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June 22, 2011


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AAAGGGHHH, this is one of my hot buttons. In the mid '80s I was an electrical engineer, part of a team installing some flight simulators at Pensacola Naval Air Station in the Florida,USA "panhandle" -- i.e. far eastern Florida. I spent several months in Florida -- my home is in California -- and slipped out to Pensacola Beach every chance I could get. It was a beautiful place to take a walk and shrug off the stresses of work.

I marveled at the fragility of the beach. Back home in Northern California, ocean beaches are narrow things that come and go with the seasons, shriveling up to almost nothing in the winter and expanding in the summer. But they're backed by cliffs of some sort and, if ravaged by the winter storms, are guaranteed to return the following spring. But the Florida beaches -- acres and acres of sand and a few brave bunches of native grass, with houses and hotels and all manner of development apparently built on dunes that are never more than a few feet above the surf -- seemed ripe for the next hurricane to turn into sandy matchsticks, floating in the storm surge.

Our installation team "bugged out" in advance of Elena in '85, a category three hurricane that did surprisingly little damage to the beaches (although Pensacola wasn't in the direct path).

So, perhaps I was imagining more danger than there really was. But I'll take my California version of "storms" -- albeit with landslide and earthquake danger -- over a hurricane.

Oops, that was supposed to be "far WESTERN Florida." Hmmmm...

I notice that you still have not actually repeated "the question". ;) Or did you? :)

I'm continually amazed at what people will spend money and effort on, and what they will not. Against all reason.

F:you mean "does this make sense?"? (Strange punctuation, that - but I can't see any way around it).

I wouldn't presume to answer this question (although perhaps you can deduce my inclination). It's complex, but it seems to me that the cost-benefit analysis is perhaps not thought through to the extent it should be - particularly in the economic climate of today and the geophysical climate of tomorrow. There's a lot of interesting material available on the implications of sea-level rise for coastal management, together with the explicit effects on the cost-benefit equation. Hmm, I think I feel another post coming on.....

Karen - this hot button topic is one for my home too - the UK has deep issues to address. See, for example, one of my earliest posts:

The top photo is quite striking. Where was it taken?

Anne - it is, isn't it? It's of Strathmere, New Jersey, up the coast from Cape May, and located on one of the breaks in the barrier island system. I took it from the linked report on the State's shore protection program, published by the Bureau of Coastal Engineering. But I'm also pleased that you asked,because I went to check via the link on the post and found it was broken - I believe that this is now corrected, but apologies to anyone who tried the faulty version.

As always in this context, I think of King Canute, the paradigm of governmental management of sea encroachment:

"Will the advancing waves obey me, Bishop, if I make the sign?"
Said the Bishop, bowing lowly, "Land and sea, my lord, are thine."
Canute turned towards the ocean--"Back!" he said, "thou foaming brine.

"From the sacred shore I stand on, I command thee to retreat;
Venture not, thou stormy rebel, to approach thy master's seat:
Ocean, be thou still! I bid thee come not nearer to my feet!"

But the sullen ocean answered with a louder, deeper roar,
And the rapid waves drew nearer, falling sounding on the shore;
Back the Keeper and the Bishop, back the king and courtiers bore.

- William Makepeace Thackeray

Cost-benefit seems indeed the question, and regulatory capture. Without state-underwritten flood insurance, would these buildings obtain mortgages?

@ Sandglass:

Yes, that is more or less the question to which I referred, while reflecting on the prior statement, "I have asked why this makes any sense in earlier posts, so I won’t bother repeating the question today." I am unsure whether it really would be the same question or not, although I would consider it to be at least somewhat related.

Basically a bit play on the fact that you prefer to stay away from matters of politics and judgment. It is a difficult thing to accomplish, while knowing the facts. (And no, I wasn't looking for an answer, but, yes, I do have a feel for your inclinations in these matters.)

I think people are crazy to live in such places, nourish beaches, or create new islands by pumping sand, and expect that such boundaries are static and protected by human laws. I extend my estimation of craziness to people living in other areas frequently affected by various "destructive" geological and meteorological phenomena. If you know when to leave, how to build, and accept that your real property may not be property forever, then more power to you. The people who live believing that Man's world trumps Nature's world are just asking for trouble.

Robert Sheckley, in The Mountain Without a Name:
"Read here the saga of the jellyfish that dreamed it was a god. Upon rising from the ocean beach, the super-jellyfish which called itself Man decided that, because of its convoluted gray brain, it was the superior of all. And having thus decided, the jellyfish slew the fish of the sea and the beasts of the field, slew them prodigiously, to the complete disregard of nature's intent. And then the jellyfish bored holes in the mountains and pressed heavy cities upon the groaning earth, and hid the green grass under a concrete apron. . . Now nature is old and slow, but very sure. So inevitably there came a time when nature had enough of the presumptuous jellyfish, and his pretension to godhood. And therefore, the time came when a great planet whose skin he pierced rejected him, cast him out, spit him forth. That was the day the jellyfish found, to his amazement, that he had lived all his days in the sufferance of powers past his conception, upon an exact par with the creatures of plain and swamp, no worse than the flowers, no better than the weeds, and that it made no difference to the universe whether he lived or died, and all his vaunted record of works done was no more than the tracks an insect leaves in the sand."
Written in *1955*. Science fiction in which earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes, become daily occurrences as Earth seeks to rid itself of humans. And then, Australia sinks.
Full text, a bit padded but still a quick read: http://www.litmir.net/br/?b=127552

The poorest residents of the gulf coast were most affected by the devastating hurricanes...........

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