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June 23rd, 2016 at 9:49 am

Developers Don’t Get It: Climate Change Means We Need to Retreat from the Coast

Retreat from a Rising Sea

“It is time for a profound new outlook—where we construct smaller, less expensive and perhaps mobile structures and do not replace buildings destroyed and damaged in storms. It is time we prepare to retreat from the rising sea.”—Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C Pilkey

Earlier this year in an incisive and impassioned op-ed published in The Guardian, Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis and Keith C Pilkey, authors of Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, pointed out the continued folly of developing in coastal areas. 13.1 million people along the U.S. east coast will be at risk of flooding at the end of the century. While such statistics suggest the need to retreat from coastal areas, development continues.

Particularly vulnerable is the Florida coast where multibillion-dollar construction projects are underway. The Pilkeys cite several cities heading down the wrong path, including Miami:

In Miami, a city perilously perched atop a very porous limestone, two multibillion-dollar construction projects are under way, despite the fact that parts of the city routinely flood during high tides and that widespread flooding by the rising sea in a few decades is a virtual certainty. No sea walls, levees or dikes can stop the rising waters from flowing through the underlying spongy limestone and into the city. Miami is ultimately doomed.

Ft. Myers is also adding new hotels and restaurants to its coast using seawalls in the hopes of protecting them from flooding. The authors provide some succinct and much-needed advice on why that’s a bad idea:

If you need to build a seawall to protect your construction project, you should not be building at that site. Remember – seawalls destroy beaches.

The authors conclude by writing:

The time has passed for such foolish projects. The frequency of super costly “natural” disasters on the coast will only increase if we continue to cram buildings up against the beach and treat storms as urban renewal projects. It is time for a profound new outlook – where we construct smaller, less expensive and perhaps mobile structures and do not replace buildings destroyed and damaged in storms. It is time we prepare to retreat from the rising sea.

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