News: CJ Exclusives

Report: N.C. Can’t Impact Climate Change

Study attributes warming, rising sea levels to natural causes

As state and federal lawmakers continue to debate climate-change regulatory legislation, a report from the nonpartisan Science & Public Policy Institute says that emissions reductions by North Carolina would do nothing to reduce regional or global climate change.

The report, one of 15 published by the institute examining state-level climate change data, also uses long-term trends to counter the argument that North Carolina is experiencing abnormal warming, reduced rainfall, a disproportionate number of hurricanes, and rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities.

“Temperatures during the past decade are by no means unusual when properly set against the long-term temperature history of the state,” wrote Robert Ferguson, author of the report, which was released May 31, and president of the institute.

Since 1895, when reliable records were first available, the climate of North Carolina has fluctuated from warmer temperatures in the first half of the 20th century to cooler periods in the 1960s. In the last several decades, temperatures have returned to the warmer levels common during the first part of the last century.

The report found a similar oscillation in sea levels. Proponents of climate-change regulations argue that rising temperatures endanger North Carolina’s coast and associated tourism industry. But Ferguson wrote that any increase is negligible and nonthreatening.

“[The] reasonably expected rate of sea level rise in the coming decades is not much different to [sic] the rate of sea level rise that North Carolina’s coastlines have been experiencing for more than a century — and have successfully adapted to,” he said.

The frequency and intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic basin has increased since 1995, Ferguson said, but the trend comes after four decades of relatively peaceful conditions and is a return to patterns common during the early 20th century.

In addition to examining long-term trends in temperature increases, sea levels, and weather patterns, the report says that climate-mitigation efforts in North Carolina would have no impact on effectively curbing carbon dioxide emissions on a global scale.

Carbon dioxide emissions in North Carolina accounted for 0.57 percent of worldwide emissions in 2003, and the proportion will grow smaller in the 21st century as the demand for energy in developing nations grows, the report says.

“This means that even a complete cessation of all CO2 emissions in North Carolina would be undetectable globally, and would be entirely subsumed by rising global emissions in less than two month’s time,” Ferguson wrote.

“Even if the entire United States were to close down its economy completely and revert to the Stone Age, without even the ability to light fires, the growth in emissions from China and India would replace our entire emissions in little more than a decade,” he said.

The N.C. Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change, created in 2005, has faced many of the issues discussed in the institute’s report. The commission is taxed with recommending whether the state implement climate-change regulations.

In testimony before the commission April 22, Rob Jackson, director of the Center on Global Change at Duke University, encouraged members to recommend state-level regulations.

“Stabilizing the CO2 emissions makes a huge difference in what happens in the future,” he said. “I understand the constraints you must deal with, but things are hurtling along, and the faster you deal with this, the better.”

But David Tuerck, an economist with Suffolk University and director of the Beacon Hill Institute, testified the same day that climate-change regulations would have serious economic consequences for the state.

“This is a matter of what kind of economics you want to believe, and I urge you to see this as a process in which we’re going to introduce distortions into the economic system,” he said. “As we impose very real costs, we’re going to bring about very real contractions in economic activity in order to pursue a vague, ill-defined, and badly understood goal.”

The institute’s report includes the names of 610 North Carolina scientists, out of 31,072 scientists in the entire United States, who have signed a petition stating that there is no evidence that manmade emissions cause catastrophic warming that imperils the Earth’s climate.

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.