Invest in Nature, not infrastructure for storm abatement

I suppose maybe they didn’t see this study on how a long forgotten seawall helped save homes in New Jersey.

The best defense against catastrophic storms: Mother Nature, say Stanford researchers

Stanford researchers say that natural habitats such as dunes and reefs are the best protection against storms and rising sea levels along the U.S. coastline.

By Elizabeth Rauer

coastline at Rehoboth Bay, Del.

Natural coastline like this in Rehoboth Bay, Del., can protect homes and cities against storms. Image: NOAA

Extreme weather, sea level rise and degraded coastal systems are placing people and property at greater risk along the coast. Natural habitats such as dunes and reefs are critical to protecting millions of U.S. residents and billions of dollars in property from coastal storms, according to a new study by scientists with the Natural Capital Project at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The study, “Coastal habitats shield people and property from sea-level rise and storms,” published July 14 in the journal Nature Climate Change, offers the first comprehensive map of the entire U.S. coastline that shows where and how much protection communities get from natural habitats such as sand dunes, coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves. The likelihood and magnitude of losses can be reduced by intact ecosystems near vulnerable coastal communities.

One map shows predicted exposure of the United States coastline and coastal population to sea level rise and storms in the year 2100. An interactive map can be zoomed in on for the West, Gulf or East coasts; Hawaii or Alaska; or the continental United States.

“The natural environment plays a key role in protecting our nation’s coasts,” said study lead author Katie Arkema, a Woods postdoctoral scholar. “If we lose these defenses, we will either have to have massive investments in engineered defenses or risk greater damage to millions of people and billions in property.”

With the release of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan on June 25, there is renewed interest in coastal resilience and climate adaptation planning, as well as in finding natural ways to protect America’s coastline. Billions of dollars will soon be spent on restoration activities in the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard affected by Hurricane Sandy. Leaders can make decisions now to factor natural capital into decisions that could have long-term benefits.

“As a nation, we should be investing in nature to protect our coastal communities,” said Mary Ruckelshaus, managing director of the Natural Capital Project. “The number of people, poor families, elderly and total value of residential property that are most exposed to hazards can be reduced by half if existing coastal habitats remain fully intact.”

At a moment when many coastal planners are considering their options for dealing with the impacts of sea level rise, the study provides both a national and a localized look at coastal areas where restoration and conservation of natural habitats could make the biggest difference.

“Hardening our shorelines with sea walls and other costly engineering shouldn’t be the default solution,” said Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy and co-author of the study. “This study helps us identify those places and opportunities we have to keep nature protecting our coastal communities – and giving us all the other benefits it can provide, such as recreation, fish nurseries, water filtration and erosion control.”

The Natural Capital Project is a partnership with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund, aimed at aligning economic forces with conservation. The project works to integrate ecosystem services approaches into all major resource decisions that affect Earth’s natural resources.

For more information about the study, visit naturalcapitalproject.org.

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31 thoughts on “Invest in Nature, not infrastructure for storm abatement

  1. Lovely. if you invest in it, it’s not “Nature” anymore. Just a kind of infrastructure.
    Now, it can be very cheap to let Nature works for us, where it’s possible. Unfortunately Gaïa is usely a very harsh mother, that doen’t care for us.

  2. Oh no, you’ve got them over there too, now? Would like some more eco-nuts, we have thousands all paid for by the taxpayer, & we’re really desperate to alleviate the National Debt of the PDREU-UK division! ;-) I suppose by nature they really mean granite cliffs that takes tens of thousands of years to erode? Who knows. Not sure if they’ve looked at Shri-Lanka’s mangrove swamp coastal defences, they’re pretty crap at their job, but hey what the hell, they’re natural!

  3. I suspect that protection along impacted coast lines takes several things, not just nature:
    1. Do not build in hazardous areas.
    2. If decision is made to build, then raise structures above the storm surge height.
    3. If decision is made to build, then provide ways to easily protect expensive items by quickly raising them above the flood water height.
    4. Use natural methods to maintain the mitigative effects of natural barriers, such as planting and maintaining salt grasses, mangroves, dunes etc.
    5. Build seawall type structures in logical locations.
    6. Build pumping stations in logical locations.
    7. Do not use federal funding to do any of the steps.
    8. Do not use federal funding to recover from any storms along the coast.
    9. Use privately paid insurance.
    10. Apply common sense in each step above.

  4. Come visit Holland. There is not much Nature in dikes and dunes, but at least the money spent on them, is to fight a real threat. If we had spent it on changing climate and lowering sealevels, we would live in a much smaller country now.

    The climate actions are a complete waste of money and resources. Better build a dike and keep some change left for a school and a hospital or whatever is needed to IMPROVE the live of people.

