – what’s the answer to the Ozone Holes?

      were they caused by only natural forces or was mankind contributing and how did we figure out how much was due to mankind? And how did we decide to believe the scientists – even though they did not have absolute answers nor guarantees even if we followed their recommendations?

      My question is – how did we figure out the right path forward with the Ozone Holes?

      how did that come about? Did we have “skeptics” who suggested that the holes were “natural” and not caused by mankind and that the scientists who suggested they were caused by mankind were perpetrating a massive hoax on mankind?

      I’m trying to figure out – what has changed between the time when we believed science about Ozone Holes and now when we don’t believe scientists.

      how did that happen? how did we stop trusting scientists?

  11. The ozone hole, however, is not the mechanism of global warming. Ultraviolet radiation represents less than one percent of the energy from the sun—not enough to be the cause of the excess heat from human activities.

    • re: ” The ozone hole, however, is not the mechanism of global warming. Ultraviolet radiation represents less than one percent of the energy from the sun—not enough to be the cause of the excess heat from human activities.”

      it’s most assuredly not GW but it’s pretty clearly a similar dilemma with having to rely on science – on a consensus of Science to tell us that it was a problem and that mankind was part of it.

      I ask – what was different in that regard between the Ozone and GW?

      in both cases, you have a consensus of world scientists who say they think it’s a potentially catastrophic issue that they think is caused by both mankind activities and natural processes – of which we were not totally certain of the percents.

      and the world scientists recommended actions that called for reducing emissions – with concern that if we did not – bad stuff could happen – of which we had no precise or exact prediction – only the potential dimensions.

      My point is that we did ACT on what science was telling us – even though it had serious economic impacts – we trusted their consensus and their recommendations.

      and Now.. we don’t. what happened?

      what changed between the Ozone Holes when we believed science and now – when we don’t?

  12. I was a biology major in 1970. As I remember both global cooling and global warming were concerns. Cooling was a concern due to high atmospheric particulates and particulates produced by nuclear war. I remember the “greenhouse effect” in an old 1971 bio textbook. Back then we were not sure which way things would go.

  13. My extended family has spent 2 vacations in Kill Devil Hills. We drove up toward Duck sight-seeing. A lot of the beach houses were real sights to see. We looked at sales flyers for one that didn’t appear to be much different. If I remember correctly it was 1.5M, marked down from 3M. We don’t really have to wait 30 years, a weekend hurricane would be sufficient

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