Opinion: N.C. is ground zero on climate change

 In October 2019

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At a conference on climate change in Chapel Hill in September, I confessed to a roomful of journalists and scientists that my science knowledge was probably the most limited in the room. That sentiment would probably still ring true if all of those reading this column had been in that room. But I’m smart enough to know that North Carolina is ground zero in efforts to confront global warming.

Our state has more than 12,000 miles of coastal shoreline if you include the enormous estuary system. Sounds and the beaches are part of the North Carolina ethos, drawing record levels of residents and visitors, even as concern mounts over shoreline erosion and worsening hurricanes.

On a more pragmatic level, we’re the headquarters of Duke Energy Corp., the nation’s largest electric utility based on revenue and second-biggest based on market value. (NextEra Energy Inc. is No. 1.) Duke keeps us cool in the summer and warm in the winter at nationally competitive prices in return for providing its shareholders an annual return of 8% over the last decade.

So Duke’s mid-September announcement that it plans to achieve a net zero carbon emission profile by 2050, including a 50% reduction by 2030, was an important moment. To be sure, the power company isn’t moving fast enough to satisfy many who are alarmed by global warming. The company says alternative energies, including solar and wind power, aren’t efficient or reliable enough to make up more than 10% of its overall power mix over the next 15 years. Using the low-cost, high-return potential of lobbying, Duke is also working overtime to loosen state regulatory shackles in hopes of boosting its shareholder return.

Still, the commitment shows Duke’s attention to significant changes in public concern over global warming. “I’m worried about global warming” is a view shared by 69% of Americans, up from 52% five years ago, according to research by Yale and George Mason universities. Fewer than one in five are doubtful or dismissive of global warming, a sharp decline from 2014. A third of conservative Republicans express worry, up from 14% during the same period.

Broader support for sensible measures to curb harmful emissions is great news. So is the sharp reduction that has already occurred, largely because power companies are shifting away from coal-fired power plants, and we’re driving cleaner burning cars and trucks. Carbon dioxide emissions per capita are at their lowest level since the 1950s.

At the Chapel Hill conference, UNC Chapel Hill marine ecologist John Bruno said global warming’s impact is mostly affecting the oceans, prompting fish to move rapidly from warming waters to cooler ones. He suggested that lobsters, manatees, sea turtles and other species are adapting quite well. I’m hoping the same can be said for us human folk.


Sometimes, we’re also not too smart about golf. Last month’s magazine listed the wrong alma mater for PGA star Webb Simpson. He’s a Wake Forest University graduate.

Another story should have noted that Aberdeen-based Spiritus Systems is an active government contractor. We regret the errors.

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