  5. “At a moment when many coastal planners are considering their options for dealing with the impacts of sea level rise, the study provides both a national and a localized look at coastal areas where restoration and conservation of natural habitats could make the biggest difference.”

    And by doing so with proper planning, we will be able to farther erode property rights while expand the intrusion of government into the the lives of people so as to maximize the damage we can do to capitalism, which is the real goal anyways.

  6. JFD – I couldn’t agree more. There are a range of mitigating solutions that need to be evaluated for each specific application. “One size fits all” approaches are the worst.. especially if the ones applying them have unlimited access to our money and risk zero responsibility for being wrong.

  7. It’s the folly of the zero sum game. You have to pick one, only one, nature or infrastructure.

    It is a silly false choice. Both working together, each to its best advantage makes the most sense..

  8. As a Progressive lukewarmist, I very much like this approach.

    And arthur4563, it doesn’t matter is global warming is a big problem, little problem, or no problem we know there is a need anyway because no matter what we will still have storms and hurricanes.

  9. I thought we had been investing in infrastructure for a very long time. Holland as mentioned or the Mississippi River, especially from Memphis south, bridges, dams and the like. Of course, natural events have a way of reminding us of the power of those natural events. We just have to adapt and react to them.

  10. Let people build where they want. Let them take the risks for where they build.

    Government is superfluous here. Most everywhere, actually.

  11. That grass in the water looks exactly like one of my favorite fishing holes in Frank’s Tract in the Ca. Sacramento / San Joachin / Mokelumne delta. It used to be someone’s farm, but a dike broke down, and flooded it.
    Well it also looks about the same size as that Rehoboth Bay in Delaware .

    It’s amazing how much USA public policy is based on places like Rhode Island, and Delaware. Even in California, we have State parks bigger than those spots back East.

  12. “Hardening our shoreline”

    Who are they kidding ? Take New Orleans, (please) The French build a city below sea level, then they build a swimming pool around it, so when the tide comes in, and the wind blows, some water slops into the pool. Well for good measure, they build a big lake on the other side of town, to hold any water in case the swimming pool overflows.

    So a storm comes through and fills up the swimming pool; so the Army corps of engineers builds up the pool walls to make the swimming pool deeper, so next time it can hold more water.

    Hint to ACE ! Give up. You can’t win. Hurricanes go up to 45,000 feet or so. How much concrete wall do you want to build, to keep them out ??

  13. Fail to see any contradiction. Dunes protect the shore which protects property works but only if property is not built on the dune. If you want a seawall approved just get the Governor to move in. Worked in Or.

  14. 1) No new development in hazardous areas

    2) Phase out federal flood insurance. Federal flood insurance for expensive beach homes encourages people to recklessly build homes in foolish places. Phase out flood insurance by not offering it for new construction (including reconstruction after a claim) and let the private insurance market issue insurance instead. If people had to pay for the actual risk of damage, they wouldn’t build expensive homes in those areas.*

    * BTW: This applies to federal flood insurance anywhere in the USA, not just along the shoreline.

  15. Where we are headed is local communities encourage building right next to the water for the local, very high, property taxes. Something goes wrong, the feds will cover it. No problem.

    What we need to do is stop government, local, state and federal from bailing people out of stupid decisions. Not more regulation, just stop paying to help and rebuild. They’ll get the message. Right in the wallet.

  16. If you live near the water you better expect to get wet. Smart people already know that this comes with the territory, just like if you race cars or juggle knives you might get hurt. Anyone that tries to legislate away common sense by promising to mitigate risk is too stupid for words, dangerous to the Republic and frankly un-American.

    I agree with what everyone here is saying, except for any prohibition of letting people build in risky areas. The government already has way too much power, merely allowing them to decide if you can build a home somewhere is ( pardon the pun ) opening the floodgates to draconian government. When you give someone a hammer expect to become a nail.

    There is a pure and simple solution that would really scale back government power, a Constitutional Amendment ( one of quite a few we will need ) that prohibits the government from giving ( granting ) any taxpayer money to anyone. Then, perform a thorough audit of all previous budgets and convert all previous grants to loans. Only in the rarest and emergency circumstances may the government redistribute money and then only as a loan. This will take a nice bite out of the Socialist welfare state.

    Government is now the destination of first resort for any and all problems and it must be changed back to the last resort. It is like this now by design of the Progressive-Socialist-NeoCommunist, but we didn’t get here all at once. It was ongoing layers of demands for government to do more and more, raising expectations year after year for the sheeple to expect more and more, and legislating more and more things for government to do. They cannot do any of this stuff if they are simply banned from re-distributing money in the first place.

