Erosion and resculpting of beaches as a result of storms and currents along the coasts of the world are nothing new. They are the forces that made the beaches in the first place. Only when we decided we wanted to build homes, roads, resorts and other businesses on the edge of the beaches – where it is admittedly a wondrous place to live and play and even work – did beach erosion become such a problem for us.
To protect beach-edge property, roads, communities and economies, we have built seawalls and jetties that have generally made things even worse. Only when the homes finally tumble into the ocean, the roads slip beneath encroaching sand dunes, and resorts lose their shorelines do we finally accept the inevitable and migrate a little ways inland to try again.
There are unlimited versions of this story. One recently in the news concerns Matunuck, an old community that faces the open ocean on the south coast of Rhode Island. The inevitable erosion has occurred, the future of the community is blatantly obvious, but once again a last ditch attempt is underway to delay the catastrophe by walling off the sea – against the advice of every scientist and environmentalist who may have been consulted.
Matunuck’s is a story of not giving up, of refusing to accept the mountain of evidence that has accumulated from so many beaches elsewhere, as if it can’t happen there.
No matter the evidence, there remains some sort of faith that nature can be kept under control, that things won’t need to change after all.
The alternative idea that humans must recognize what is actually happening, and get out of the way, is the least acceptable of the possibilities. But it is the only one that is truly a solution. Denial of beach erosion is so clearly absurd.
What’s missing still is adaptation.
If we can’t adapt to the familiar and predictable instability of coastal beaches, what are we going to do in the face of climate warming with its rising seas, shifting ocean currents, and erratic and unpredictable storms?
Are we really just going to continue to build ever larger seawalls to protect us from the future, hope for the best, and then fatalistically take what comes?
We are smarter than this.