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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Abandon our coast? Heaven — and HUD — forbid

The clarion call has grown louder since Superstorm Sandy: We must beat a “managed” retreat from the coast, or face certain peril as global warming takes hold and sea levels rise. More scientists are saying that it’s worthless to attempt to hold back the sea, and that we should abandon whole swaths of our shoreline and head for higher ground.

No, we needn’t pack our bags today and shuffle off to Buffalo, or Poughkeepsie. But, many scientists say, we must begin to think about our long-term future, and, from their informed point of view, it looks rather wet. By a number of estimates, we could see a hurricane the strength and size of Sandy every two years by 2100 because of climate change.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It’s freezing. There’s no such thing as global warming. According to the American Geophysical Union, though, 2013 was the ninth hottest year on record –– and, The Guardian says, it was Australia’s hottest.

Rob Young is a professor of coastal geology at Western Carolina University. “There are certain areas of the coast that are worth spending significant amounts of money on to build artificial beaches and dunes,” he recently wrote in an opinion piece for Environment 360, the magazine of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “But there are approximately 3,700 miles of shoreline along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. We certainly can’t, and shouldn’t, [build dunes] everywhere.”

Not-so-necessary areas, Young suggested, should be left wild. He did not name names. “Managed retreat is not an abandonment of the coast,” he wrote. “It is a gradual change in the footprint of vulnerable communities based on the realities of coastal hazards and rising sea levels.”

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