Friday, November 30, 2012

The Myth of Beating Nature

Can your past inform your future?  Of course it can, in good and bad ways, and beach replenishment and coastal re-building are no different.

This is a case of the bad but we can learn from it.  An audio story on Radio Times asks if beach replenishment is worth the millions in taxpayer dollars especially given the fact that the beach will soon be washed away again and replenishment begins all over.

It's like the Myth of Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus pushed a rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down, over and over again  forever he did this.  It was the epitome of the absurd to Albert Camus, the French philosopher.  

Post Sandy, knowledgeable people (Carl Safina Rebuilding After Sandy is Too Big a Risk, Orrin Pilky Retreat from the Beach) call for a reassessment of the knee jerk re-building in high risk areas along the coast.  Taxpayers pay for much of it and it's just putting people at risk again.

Sounds absurd but it happens all over the country including the Northeast US.  

"We can avoid damage like that of Hurricane Sandy if we encourage people to move and discourage further development," said Norbert Psuty, Rutgers Professor of Marine and Coastal Sciences in a New York Times discussion titled: Washed Away by Storms, Paid for by Taxpayers

Moving back from the shore is smart and sustainable.  It's not building as close to the water as possible, flattening the natural dunes, and replacing the natural shoreline with a built one.

Natural systems like dunes and wetlands protect the beach, inland ecosystems, and homes and memories.  It's wonderfully displayed in several places on eastern Long Island, New York.  But if you walk the beach in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, for example, it's like the beach is a sidewalk flush along rows of big houses.

It's time to take a lesson from this mess and build smarter. 

It's a tough one admittedly, because rebuilding, a close cousin to persevering, comes not from the head but the heart.  It's generally good to be "Jersey Strong" and to "Give no Ground".  Yet we're not winning anything with rebuilding.  Nature always wins.  We stand only to lose more lives and money.

At some point, Sisyphus has to walk away before his heart bursts. 

images:, dailymail

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