Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — If predictions of more than three feet of rising sea levels by 2100 have you ready to flee from your beach house, a leading climate scientist might be ready to take your place on the North Carolina coast. He explains why in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.
"I'm willing to offer you bottom dollar for your house because everyone thinks it is doomed and because they're wrong," said Dr. Patrick Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute. "While Carolina beachfront property owners continue to wait during blow-hard season for the Big One that will wash their homes away, the earth continues on a warming trend that is lower than it was forecast to be, and sea level is slowly rising."
Michaels makes an offer -- in jest -- to buy your beach house "before it washes into the Atlantic," but he bases his humor on serious science. "Unless there is a sharp change that is simply not being revealed in recent data, the expectation of 38 inches of sea-level rise in the next 87 years is not very likely at all," Michaels added. "If, indeed, it becomes so, a change will be obvious over several decades, or the life expectancy of a beach house."
The report reviews sea-level projections from the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, which urged governments to plan for sea levels to rise more than three feet by the end of the century. That recommendation prompted protests this year from coastal county government leaders. The N.C. General Assembly responded to those complaints by placing a moratorium until 2016 on any use of CRC's sea-level projections to limit coastal development.
Michaels devotes the bulk of his report to debunking the flawed science behind the 38-inch projection. Much of that flawed science is based on models designed to predict global warming.
"The hallmark of apocalypse projections is that they are usually rooted in some fact, blown wildly out of proportion," Michaels said. "The real question is not whether climate will change -- it always does -- but how much, and how it changes."
A key question for climate science resembles a saying familiar to most North Carolinians, Michaels said. "Who hasn't learned by age three or so the saying, 'It's not the heat, it's the humidity'?" he asked. "When you talk about global warming, the equivalent saying is: It's not the heat, it's the sensitivity. By sensitivity, scientists mean how much warming results from an increment of atmospheric carbon dioxide."
Climate models that predict the large-scale warming necessary for a major increase in sea-level rise have problems with their sensitivity, Michaels said. "It's set too high, something that appears to be characteristic of most climate models."
Michaels charts differences between climate model projections and actual observed temperature trends. The models always overestimate the amount of warming taking place.
"If we can't even get the form right, policymakers have no business using our science, and taxpayers have wasted an awful lot of money," he said. "There are now multiple lines of evidence in the scientific literature arguing that too much warming was predicted, too fast."
The report documents the problems of basing North Carolina sea-level projections on data collected at a single location, the Outer Banks town of Duck, which faces factors that have nothing to do with recent climate change.
"Down in Wilmington and Southport, sea-level rise is pretty much in line with the global average, which is more typical of the North Carolina coast," Michaels said.
Michaels also documents the lack of global warming since the late 1990s, delves into misinformation about land ice on Greenland and Antarctica, and explains that the Coastal Resources Commission's sea-level projections would require a huge sustained increase in the rate of global warming.
"It will have to get real toasty, real fast," he said. "Sea levels do not change very suddenly. If, for some reason that is not warranted by oceanic behavior as the world has warmed in the past, we actually approached the rate required, it would be obvious for decades prior to its occurrence."
All the evidence suggest Michaels would end up with the better end of the deal if your fears about sea-level rise prompted you to sell your beach house to him at a discounted rate.
"The service life of a beach house is about thirty years before it is out of fashion and needs major repairs," he said. "So if you sell me yours now, it's pretty likely to be around when I dump it."