Making a better future for the next generation in North Carolina.

Climate Change in North Carolina – It’s About the Water

by | Aug 30, 2023 | Climate Change, Nature, North Carolina | 0 comments

Bad news about climate seems to come every day – heatwaves in the West, melting glaciers, the worst wildfire season in Canadian history, the drought in East Africa, global temperature records being set all over. It makes you worry about the world the next generation will live in. But what about closer to home? What will our children and grandchildren experience here, and what can we do to make their climate future better?

I wanted to focus on North Carolina this week because the first website I looked at ranked it as the 33th worst state for climate change while Michigan ranked as the best. The site is called Policygenius and I wouldn’t call it authoritative. It is a commercial site that helps consumers find good deals on their insurance. They do state rankings purely to draw eyeballs to their site, but I looked at their methodology and everything seemed logically organized with data from reputable sources. Here’s what they looked at to make up their ranking:

Drought: The likelihood of negative economic impacts as a result of drought, the number of people and fresh water sources exposed, and the state’s ability to recover or adapt to a future with drought.

Extreme heat: Projected number of dangerously hot days by 2050 and the percentage of people vulnerable to dangerously high temperatures

Wildfires: Fraction of housing units directly or indirectly exposed to wildfire, as well as wildfire likelihood and home susceptibility

Flooding: Percentage of people living in 100 and 500-year floodplains, projected 30-year increase in number of properties with flood risk, and the percentage of the population living in a 100-year coastal floodplain

Climate change preparedness: How well each state is responding to current and future climate change threats

Will North Carolina be fit for human habitation by 2040?

So, if one of my grandchildren asked if they should put down roots in North Carolina when they become an adult, my first response would be, “Well, at least it’s not Florida.” Florida came in dead last in the rankings due to expected extreme heat, flooding, and a very vulnerable population.

To get a better idea about where NC stood, I looked up the North Carolina Climate Science Report. This report was jointly authored by fifteen climate experts in 2020 to identify historical climate trends and potential future climate change. It was commissioned by North Carolina’s government, but none of the authors were employed by the state.

Here are some of my key take-aways from the report:

  • The average temperature increase since 1895 is only 1°F in NC, but there is a high probability it will increase 2° – 5°F by mid-century.
  • There has not been an increase in the number of extremely hot days.
  • There is no trend in the annual amount of precipitation.
  • There may be an increased chance of droughts, but the authors do not put a high probability on it.
  • It is very likely that heavy rain events (3” or more in 24 hours) will increase because warmer air holds more water.
  • It is virtually certain that sea level along NC’s coast will continue to rise. It has been increasing .9 inches each decade.
  • They have high confidence that the intensity of hurricanes will increase and have a high impact on NC’s coast.

The highest probability projections are for more intense hurricanes, higher sea levels, and more heavy rain events, all of which will lead to more flooding.

Flooding has already been a problem in North Carolina. Every one of its 100 counties has floodplain areas. Its Atlantic Coast is low-lying and vulnerable to storm surge. According to state figures, in the 25 years between 1996 and 2001, NC recorded an average of 174 flood events per year. See the attached spreadsheet.

How will we handle the water?

We live in an interconnected world, so the next generation is bound to be affected by extreme impacts of climate change wherever they happen. It looks to me, however, that the most direct impacts in NC during the next twenty years will be from flooding. This has already been a burden on the people of NC and will only be getting worse. Maybe that’s why we hear some people say, “I’ll be there if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.”

Of course, the danger of flooding in North Carolina is well known. All states are required to submit a Hazard Mitigation Plan to the Federal Emergency Management Administration in order to receive certain types of non-emergency disaster funds. North Carolina’s lists flooding as the highest impact of potential disasters.

So, is North Carolina doing enough to protect the next generation from the impact of flooding? These organizations don’t think so:

  • The Southern Environmental Law Center points out that realtors do not have to disclose whether a building has previously been flooded, only whether it is listed as being in a floodplain.
  • The North Carolina Coastal Federation points out the large funding gap between what is available for coastal protection and what is needed.
  • The NC Policy Collaboratory (a program of UNC) points out that North Carolina’s utilities, especially waste water treatment plants, are highly vulnerable to flooding.
  • The Guardian points out that poorest communities in the state suffer the most from flooding.

To be fair, North Carolina’s General Assembly has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to recovery efforts after recent hurricanes. As climate change promises to intensify NC’s vulnerability to flooding, we should be devoting hundreds of millions to prevention efforts as well – if we care about the well-being of the next generation.

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