Using scientific tools takes care

April 27, 2017

The recent March for Science in Washington, D.C., Lewes and other places drew attention to the essential role good science plays in wise decision-making. But, as with the use of any tools - like science and resulting knowledge - realizing a positive outcome depends on how and where we use them.

The most overt example comes in discussion of sea-level rise and climate change. Plenty of solid, well-vetted and peer-reviewed science documents sea-level rise. Reasonable people who look at the evidence have to stretch to deny the existence of either or both.

What may be debatable is the degree to which human activity, such as the generation of atmosphere-warming greenhouse gases, is accelerating the warming underway since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. That debate continues at the global level and impacts policy agreements among nations.

At the local level, however, municipal, county and state policy makers have to sift through information and determine how to apply which facts for the protection of infrastructure, property and natural resources. Making knee-jerk policy decisions in a global "sky is falling" atmosphere risks wasting lots of time and resources. In Norfolk and Miami Beach, sea-level rise coupled with land sinking beneath millions of tons of concrete is causing flooding issues. Does that flooding mean that in Delaware we have to hurry up and do something to shore up our defenses?

In Sussex County, we can protect our houses for hundreds of years by building up higher. What we can't do is ensure that our marshes and wetlands, beaches and dunes will continue to serve as buffers for storms, and sponges for wind-driven and flooding tides - unless we protect them.

Because of Delmarva's configuration as a great sand spit formed in the wake of the last ice age, the impact of sea-level rise will be felt more slowly and incrementally than in other hardened areas like Norfolk and Miami.

But we're foolish if we don't heed the evidence and take steps to protect and nurture the natural defenses that have served us so well.

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Laura Ritter, news editor, and Dennis Forney, publisher, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.

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