Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Advancing Beachfront

As sea levels rise - perhaps slowly, perhaps precipitously - and as storms become more powerful and more frequent, the idea of owning beachfront property would seem to be imbued with some kind of time limit.

The comfortable cottage sitting across the strand of sand from the Gulf of Mexico looms like a tasty morsel dangled in front of an increasingly hungry scavenger. Having driven Highway 90 from the Louisiana border to Gulfport 18 months after Katrina, we saw the coastline scoured clean, with the occasional cement stairs leading nowhere and the live oaks barren of leaves and branches. Yet every few miles we'd pass and active construction site where a defiant owner was insisting on rebuilding exactly where his previous abode had been annihilated. Stubborn? Proud? Or is this plain old stupidity?

An article the New York Times on June 21 included the estimate that at least one quarter of U.S. beachfront homes would be destroyed by rising seas and storms by 2060. I'd put strong emphasis on "at least" since I witnessed the total elimination of beachfront homes by a single storm landfall, and most global warming projections see major storms reaching not only the usual Florida and Gulf coasts, but farther up the East and even West coasts where residents of seaside communities and developments have always felt safe from Nature's wrath.

More from the NYT article:

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.
- - -
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.
As Alex Steffen points out at WorldChanging,
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.
Indeed, there are impacts that go far beyond the specific catastrophes and point to the loss of species, cultures and whole populations, not to mention what we here in America think of as our way of life. As Steffen say, "...climate foresight is no longer a luxury and, one way or another, we all live in New Orleans now."

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