June 3, 2012 at 1:47PM
by Jim DiPeso
A scene in North Carolina, sometime in the near future.
Looking furtively from side to side, the climatology graduate student spotted a phone booth outside a convenience store, one of the few remaining pay phones in the county. Dashing inside, she inserted a few quarters and dialed the number at the secret lab.
The phone rang several times, then a man on the other end picked up. He recited an old song lyric: "Let's go surfing now, everybody's learning how, come on and safari with me."
Recognizing the pass phrase, the graduate student replied by reciting the countersign, another old song lyric: "It's getting bigger every day. From Hawaii to the shores of Peru."
Confident she was talking on a secure line, the student shot another quick glance outside the phone booth, then spoke quickly to the man: "OK, professor, I ran the numbers again on your climatology model. The sea level rise projected for 2100 is looking really serious."
"All right, let's have them. Talk fast," the professor nervously responded.
The student reached into her bag. Suddenly, police cars blasting sirens and flashing harsh lights swarmed the convenience store. Panicked, the student hung up the phone, eyes wide in terror.
Cops burst out of the squad cars. "Drop the climate model spreadsheet!" a burly policeman barked at her. "Now!"
The student glumly dropped the paper, threw up her arms, and surrendered to the Climate Science Police. Another illegal attempt to model sea level rise in North Carolina had been foiled.
You probably heard about the bill circulating in North Carolina's state legislature that in essence would decree the Atlantic Ocean shall not rise to levels projected in climate change models. Specifically, the legislation would specify that in projecting sea level rise, the Coastal Resources Commission, a state science board, may only base its computations on historic trends, not projections from climate change models.
The legislation was prompted by complaints from coastal economic development officials about a projected 1-meter rise in sea level by 2100. The local officials argue that regardless of what climate scientists say, sea levels follow natural cycles. Acknowledging risks and taking sensible measures to deal with them is bad for business, you see.
"You can't legislate the ocean and you can't legislate storms," a frustrated Stan Riggs, an East Carolina University geologist, told the Charlotte Observer.
Sorry, professor, that might be the case in the world of hard science, where facts matter and the laws of physics can be neither amended nor repealed. In the world of political science, where facts are required to fit the political agenda, any flight of fancy could be written into law.