What Do You Call a Sorry Collection of GOP Legislators?

Ipswich floodFlooding in Ipswich in 2010. (Photo via posixelini on Flickr.)

The English language has an amazing array of colorful collective nouns. Did you know that a group of hedgehogs is called a prickle? And that a gathering of owls is called a parliament? There’s also a murder of crows and a sneak of weasels. But we seem to be missing a collective noun that would be very useful at this moment. We need a good collective noun to describe a group of GOP legislators from North Carolina. My wife has suggested “a nutloaf,” as in: “A nutloaf of Republican state legislators are trying to outlaw belief in global warming.” I like my wife’s new word. It fits quite nicely. And, yes, those GOP nutloafs in the Tar Heel state really are trying to do just that.

The GOP bill is titled: “An Act to Study and Modify Certain Coastal Management Policies.” If there were a truth requirement in bill titles, it would really be titled something along the lines of “A Bill Instructing People Who Do Development Planning to Just Pretend Like Global Warming Isn’t Happening.”

The people really pushing the bill are a group of developers who want to build in North Carolina’s 20 coastal counties. They call themselves NC-20.

If you look at an EPA map that shows all of the land on the Carolina coast that’s less than 1.5 meters above sea level, you’ll see that there’s quite a lot of it. Scientists are predicting that sea level may rise perhaps a full meter over the next century and that there may be an increase in the number of destructive coastal storms. Knowing this might reasonably make one a bit reluctant to buy, insure, or even permit houses in some of these vulnerable lowlands. Being “underwater” on your mortgage could end up having a far more literal meaning. That’s why the NC-20 developers want to make everyone pretend that what happened in the past is what will happen in the future. They want all predictions to be linear.

This may sound reasonable to some. But as Nicholas Teleb pointed out in The Black Swan, his wonderful book on economic catastrophes: You can see the trap that awaits such linear thinking if you simply consider the case of the Thanksgiving turkey. Each day for the turkey is wonderfully like the day before. Wake up, eat, fool around with other turkeys, eat, sleep. It’s a fine turkey life. The turkey happily assumes that each day going forward will be just like all the days before it. But then, shortly before Thanksgiving, the turkey’s expectations about his day prove to be tragically wrong. Linear predictions don’t work out very well for turkeys destined for the Thanksgiving table.

The scientific consensus on global warming is abundantly clear about will happen to us if we don’t change our turkey-ish ways. A 2011 paper from George Mason University published in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research found that 97 percent of the 489 scientists surveyed agreed that that global temperatures have increased over the past century. Eighty-four percent agreed that “human-induced greenhouse warming” is now occurring.” And just 5 percent disagreed with the idea that human activity is a significant cause. Even Mitt Romney believes that global warming is occurring and that human activity contributes to it. Well, at least he does for now.

But the Republicans in North Carolina are determined to ignore this inconvenient scientific consensus. They have even ignored their own people. A state-appointed scientific panel reported that a 1-meter rise in sea level is likely by 2100. (Here in Massachusetts, the Office of Coastal Zone Management also says there is a general scientific consensus that sea levels are rising. Good luck, Hull.)

Just the way Republicans across the country have sucked up to the far right by flip-flopping and railing against global warming, declared the theory of evolution suspect, ignored research on the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only sex education, and claimed that, despite what the science says, birth control is tantamount to abortion, the Republicans in North Carolina have taken a strong stand against real science — and in defense of a kind of willful, pig-like ignorance.

At the behest of special interests, the North Carolina Republican legislators have circulated a bill that would forbid planners from even considering the possibility that sea levels will rise the way scientific consensus says the seas will rise this century.

This is not just another embarrassing embrace of the “Science/Schmience” ethos of the extreme right. It’s a public menace. Planners need to consider the likelihood of rising water to properly design the bridges, roads, and sewer lines that will be built in the future and used for decades. They need to generate accurate maps that show the areas at risk of serious flooding so federally subsidized flood insurance rates can be accurately set. And if they underestimate the risk, guess who gets stuck for the bill? That would be you.

It would be such a grand thing if the Republicans who now want to run the country and run the world, people like Mitt Romney and Scott Brown, would take a bold stance in favor of science and declare that they stand in solidarity with the scientists of the world on issues like global warming, evolution, and birth control. And that they aren’t afraid of the wrath of the Tea Party wing nuts or that other collection — that other, sorry nutloaf of GOP turkeys down in North Carolina.