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DON’T GO CHANGIN’: Scientific data trumps horse sense

Who could have predicted the level of damage and intensity of the two most recent storms? Climate scientists.


A  month after Florence blew through our region, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a climate report with a gloomy forecast, vegetation and construction-debris piles still dot my morning run, and politicians like Ol’ 45 assure us they have the scientific instincts to dismiss decades of data. Why rely on people who spend their lives mastering the tedium of analysis when you have a great horse sense for science?

“Don’t go changin’.”

Sometimes the last song I hear rattles around my head during my jog. Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” released in 1977 during the Carter administration, is today’s tune.

I have a good horse sense when it comes to music, not grabbing women or calling them “horseface.” I’d like to say I have a pretty good instinct for climate science, too. But I don’t. My gut says Florence was just rain and wind. Happens all the time. Gives Jim Cantore something to do. It’s sunny today and won’t be catastrophically cloudy tomorrow. It’s gonna be alright. Don’t go changin’, right?

My gut wants to believe ‘Ol 45 and climate change deniers, but science doesn’t support the position.

Our house is 1,100 meters from the Cape Fear River and 7 meters above sea level. We moved to Wilmington the week after Hurricane Fran devastated the area in ‘96. No one in the neck of our rapidly shrinking woods experienced flooding until last month. After Florence several houses less than half a mile down the road returned to the river for a few days.

As I hit the turnaround point of my jog, I pass another dislocated family’s pile of storm debris. Their house should never have been built. It’s too close to the river. Too many pines sacrificed. Too little drainage.

For nearly a decade after Hurricane Fran, foolhardy development along the Cape Fear slowed. Ohio’s rust-belt refugees moved to less wet, windy places. Development slowed even more during the housing crisis. It’s only been in the last few years that local politicians and real-estate developers (hard to tell them apart) started foolishly clear-cutting stands of pine and putting up wooden boxes with vinyl siding for legal immigrants from Ohio to stream Netflix in.

Who can blame them? Who could have predicted the level of damage and intensity of the two most recent storms?

Climate scientists.

Florence and Michael are the first storms climate scientists and meteorologists had data (not horse sense) to predict devastating intensity and link to human-influenced climate change.

There’s Billy Joel rattling around my head …  “Don’t go changin’…”

It must be one of Ol’ 45’s favorites. It’s been the GOP theme song for as long as I can remember. But it’s not just on the GOP playlist. They live by singing us reassuring tunes we want to hear. Popular choruses of, “There’s a simple answer to this. I know what I’m doing,” and of course, “You’re doing great the way you are. Don’t go changin’…”

By contrast scientists think everything is complicated and always want to change something. They don’t love me just the way I am. They want me to stop smoking, drinking, having unprotected sex. They want me to eat kale, exercise, vaccinate my kids, wussify my headbanging football, reduce my fossil-fuel footprint, meditate and think positive!

What do they know?

Politicians that call for change are hailed in a crisis and quickly discarded afterward. President Carter rightly called for energy independence and tightening our belts. Worst president ever! Right? We elected President Obama and his “Hope and Change” message during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. For a moment we started eating kale, listening to Coltrane’s complicated cool jazz, and the hard work of attacking complex problems. But as soon as shelves were restocked with Ding-Dongs, we went back to our easy-listening station and found Billy Joel. “Don’t go changin’…”

Part of me wants to forget Florence, the midterms and the IPCC report. It’s easier to watch football, grill a burger, have a beer, listen to Billy Joel, and trust politicians that love me just the way I am.
Another debris pile close to home?

Then again, maybe it’s not a great idea to vote for politicians that have a horse sense about science.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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