Threatened Beaches

Connections with local activists led me to Beach issues. The Ecological and Political awareness is impressive. I think it’s a good way to work on thinking about politics and society with people. I want to quote the first two books on the subject I’ve been able to borrow. One is a deep beach walker’s guide to North Carolina by Orrin H. Pilkey and the other the first text book in the field of Beach Ecology _Ecology of Sandy Shores_(1990 by A.C Brown and A. MaLachlan)

Orrin H. Pilkey, Tracy Monegan Rice, William J. Neal How to Read a North Carolina Beach

Beach retreat is not a new disovery. North Carolinians have been coping with the effects of sea level rise since colonial times. But the practice of building communities right next to the beach is a new phenomenon….

The biggest single threat to beach survival is shoreline armoring (Fig 7.1). Construction of seawalls and groins always leads to the loss of beaches in the next generation or two. In 1985 North Carolina was a pioneer in farsighted coastal management, strictly regulating construction of new shoreline armoring (Fig 7.2) Unfortunately, nature tested the regulations by backing shorelines right up to expensive homes owned by politically influential people, and the regulations were found wanting…. Along the beaches, the political will to conserve one of the state’s most important resources has also eroded

I like the way the book shows erosion to be a problem of definition. A refusal to recognize and adapt to natural processes. The book is very inclusive – you can go out, be observant and shed some light on beach processes. There’s even credit given to graduate students

Island migration is an amazing geologic phenomenon that was not even recognized until the early 1960s, when it was finally brought to light, almost simultaneously, by three graduate students studying the Outer Banks of North Carolina: John FIsher of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Paul Godfrey of Duke University, and Bob Dolan of Louisiana State University. Their discovery changed coastal science and coastal management in a big way.(p. 69)

This new knowledge changed the practices of the National Park Service!  And saved public money from ‘massive dune building efforts’. I was just talking with the guys paid to dump 1,200 truck loads of sand on the beach here in Miyazaki. They want more work, and smiled when I suggested bike lanes instead of dumping sand they had just said would wash away very soon. It would have been a great time to channel Noam Chomsky in Japanese about the enlightment ideal of meaningful work you control over as a human right.

The book gives an accessible presentation to class conflict, private versus collective control of natural resources. Here’s a chance to see the same patterns Vandana Shiva, Maude Barlowe, Tomoko Sakuma and everyone who’s anyone brings up about (corporate) globalization

Beachfront property owners are a very small number of citizens compared with the number who use the beach. Yet they control the fate of the public domain – our beach. And what they are doing to your beach is destructive both environmentally and, in the long term, economically.

You can almost hear Woody Guthrie (Or Pete Seeger) singing "This Land is Your Land" and David Rovics following with something about "The Commons." But then…

From a short-term economic standpoint, owning a beachfront house makes sense. Individuals and companies own many such buildings for the sole purpose of making money – and old and respectable American tradition. In this sense, the North Carolina coast is a giant cash cow. No doubt about it, however, by most other measures of societal and personal responsibility, owning a beachfront house is imprudent, if not irrational. [Sound like par for the course on investments with the Financial Crisis in 2008] Stan Riggs, a geologist at East Carolina University, has suggested that owning beachfront property is akin to having a picnic on an interstate highway, an image meant to convey how irrational it is to put your property as well as yourself and others at risk.

Whether these property owners are irresponsible or irrational, the real problem is that a massive and costly effort will be carried out to hold the shoreline in place when their buildings are threatened…

Hanging out with the family and friends at the beach can be the beginnings of social policy activism, starting with your beach book

I keep running into people that want to believe all our CO2 emissions aren’t contributing to global warming. And besides global warming isn’t a problem anyone. I try to send them to 350.org but I don’t know how good that is for introducing the issues. That maybe we have to go carbon neutral even if Al Gore is in bed with Nuclear Energy Industries.

These beach books are a concrete way to say, ‘wait a minute, I don’t know about this Maruyama guy saying 90% of scientist don’t agree with the whole greenhouse effect and our role in it theory’.

Orrin H. Pilkey et. al p.135

All over the world, whether they are developed or not, shorelines are retreating in a landward direction.

Most like sea level is rising in part because of the greenhouse effect.

And then there’s the 1990 text book trying to bring together and advance the whole field of beach ecology. At the time they were thinking CFCs and the Ozone hole were the major culprits but touch on CO2 and Methane.

A.C Brown and A. McLachlan Ecology of Sandy Shores


Global warming and the rise in sea level

While local authorities and even individuals may do much to conserve or restore specific coastal sites, they are largely helpless in the face of the major environmental crisis now facing our planet. This is the so-called "greenhouse effect" resulting largely from the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) int the atmosphere over the past few decades……The greenhouse effect is intensified by the release of gases such as methane and nitrogen oxides, while the every-increasing levels of carbon dioxide, now at least 50% higher than during the last century, also result in global warming. Even if all pollution were to stop at once, the effects have a momentum which will continue for two generations or more…..

Possible global disaster resulting from the greenhouse effect has thus been recognized by scientists for some considerable time but has tended to be treated by laymen (including politicians) as science fiction. However it has become a reality that no-one can ignore. Global temperatures increases of half a degree Centigrade have already been measured, together with a small but significant rise in sea level. It is estimated that, within the life-span of most people now living, a general temperature rise of 3 to 4 degrees celsius will be in evidence, resulting in a rise in sea level anywhere between 35cm and 1.5m. This rise will be quite sufficient to result in widespread destruction of coastal dwellings and amenities during storms as well as drastic changes to the shoreline. It is thus most important that all future coastal planning include a predicted recession line and allow space into which the littoral active zone can retreat.

(p. 280)


Brown and McLachlan go on to talk about some "First World" governments already working on global warming planning – in 1990. It seems prescient though I read that David Suzuki wrote about global warming in 1988, and Bill McKibben was just on Democracy now talking about his new 350.org buddies being born after his first book on the subject. This makes you think of Cynthia Peters comment about "the glacial pace of organizing."

And last from Pilkey et. al about what can be done. They talk about the choices after explaining why beach nourishment is a problem and encouraging people to think back over the whole book about why "the loss of a natural beach is also an environmental disaster"(142)

What’s the alternative

…If we decide that beaches are more important then buildings, we can let the shoreline retreat and let the buildings fall in when their time comes. Or we can move the buildings back. Or we can move them off-island, or even initiate a planned gradual demolishment. If we do any of these things we will save the beaches for our descendants. A study of beach nourishment alternatives in Dare County showed that purchasing beachfront property outright would be far cheaper than nourishing the beach over a time span of several decades. The technology to move buildings, even substantial ones, exists. Entire communities have been moved out of floodplains.

The study finding that it would be cheaper to buy beachfront property than it would be to truck or pipe in sand for nourishment (beach fill) projects was DeanBakerEsque. Why pay the banks to keep people in houses in which they have no equity? Or even Jon Stewart on why not just pay off the mortgages instead of paying banks for insurance on insurance on those mortgages.

It just seemed to me that a lot of the coastal scientist’s arguments and attitudes seemed to merge well with some of the Znet articles.

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