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Climate Foresight in the Times: Don't Buy Beachfront Property
Alex Steffen, 21 Jun 06

beachhouse.jpg The NYT has a great article today on how climate change and rising seas could destroy at least a quarter of all US beachfront homes by 2060, but little is being done to check the destruction:

Though most of the country's ocean beaches are eroding, few coastal jurisdictions consider sea level rise in their coastal planning, and still fewer incorporate the fact that the rise is accelerating. Instead, they are sticking with policies that geologists say may help them in the short term but will be untenable or even destructive in the future. ... Few coastal residents want to see their towns walled off and surrounded by water. And few want to elevate their houses by 20 feet or more, as flooding experts are beginning to recommend in some coastal areas. The approach favored by many scientists, a gradual retreat from the coast, is a perennial nonstarter among real estate interests and their political allies.
James Titus, an Environmental Protection Agency project manager for sea level rise who is leading an agency mapping effort, wrote an essay for a law review a few years ago in which he argued that the nation needed to make decisions on whether or how wetlands and beaches should be allowed to migrate inland. Otherwise, he wrote, government policy is saying, in effect, that "wetlands and beaches are important resources that must be preserved for the duration of this generation, but whether they survive for the next 50 to 100 years is not our problem."
Mr. Titus titled his essay, published in the Golden Gate Law Review in 2000, "Does the U.S. Government Realize That the Sea Is Rising?" It was accompanied by a disclaimer noting that it did not represent the views of the E.P.A. Reached by telephone, Mr. Titus said he was no longer allowed to discuss such issues publicly and referred questions to the agency's press office, which would not allow him to speak about it on the record.

The politics of rising seas are already nasty, obviously, and they'll only get nastier, I'd bet. But ultimately, the destruction even of a quarter (or even all) of the nation's waterfront homes is comparatively small potatoes in the total sweep of potential futures we're committing ourselves to by failing to take action to stop climate change.

The first-order problems brought on by global warming -- beach houses washing away, sure, but also crop failures, water shortages, floods, catastrophic wildfires, much more severe hurricanes, the spread of new diseases -- should freak us out and give us pause. But they are not necessarily the worst impacts we'll see.

When we mess with something as fundamental as climate, the cascading consequences will be difficult to predict, but some of them have extremely serious implications, like studies showing that climate change and habitat loss may combine to spell doom for one quarter of all the species on Earth, perhaps triggering a series of ecopunkt failures around the planet.

Indeed, one of the most needed sets of worldchanging tools are studies and stories, explanations and visions to help more people catch on quickly to the idea that climate foresight is no longer a luxury and, one way or another, we all live in New Orleans now.

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Comments

I'm waiting for some enterprising real estate agent to turn this problem into opportunity: study topographical maps to find the beachfront property of the future while it is still miles inland -- and cheap.


Posted by: Thomas on 21 Jun 06

We can write and write about this, but until we find ways to engage idols and leaders of the "dumb majority" into changing the masses behaviour, nothing substantial will happen. And then it will still take decades or centuries until the world can feel releave, IF it is not too late...

It comes down to the fact that eternal growth is impossible - we have to understand and internalize this and change our thinking: small is beautiful - reuse, reduce, upcycle - localize and decentralize energy generation - etc

This is a 180 degree turn from what the "developed " world is doing now, and absolute necessary and logical.

The whole problem needs to become an interesting subject for the average American, like it is in the rest of the world!!!


Posted by: Christoph on 21 Jun 06



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