Atlantic Coastal Flooding Needs Planned Retreat

On February 24, 2018, I created a Facebook group titled “Overground Railroad” which has only seven members and very few visitors. The description is “a group to explore how to prepare climate refugees to migrate to the Midwest, and how to build communities for them to live in when they arrive.”

In response to one of my first posts concerning how we in the Midwest might deal with the massive inland migration of climate refugees, I received the following interesting response from Jane Peers.

“As a member of the coastal Quakers, I wonder how we Friends, after we find each other, will respond to the non-Quakers who will be fleeing to the same areas. Will we be building high walls? Offering classes in how to emulate our solutions? Something in between?

And, as a coastal dweller, I wonder how well we can adapt as well as how genuinely welcome we might be. We will lack almost all of the skills the new life will require.

This article is very welcome and could provide the basis of new acquaintances across the mountains – before the emergency. Could we share some of our visions – or nightmares – even if they are only small pieces of some larger as-yet-unseen vision? For example, how token warm in winter – skins were an early solution; Raising cotton or sheep and hand-spinning yarn and then learning to weave it and form garments – all this is just one other aspect of this vision.”

Thank you for taking the trouble to write out this well-considered wake-up call.”

Jane Peers

In response I wrote: Thank you Jane. I think it would be a great step forward to begin to build connections with coastal Quakers, completing the circle in a way. Figuring out what those on the coast grapple with, and how they make preparations for the journey would be another part of the way we can all help those who will become climate refugees. We would be building an ‘overground’ railroad.
I think this is a fascinating possibility. I hadn’t considered that connecting with coastal Friends would be an important step in the migration process. As Jane implies, those Friends could be learning needed skills BEFORE they start their journey. And as importantly, they could be teaching those skills to hundreds or thousands of others who would soon become climate refugees.
Such connections between those living on the coast and those in the Midwest could allow time for planning and preparation of the new communities. This could make the massive migration somewhat manageable, instead of the alternative of unexpected arrivals. A new dimension to building a peaceable kingdom.

Another Friend, who lives near San Diego, wrote:

What we’re already experiencing and likely to continue to experience for a long time: enormous loops in the Jet Stream driving Arctic climate southwards in one part of the country while another experiences weather from the tropics.

Water shortages are likely to remain a problem here [which might be mitigated by passive systems extracting water from what will probably be humid air.

But overall, an arrangement which connects communities in widely-spaced locations has clear advantages (as long as food can still be shipped between them. Depends on how well the railroad routes hold up?) So we might not be moving back East as much as trying to hang on wherever that turns out workable…

Forrest Curo, San Diego Meeting

There are various tools that can help visualize the effects of ocean rise. One is NOAA’s Coastal Flood Exposure Mapper. I hadn’t realized how little coastal flooding is predicted on the West coast.,3754646,5z/eyJoIjoiaGF6YXJkQ29tcG9zaXRlfDF8In0=

NOAA’s Coastal Flood Exposure Mapper

NOAA also has a Sea Level Rise Viewer: You can set the height of the sea level on the scale on the left, and the simulated sea level rise is shown on the map.

NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer

For years climate scientists and oceanographers have been warning of ever-greater hazard to Atlantic America. They have warned of ever more torrential rains and the hazards of ever more damaging floods even in disparate cities such as Charleston and Seattle; they have even warned of high tide floods on a daily basis in some cities, and they have proposed that an estimated 13 million Americans could become climate refugees, driven by the advancing seas from their own homes.

All of which is why a trio of researchers argue for the need to accept the inevitable and step back from the sea, and they say so in the journal Science. They argue that the US should start to prepare for retreat by limiting development in the areas most at risk.

Fighting the ocean is a losing battle. The only way to win against water is not to fight. We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war. We’re not winning or losing: we’re adjusting to changes in nature. Sea levels rise, storms surge into floodplains, so we need to move back. We can do that the hard way, by fighting for every inch and losing lives and dollars in the meantime. Or we can do it willingly and thoughtfully and take the opportunity to re-think the way we live on the coasts. This is why retreat needs to be strategic as well as managed. Retreat is a tool that can help achieve societal goals like community revitalization, equity, and sustainability if it is used purposefully.

The case for managed retreat, by A.R. Siders, Miyuki Hino and Katharine Mach, EurekAlert, Stanford University, August 22, 2019

Even if you don’t believe these changes will happen, or not happen soon, there are other compelling reasons to design and build new communities. Our economic system has not adapted to the loss of jobs overseas and to automation. There are simply not enough jobs for millions of people, and many of those who do have work are paid at poverty levels. Forced to depend upon increasingly diminishing social safety nets. That is morally wrong. Building small communities in rural areas will give people fulfilling work to do, food to eat, shelter, and a caring community to belong to, restoring their dignity. More details of how we might do this can be found in one of the first posts I wrote about building Beloved communities:

Unfortunately as we have seen with the massive flooding of the Missouri River this spring, the Midwest will not be spared from climate chaos.

This entry was posted in climate change, climate refugees, immigration, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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