In My Opinion

Banned words in some states: Rising sea levels

It must be frustrating for our guys in Tallahassee. The governor and the legislative leadership have made it plenty clear that they have no use for this global warming stuff. Yet climate scientists keep dumping water on Florida’s future.

The latest damper comes from Climate Central, which just published two papers in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters, warning that due to global warming and rising sea levels, 3.7 million Americans reside in areas with an escalating risk of storm surge and coastal flooding. Half of them are in Florida. South Florida comes out looking particularly soggy.

Last year, Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions warned that rising sea levels will back up drainage canals, inundate roads, farms and low-lying neighborhoods, cause sewage systems and septic tanks to fail and inject salt water into water wells.

Obviously, something needs to be done. About those damn scientists, of course. Not global warming.

Like-minded legislators and state officials in Texas, Virginia and North Carolina — states with their own coastal vulnerabilities — have shown Florida just how to deal with such annoyances. They erase offending words and passages. They made it flat out illegal for state planners and zoning officials to refer to nettlesome scientific findings that might hurt coastal property values.

Last year the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which had commissioned a scientific study of Galveston Bay, excised references to rising sea levels. “You can debate climate warming, but sea level is going up; it’s measured globally, with satellites,” the study’s lead author, John Anderson of Rice University, told reporters. “For them to be so bold as to remove it — they actually omitted whole sentences that mentioned sea level rise.”

A spokesman shrugged off the criticism, noting that the commission had paid for the study (albeit with public funds): “We have the right to make sure it reflects our views.”

Last week in Virginia, the General Assembly approved a study on the effects of sea-level rise only after references to “sea level rise” were removed. The phenomenon has been rechristened “recurrent flooding.” References to “climate change” have similarly disappeared from the official Virginia lexicon.

North Carolina has its own novel way of dealing with troublesome eggheads and their talk of coastal flooding. A bill was approved in a state Senate committee last week that would require the state’s Division of Coastal Management to use “historic data,” not these global warming projections, to predict sea levels.

Developers had been upset by a 2010 report from the Coastal Resources Commission advising state officials to prepare for a sea level increase of up to 55 inches by 2100. Not good news for coastal developers looking for loans and flood insurance. But developers have clout. And scientists don’t.

Legislators across the Old Confederacy have shown Florida how to cope with all this annoying talk of global warming, rising seas, coastal flooding and devastating hurricane surges:

Censor the reports. Change the words. Or pass a law that says to hell with science. And never mind the future.

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