When I posted a couple of weeks back on the fact that land in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is subsiding faster than sea level is rising, a smart reader asked privately, “Yeah, so what’s the point?”
My reader’s observation was, in essence, that it doesn’t really matter much in terms of policy response whether the ocean is rising or the land is sinking. And that was precisely the obscure point about which I was thinking, but about which I wrote poorly.
Consider what happened in North Carolina when a panel of scientists prepared a report for the state looking at the best available science on sea level rise:
The final recommendation was for the state to plan for 39 inches of sea level rise. This number corresponds well with expert reports produced in other states.
And the response?
NC-20, a group purporting to represent North Carolina’s coastal counties, attacked both the integrity of the science panel members and the body of sea level rise literature that was reviewed. The rebuttal consisted largely of oft-repeated arguments pulled from the climate skeptic blogosphere, along with an adamant assertion that predicting the future is impossible. To the great surprise of those of us on the state’s science panel, these tactics have worked.
To the extent that a change in the relative elevation of sea and land in California’s Delta poses a threat that requires a policy response (more robust levees, perhaps?), it doesn’t really matter whether the sea is rising or the land is falling. But to the extent that rising sea level is a driver, California runs the risk of a North Carolina problem, in which the policy discussion becomes mired in the identity politics of climate change.
Thank heavens we now know the land is sinking and we don’t have to fight that fight!