    Amendments like this are not a pipe dream, and it goes against what purists have incorrectly warned about for many years. But they were wrong, and have inadvertently let the monster grow out of control in their own lifetimes. If an Amendment can give the the power to ban alcohol, and a subsequent Amendment can take that power away, then another Amendment can prohibit them from redistribution of taxpayer money. It will take many stakes to bury this vampire, this is but one.

  17. Advocating for reliance on ‘natural’ barriers to storms really means advocating a policy where people can no longer live on the sea shore. Very typical here in California. While there is a requirement for public access to beaches, and you are allowed to walk along the shore, very few people now are able to live on or near the shore. The CA Coastal Commission has reserved any undeveloped areas for the people themselves and their friends.

    There are large regions of the coastline where people could live, and where the climate is mild. What exactly is the wildlife that must be protected? Many suburban regions of the Bay Area for example are overrun with wildlife to the point where it is dangerous for people and the wildlife. I don’t buy the claim open space needs to be preserved. Why? The answer is so those with desirable property can have their property values go up and up having created an artificial shortage.

    What is happening now is instead of allowing people to live reasonably where they want to, on the coast, they are forced to live inland where temperature swings are greater, and more energy consumption is required. Meanwhile, TOU metering will drive electricity prices ever higher supposedly to encourage us to ‘conserve’. No, people don’t necessarily have the option to freely change their schedules and when they handle certain tasks. Many of us are busy with working and commuting, and little time is left over. Consequently, we all tend to do similar things at the same time.

    The regulators have set up a lovely catch 22 where we pay the bills, live places we don’t necessarily want to, and they get to enjoy their reserved splendor while keeping out the riffraff (us). On top of that, our richest cropland is being paved. Again, I ask where is our Tahrir Square? Time to take down the Energy Commission, Coastal Commission, CARB, Bay-Delta Commission, and that’s just for starters.

    I’m not a fan of taxation, but Prop 13 has been used to protect people who advocate self-serving policies that ultimately made them rich by artificially inflating their property values. They faced no down-side because they were protected from increasing property taxes under Prop 13. And don’t tell me the average house is resold every 7 years. Perhaps true, IF they are sold. Many, many people have been living in the same houses for 30 or 40 years. Like term limits, there have been some severe unintended consequences from Prop 13 and other policies supposedly for our benefit.

    It’s time to rethink what government does, whether we really need everything it does. Maybe we could begin driving new cars again without refinancing the house. Maybe we could have cheaper energy if we let energy companies compete instead of having the state rule corporations the way fascist states do. What real harm would occur if we opened up more of the coast to housing construction? It would not bother me in the slightest if property values in the Bay Area fell by 75%. It would serve them right, since they repeatedly voted to distort normal market forces. You should see the horrible condition of most of the houses there – they simply are not worth the price.

    California has its own Windows 8 going in Sacramento. Bloated dysfunctional software choking what should be powerful architecture. Time for a new OS.

  18. “As a nation, we should be investing in nature to protect our coastal communities,” said Mary Ruckelshaus, managing director of the Natural Capital Project.
    =================
    In Her spare time, while not washing mountain ranges into nearby seas, She does focus on coastal communities, like yours.
    Not.

  19. ” JFD says:July 18, 2013 at 8:23 am
    I suspect that protection along impacted coast lines takes several things, not just nature:
    1. Do not build in hazardous areas.
    9. Use privately paid insurance.
    10. Apply common sense in each step above.”

    There I shortened the list for ya! Great list by the way. You really nailed it. If you do #1 then just sit back and watch mother nature in all her wrath and go “glad we didn’t build there!”. Failing that if you forced people to buy PRIVATE insurance nobody would build there because it isn’t available at a cost that’s affordable if at all.

    Ya lost me at #10. Common sense isn’t that common or we’d do #1.

  20. george e smith says:

    July 18, 2013 at 11:45 am

    “So a storm comes through and fills up the swimming pool; so the Army corps of engineers builds up the pool walls to make the swimming pool deeper, so next time it can hold more water.”
    ==============
    Yep, it sounds stupid.
    There must be a reason for saving that sinking delta.
    Maybe all the shipping, and that off-shore oil.
    Couldn’t beat workers off, for that pay, with a stick.

  21. Hoser [July 18, 2013 at 6:17 pm] says:

    California has its own Windows 8 going in Sacramento. Bloated dysfunctional software choking what should be powerful architecture. Time for a new OS.

    Excellent observation. Not sure how many people will get that reference, but I did!

  22. “The likelihood and magnitude of losses can be reduced by intact ecosystems near vulnerable coastal communities.”
    ——————————————–
    Oh, oh. “Intact ecosystems”, huh? What on earth does that mean?

