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An ocean of worry


Because of the long time lag, they are also certain that sea level will continue to climb for decades, regardless of efforts to forestall global warming. [...] the sea is not actually level, because of local variations in gravitational attraction. [...] he suggests that coastal resilience can be enhanced by "nurturing critical social networks and institutions" and promoting a "diverse local economy."

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									An ocean of worry
                           BOOKS             gapore, are especially imperiled. Equally
                                             worrisome is the advance of seawater
                                                                                          tive approaches, they demonstrate, are
                                                                                          always extraordinarily expensive and can
The Rising Sea                               into the agriculturally vital deltas of      only be provisional. Arguing in hard-
                                             eastern and southern Asia, a process         headed economic terms, the authors
by Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young.            that will undermine global food secu-        emphasize the conservative nature of
Washington, DC: Island Press, 2009,          rity and eventually generate streams of      their overarching proposal.
193 pp.                                      environmental refugees. Entire countries
Planning for Coastal                         composed of low-lying atolls, such as
                                             Tuvalu and the Maldives, may be entirely
Resilience: Best Practices for               submerged, forcing their inhabitants
Calamitous Times                             to higher islands or continents. Find-
                                             ing havens for such displaced nations
by Timothy Beatley. Washington, DC:
                                             will, to say the least, present its own
Island Press, 2009, 181 pp.
                                             economic and geopolitical dilemmas.
Martin W. Lewis                                 The Rising Sea outlines several strate-
                                             gies that could be deployed to protect
Although Orrin Pilkey and Rob Young          vulnerable communities from the
are skeptical of mathematical models         mounting waters, but none are cost-effec-
that specify how high and how quickly        tive. Seawalls and other forms of coastal
sea level will rise, they have no doubt      armoring can only temporarily defend
that the oceans are expanding. Because       limited areas at great expense; shore-
of the long time lag, they are also cer-     lines so hardened will eventually turn
tain that sea level will continue to climb   into wave-battered capes as neighbor-
for decades, regardless of efforts to        ing stretches of coast retreat. Replen-
forestall global warming. We must            ishing eroded beaches with sand hauled          Pilkey and Young realize that few
therefore accept the inevitability of        in from elsewhere, another commonly          self-styled conservatives will warm to
coastline retreat and plan for at least a    favored strategy, is similarly dismissed     their prescriptions. As they show in a
seven-foot rise by 2100. Failure to do       as exorbitant, ecologically destructive,     chapter aptly entitled “A Sea of Denial,”
so, the authors warn, will exacerbate an     and doomed to failure as the sea con-        economic interests threatened by cli-
impending crisis.                            tinues to rise.                              mate change strive to manufacture
    As Pilkey and Young demonstrate, the        Facing the inevitable, Pilkey and         doubt about the underlying environmen-
rising sea threatens not only beaches,       Young find only one viable approach:         tal processes. Although a handful of
coastal wetlands, mangrove swamps,           wholesale retreat from beaches and           reputable scientists do deny global
and coral reefs, but also the global econ-   other low-lying coastal areas. We must       warming as well as its concomitant
omy and perhaps even the international       pull back, they argue, and allow the         sea-level rise, their arguments con-
political system. The inundation of low-     sea to reclaim land and infrastructure       tinue to be discredited. Journalists who
lying neighborhoods in coastal cities        alike. In some cases buildings might be      frame the resulting controversies as
is all but certain. Several major finan-     moved, but most structures along the         “unsettled debates” thus do the public
cial centers, including Miami and Sin-       shoreline must be abandone
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