The director of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is refusing to allow a documentary about sea-level rise to show at the museum’s Science Café.
Shored Up, a film by director Ben Kalina, explores issues regarding coastal communities, specifically the New Jersey shore and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in light of super storms and rising seas.
The nonprofit group N.C. Coastal Federation had hoped to bring the film to the museum’s Science Café, a weekly discussion of science and technology issues, in January. It is scheduled to show at UNC-Wilmington and the N.C. Aquarium in January.
According to emails provided by the museum, director Emlyn Koster wrote that “we want to engage the public, marshal the progress of our unique learning-rich setting and take advantage of our collaborative network, rather than focusing on an hour-long film in a theater.”
He added that the museum needs to “ensure an objective science-centered approach.”
Coastal federal officials said they were told the film had to be reviewed by several levels of museum management, including the programming committee. Ultimately, because of the politically sensitive subject matter, museum leadership wanted more control over the event. That could have included a post-screening panel discussion with people who could express differing viewpoints. In addition, museum officials reportedly told the federation that the Science Café space is too small to accommodate the potentially large crowd that would be interested in the film.
In addition, coastal federation officials said they were led to believe that the film would show at a later date in a different space and with a panel discussion. However, Koster told the programming committee that the museum would not show the film at all.
Coastal federation officials told the INDY that the science is solid in the documentary, although it is clearly advocacy work that shows the policy failings regarding sea-level rise. It does not include rebuttals from people who think sea-level rise is either not happening or is not a threat. The film also contains footage from The Colbert Report in which Stephen Colbert ridicules North Carolina legislators who, in 2012, outlawed scientifically sound methods of measuring sea levels along the coast.
As the INDY reported in June 2012, the law restricts the ability of state agencies to accurately forecast and prepare for sea-level rise. As a result, developers could continue to profit from building in vulnerable, low-lying coastal areas free of additional regulations that would apply if the state accounted for higher seas.
The law was a victory for NC-20, a nonprofit governmental group stacked with coastal development and real estate interests, who successfully persuaded a science panel of the Coastal Resources Commission to significantly change its policy proposal. Those amendments included restricting state and local governments to using only select historical data to predict sea-level rise. Under those conditions, the forecast is not 3 feet, but 8 inches.
The museum is under the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Over the next two years, it is to receive $12 million annually from state funds, according to budget documents; the museum also receives research grants. More than 1 million people visit the museum each year.