When Kevin Harrison warns Alabama lawmakers about rising seawater that government scientists project will swamp the state’s bridges, ports, and highways in coming decades, he’s careful to avoid the words “climate change.” There are “naysayers about that particular topic,” says Harrison, transportation director of the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission. Instead he points to weather models showing an increase in the frequency of hurricanes and floods but sidesteps the touchy subject of what causes them.
Even as the federal government’s new National Climate Assessment cautions that storm surges may one day leave coastal communities such as Mobile under as much as 25 feet of water, state leaders persist in saying global warming is a sham and resist spending money to prepare for it. Trip Pittman, a Republican state senator who represents Baldwin County on the east side of Mobile Bay, calls federal research on climate change “bad science” and “fear-mongering.” Spending millions based on such predictions doesn’t make sense, he says. “What are the costs of us going on these crusades, these environmental crusades?” says Pittman. “We’ve elevated environmentalism into some kind of religion.”