On Tuesday, September 20, 2020, the Pulitzer Center kicked off its regional Connected Coastlines series with “The Coastal Southeast: Rising and Hazardous Waters,” delving into what has changed over the last decade in how North Carolinians talk about climate science.
The webinar featured reporting from the Pulitzer Center-supported project Changing Minds on Climate Science published by Coastal Review Online. Panelists included Mark Hibbs, editor of Coastal Review Online; Kirk Ross, lead legislative reporter of Coastal Review Online; Dr. Kathie Dello, North Carolina state climatologist and director of the State Climate Office; Karen Willis Amspacher, executive director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center; and Yolanda House, a community journalist and Working Narratives Resiliency Media Fellow.
During the webinar, Hibbs outlined the idea for the Changing Minds on Climate Science project. He told the audience that after recent years of major hurricanes in North Carolina, “We knew from our reporting that efforts to make coastal communities more resilient were happening. We also knew that a state resiliency plan was in the works. And we knew that the governor was pushing for renewable energy and opposing offshore oil.”
For Hibbs, these community initiatives and movements by public officials seemed to point to a broader shift in understanding. “We weren’t sure but people's attitudes toward climate science seemed to be changing too. And that’s what we sought to gauge with our series for Connected Coastlines: How have the people in the areas that we cover changed in their thinking?”
Each panelist addressed how they have seen minds changing on climate science issues through their work as a journalist, scientist, or community leader. While the conversation addressed scientific terminology and resiliency plans, two panelists noted that the changing climate’s impact on mental health is a critical issue.
Amspacher, whose family has lived on Harkers Island for over a century, explained that for coastal residents age, a deep commitment to place, and storms' influence on mental health compound the effects of violent hurricanes. “How many times can you get flooded and still pick your head up and go again?” Amspacher asked.
For Ross, understanding the psychological impact of sea level rise is critical for policy makers weighing possible solutions. Ross, drawing on his time reporting on Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, noted that attempts to buy houses in at-risk areas happens in emotionally turbulent times. “The buyouts need to be happening now,” said Ross. “They need to be happening in a saner way, in a more methodical way.”
Ross explained, “We know another storm is coming. We know that there will be a bad storm.” Given these realities, according to Ross, the pressing climate science questions now include “How do you plan? How do you make people whole in that kind of environment?”