Sea level rise documentary with NC focus comes to Triangle
Posted February 4
Updated February 5
A documentary on sea-level rise with a focus on the North Carolina coast is coming to the Triangle for several screenings this week.
Shored Up examines development and beach engineering in coastal communities such as New Jersey and the Outer Banks amid the impacts of climate change. The documentary caused a stir in November when the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences passed on an offer to screen the film during one of its weekly Science Cafe events.
North Carolina State University will show the film at the Hunt Library Auditorium on Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. ahead of a panel discussion by director Ben Kalina, professors and civic leaders.
Two more screenings will follow on Feb. 6 at the Full Frame Theatre in Durham, first at 5 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. A panel at the second screening will also feature Kalina and will be moderated by Chris Fitzsimon, director of the liberal think tank N.C. Policy Watch. The event is hosted by Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL News.
Film denied at science museum
The North Carolina Coastal Federation, which is sponsoring the Durham screenings, raised concerns about the museum's decision not to show the film in November, saying the move was politically driven.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, which like the museum is managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, showed the film in November.
In a message posted on the Shored Up site on Nov. 18, Kalina said he was surprised to hear the museum passed on the film, which he said is "grounded in consensus science that addresses the far-reaching impacts of climate change now and in the future."
"I’m sympathetic to the fact that some of the subjects raised in the film could be perceived or construed as being politically sensitive, but now more than ever we need our stalwart institutions of science and reason to provide a framework for these critical discussions," Kalina said.
The museum contends the decision wasn't political at all. According to a written statement in November, science museum Director Emlyn Koster said showing the film wouldn't be the best way to present "an issue as significant and complex as sea level science."
"For contemporary issues that connect science with societal innovations and environmental stewardship, the most constructive role for this Museum is to be an engaging venue with multiple resources and views," Koster wrote in the statement.
When reached Tuesday afternoon by phone, Kalina said the screening would have been an opportunity to engage the public at an institution that takes climate change seriously.
"Film is a medium that is perfectly poised to create discourse," Kalina said. "This would have been a great opportunity to create a conversation."
Museum spokesman Mark Johnson told WRAL News in November that a committee made up of museum staffers typically reviews proposals for outside programming, such as speakers and other events.
Film proposals are rare, Johnson said, but for the first time under Koster's tenure, the committee decided to get final approval from management for the film before scheduling it. He said the committee did not recommend showing the film by itself but discussed pairing it with a panel or other alternatives.
The science of the film, Johnson said, was not the committee's primary concern.
"The concern was about whether this was the best and most complete way to discuss the topic," Johnson said.
Criticized sea change models featured
The film also highlights legislative changes to the way the state predicts sea level rise on the coast, a process that played out in the General Assembly while Kalina was filming in the state.
Initial versions of the bill, which drew mockery from scientists and comedian Stephen Colbert alike, restricted the use of current models to plan the future of coastal communities. It opted instead for less dramatic, linear models scientists say do not represent the best available data. The version that eventually passed both houses – and dodged then-Gov. Bev Perdue's veto – delayed the adoption of new models for four years.
Backers of the measure at the time said criticism was unfair and that scientific studies are conflicted on sea level rise.
"Local governments are completely left alone in this bill," said Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnson. He said that bill would only affect one state agency.
But Duke geology Professor Orrin Pilkey, who's featured in the film, says ignoring sea level rise is not the answer.
"It was just mind-boggling that a group of reasonably intelligent and educated people would come to this conclusion," Pilkey said. "It was utterly irresponsible."
Pilkey said that sea level models show that much of the lowest-lying northeastern part of the state will be underwater in 100 years, a change that will deal a serious blow to the Outer Banks.
"With a three-foot elevation, that's the end of development on our barrier islands," Pilkey said. "The cost of holding the shoreline, the cost of stopping the storm surge is going to be impossible."
And with the impact felt up and down the East Coast, where the slope of the land is much more gradual, money to maintain sea walls and build other structures will flow to major metropolitan areas, not recreational shorelines.
"New York is going to trump Wrightsville Beach," Pilkey said. "That's an economic fact."
Given the difficulty of the problem, Kalina said he can understand the temptation to avoid it. But he said he hopes his film will help kickstart a conversation that's as critical as it is uncomfortable.
"This is not an issue that has one solution, or even a couple of solutions," Kalina said. "It takes a reckoning. It takes input from all the stakeholders."