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As coastal sea levels rise, Congress sticks its head in the sand

Thanks for your article on climate change and rising sea levels ("Survey shows Americans wary of sea level rising," March 29.) Global warming is driving major change in sea levels.

In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's leading authority on climate science, projected an annual sea level rise of less than 2 millimeters per year. But from 1993 through 2006, the oceans actually rose 3.3 millimeters per year, more than 50 percent above projections, according to Scientific American magazine.

Sea levels are rising due to thermal expansion — warming ocean temperatures causing water to expand in volume — and glaciers and ice sheets melting into the oceans. And studies show that sea level rise is accelerating.

Unless, that is, you live in North Carolina, where climate change deniers insanely passed a law last year forbidding the use of current science in planning for sea level rise. Instead, the law there only allows the use of historical data.

North Carolina scientists predict a sea level rise of 39 inches. But planners there are only allowed to project an 8-inch rise, based on measurements made over the last 100 years. Good luck to homeowners on North Carolina's coastline.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 123.3 million people, or 39 percent of the nation's population, lived in counties on a shoreline in 2010. Sea level rise is making planners redraw flood plain maps, affecting many more people.

The cause of this major sea level rise is the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that is warming the planet. This is another example of the hidden costs of burning fossil fuels.

It's a failure of the free market to not factor the costs of rising sea levels into the price of fossil fuels. Keeping up the charade that climate change is not a problem puts Americans and all of life on the planet at risk.

A steadily rising tax on carbon-based fuels, with 100 percent of the revenue returned to every household, is a simple and fair way to wean us from fossil fuels that Congress could implement immediately to address global warming's devastating impact on U.S. coastlines.

Jon Clark, Dover, Pa.

The writer is Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator of the Citizens Climate Lobby.

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