Burying the evidence and our heads: North Carolina deletes climate docs

I don’t know about you, but I’ve really found the breaking news on climate change assaulting and terrifying lately. Headlines like “Climate Change: ‘Abrupt,’ Unpredictable,’ ‘Irreversible’ and ‘Highly Damaging‘” have frequented my news feed illustrating how catastrophic the effects of climate change will be and actually already are. Just last week I saw the first “official” climate refugee story break as residents of Papua New Guinea began fleeing their homes. There’s even one threatening my own wanderlust featuring a climate-hit-list of tourism destinations.

Reports of record breaking extreme weather and the UN’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report emphasize the urgent need to adapt to climate change. NASA is also looking toward the future of understanding, mitigating and surviving man-made climate change, illustrating that it’s more clear than ever before that this is not some future threat, but a reality being felt now.

But what is even more disturbing to me than all of these news stories is fact that the state of North Carolina continues to deny the very real threats facing our communities, natural resources and economy despite years of work in our recent history to understand, mitigate, and prepare for the role we bear in contributing to climate change. The state that once showed promising leadership and a commitment to tackling climate change has now not only abandoned those efforts, but is also trying to destroy the evidence that climate change is happening and all the work the state itself supported for years.

Beach erosion threatens homes on Ocean Isle, North Carolina Source: Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images

In the course of just a few years, our state officials have morphed from those who took the issue of climate change seriously during the creation and running of the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change (LCGCC or “Climate Commission”), to a collective group that has firmly stuck its head in the sand. NC’s denialism runs so deep now that climate experts seem to be going extinct in the state. Two years ago the state legislature outlawed the use of climate science predictions of sea level rise in designing coastal policies related to development and planning.  Now, sadly, we’ve gone one step further and materials related to climate change are disappearing from NC DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) websites faster than our disappearing coastline.

Without warning or explanation, the links disappeared from the Division of Air Quality’s website sometime in the last few months, including all documents created by the Climate Commission, an effort authorized by the NC State legislature in 2005. For five years the Commission, which included SACE’s Executive Director, Stephen Smith, worked along with a parallel group called the Climate Action Planning Advisory Group (CAPAG) to study the sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the state and identify policy measures to mitigate NC’s contribution to climate change. You can read our final summary of the Commission’s work and see that while we were somewhat desirous of more progress at that time, we were then far ahead of where we are today with the state’s current political climate (pun intended).

WRAL’s Laura Leslie reported on March 11 that on DAQ’s homepage http://www.ncair.org/,

“[a] link used to connect users to a page full of information and resources about greenhouse gases and climate change. That page [itself] no longer exists, either.

Two major reports on climate change are also missing from the site: a 100-page report on the possible economic impacts of greenhouse gas mitigation and the state’s 118-page Climate Action Plan, a multi-year project involving dozens of experts and policymakers. Both were commissioned by the state legislature, then controlled by Democrats, and completed in 2008.”

Since you can no longer find it there, click here for the LCGCC’s full report to the NC General Assembly and Environmental Review Commission, which detailed implications of climate change, recommendations for future consideration, legislative proposals and much more. And here you can find the CAPAG final report, entitled “Recommended Mitigation Options for Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

After so much movement forward and the significant resources invested in this process, it’s completely disrespectful that NC DENR would wipe out that work, especially in the face of the overwhelming evidence of climate change impacts. However, this kind of brazen move by DENR is becoming more commonplace under the leadership of Secretary John Skvarla, a climate change skeptic who sees his job as making the agency more “customer service” oriented, making it easier for industry and polluters to get permits quickly. The current political climate in North Carolina has created a regulatory agency that no longer puts protecting the public and environment first, essentially defanging the watchdog tasked with policing industry.

This profound level of denial from North Carolina’s public officials has me wondering, what will it take for them to see the light? How many miles of coastline have to disappear before North Carolina acknowledges, once and for all, that humans are causing climate change and commit to doing our part to minimize the damage? More and more it seems like no amount of proof can make an impact on our current elected and appointed officials, making SACE’s work even more critical as we fill the gaps where government is failing to move us all toward a clean energy future. Because nothing is more terrifying than our leaders denying something so certain and threatening to our entire species and planet.

Special thanks to Joan Walker for her contributions to this blog.

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It’s unfortunate but consistent for global warming deniers (i.e. North Carolina Republicans) to delete all information they deem to be false or misleading from the DAQ website. After all, the information they object to not only exists, but can be easily found anywhere one looks so it is missing from one particular state-controlled website, who cares?

Intelligent people already know what the truth is, even if those who currently control the halls of power in North Carolina don’t (or at least are unwilling to).

Comment by Ken Glick (EEI) on April 11, 2014 3:56 pm

I continue to be astonished at the level of intentional ignorance among people who call themselves ‘leaders.’ It doesn’t seem to be enough that they pretend these things aren’t happening; now they’re working to stifle or destroy pertinent information! Unfortunately, this kind of fear and the resulting inaction (or action to prevent dissemination or confirmation of findings) isn’t new. I would hope, after all this time, that people would finally realize that running from our problems only exacerbates those issues and even causes new ones. Fear of change is, in my opinion, the most destructive force in our society. For those of us who recognize the need for immediate and effective change, and are able to embrace/implement it, I think the only response must be individual action and efforts to educate.

Comment by Vesna on April 11, 2014 7:08 pm

I had a similar experience with the Erie (PA) Chamber of Commerce years ago. The local Lake Erie beaches showed extremely high levels of e coli bacteria due to long periods of high temperatures and no storms (to stir up the lake). The Chamber wanted to PA Dept of Natural Resources to suppress tests and quit closing beaches with high levels of bacteria since it hurt tourism. I headed up an environmental quality committee for the Chamber and quit in protest when the president tried to get me to apply pressure to the state DNR to not close beaches. In the words of John Lennon, “Just give me some truth.”

Comment by Jim Willmot on April 13, 2014 8:33 am

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