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Reckoning with climate change ahead

There’s been a noticeable shift in the conversation about climate change and its impact in North Carolina, driven mainly by personal experience.

Record rainfalls and the devastating effects of natural disasters, especially the repeated inundation of eastern North Carolina from hurricanes, have helped alter the dialogue from one of questioning whether climate change is happening to what can be done about it.

The close succession of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 and Hurricane Florence in September 2018 appears to have accelerated the change in public perception here.

Majorities of North Carolinians think it very likely that the state’s coastal communities will be negatively affected by climate change during the next 50 years according to an Elon University poll.

In the General Assembly, the idea that public policy must take into consideration a changing climate has received greater attention as the legislature reviews recovery plans in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

Late last year, legislators focused on the immediate recovery. Now, with a series of policy and budget choices ahead, legislative committees will begin sifting through the options.

Gov. Roy Cooper has stepped up pressure on legislators to commit to programs aimed at addressing climate change, including support for cleaner energy production and an array of resiliency initiatives that would move infrastructure, agriculture operations, and people out of flood-prone areas.

Cooper, who testified Feb. 6 on climate change before the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, wields far more negotiating power as a result of the 2018 election, which ended the long-held Republican supermajorities in each chamber of the state legislature.

On his own initiative, Cooper last autumn ordered greenhouse gas reductions in operations of all state agencies and required them to build consideration of climate effects into planning and regulatory functions.

But to move beyond the executive branch, the governor will need the backing of the legislature, where many members remain unconvinced of the science, the need for sweeping policy changes, or both.

Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, a veteran legislator who is co-chair of the House Environment Committee and the appropriations subcommittee that drafts the environmental and natural resources budget, said she remains skeptical about the cause of climate change and taking policies too far in response.

“I’m convinced that the climate changes. I’m not convinced that man has that big a part in it,” she said in a recent interview with Coastal Review Online. “I’m sure there is a small amount, but when you start looking at changing everything in America, when the Chinese haven’t changed anything, and other countries haven’t changed anything…”


McElraft said she does support preventive measures, which have helped in coastal areas, but she isn’t convinced the state needs to start elevating roads. She said the emphasis should instead be on clearing debris from waterways. The state’s beach areas fared far better in terms of rising water than inland communities, she said.

“I think we in North Carolina already have prepared and are pretty resilient. I think our issues are 30 inches of rain and river flooding, and we need to do something about cleaning out the creeks and rivers. That should be our focus,” McElraft said.

Rep. Ed Goodwin (R-Chowan) said recently a measure is being prepared that would aid drainage and flood control projects in eastern counties.

The above report was based an article by By Kirk Ross of Coastal Review Online.