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Study: Coastal NC Officials Not Willing To Prepare For Sea Level Rise

Black Tip sharks feed on the coast near Cape Lookout.
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Coastal Carolina officials may not be willing to prepare for climate change until it's too late, according to a new study out of N.C. State and Appalachian State Universities.

Appalachian State University researcher Brian Bulla surveyed local officials in 20 coastal counties and found that knowledge of the science behind climate change didn't make officials more willing to prepare their communities for impacts like sea-level rise.

To Bulla, the findings raised concerns.

“It seems to suggest that just providing people − whether public officials or the general public − with more or better information is not necessarily going to increase adaptive action,” he said.

Since 1870, global sea level has risen by about 7.5 inches, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which further estimates global sea levels will rise at a greater rate during the next century.

Sea level change over time
Credit Global Climate Change / NASA
Sea level change from about 1870 to 2000, based on coastal tide gauge data.

Bulla said officials were more likely to respond when the threats were imminent. But he said it would be cheaper and safer for communities to prepare for impacts before they strike.

“So it's like they needed to see an impact before they express a willingness to take adaptive action,” he said, adding that waiting until a threat becomes more apparent limits how much time communities have to prepare for changing weather patterns and shrinking coastlines.

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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