    It’s clearly code for some sort of intervention, using taxpayer money (notice the word “invest” elsewhere in the text) and further restricting what people can do if they happen to live on the coast.

    Talking about “intact ecosystems” in vulnerable coastal locations is scientific gibberish anyway. These systems are by definition very dynamic and can be wiped out by a single big storm.

  23. @ Hoser…

    “””””””…….I’m not a fan of taxation, but Prop 13 has been used to protect people who advocate self-serving policies that ultimately made them rich by artificially inflating their property values. They faced no down-side because they were protected from increasing property taxes under Prop 13. And don’t tell me the average house is resold every 7 years. Perhaps true, IF they are sold. Many, many people have been living in the same houses for 30 or 40 years. Like term limits, there have been some severe unintended consequences from Prop 13 and other policies supposedly for our benefit. …….”””””””

    Well Hoser, in California, the law dictates that half of all State tax revenues shall go to funding the States school systems. Schools are used almost exclusively for the benefit of families with children; not for the benefit of people who own houses. Observing that, the US Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to base the funding of schools on property values, since properties do not attend school.

    Those “people” who have lived in their house for 30 or 40 years, as you say, paid a fair market price, and hence tax, when they bought those houses at whatever price they paid.

    And the people buying houses today, are the persons who choose their own property tax bill, in an open, arms length transaction when they freely decide not under duress, that THEIR house is worth what they have offered to pay for it, including the property tax on that amount, that they asserted the property was worth.

    Those 30 or 40 year old houses, have become worn out, and obsolete, with all the major systems breaking down. They aren’t worth anything like what the owner originally paid for the house.

    Before proposition 13 was enacted by the people of California, unscrupulous politicians drove old retired people out of their homes, by jacking up their property taxes, even though they no longer were working. Well the politician’s contractor financier, wanted that piece of property, the old house sat on, so he could build an overpriced rabbit warren on it, and come out with huge windfall profits.

    People buy houses today, in the misguided belief that they are an investment. No they are places for otherwise homeless people to live in. My MIL bought a home in Silicon valley 65 years ago, for $5,000. She sold it about 15 years ago for $220,000; but then she had money, but was homeless again.

    It took all of that $220k for her to purchase another house in socal; and then she was broke again.

    We already had the taxpayers bailing out people who reneged on their home mortgages; because they believed that no matter how much they offered for their house, they could always find a bigger fool, who was willing to join the Ponzi scheme, and pay even more to buy their house from them.

    And now they are pumping hot air into a brand new housing bubble that will go bust, just like the other one did.

    The beneficiaries are the socialist politicians, who just like to see inflation moving people into ever higher tax brackets.

    If you want to pay more property tax on your home Hoser; you can always protest your house’s appraisal, and get it revalued upwards.

  24. @Blade

    “””””……There is a pure and simple solution that would really scale back government power, a Constitutional Amendment ( one of quite a few we will need ) that prohibits the government from giving ( granting ) any taxpayer money to anyone. ……””””””

    Well you don’t need ANY Constitutional amendments.

    Article I section 8 , clause 1 of the existing US Constitution, says that the Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes, to pay the debt, and provide for the common defense, and general welfare OF THE UNITED STATES (that’s Washington DC; not Tom Dick, and Harry).

    Nowhere are they empowered to collect taxes for anything else. Just pay the national debts and the military, and take care of the federal government.

    Well unfortunately, it says what they can raise taxes for, but it doesn’t say what they can spend money on.

    So they spend money they don’t have on anything their hearts desire, and then it becomes part of the national debt, which they can raise taxes to pay off.

    Incidently, the first words of the US Constitution are : Article I section 1… NOT “we the people”, that;s in the “library card” that says what the Constitution is for.

    Anyone know of a Supreme Court decision, that ever cited the preamble, as the enabling authority for its ruling ??

  25. We had a similar problem in the UK when the enviro bods wanted to enclose some salt meadows by a new sea wall. A local expert forced cancellation to let the meadow flood naturally during storms and spring tides to reduce inland flooding. To government amazement it worked and saved the cost of a sea wall.

  26. FYI, Most of the flooding occurring here in the PPDREU-UK happens due to poor catchment maintenance & management, Local Authorities being short of revenue allowing developers to build on flood plains, both natural & created, without ensuring design was adequate to allow for flooding to occur! I don’t mind flood plains being built on per se but so long as the design is adequate, & can withstand the highest known flood water, there shouldn’t be a problem. There are also one or two areas here where flooding rivers have reached extreme heights of 20 feet or more, flood local pubs – a true tragedy in any beer man’s book!!!!! Anyway, they’ll still be pumping out the rhetoric anywhere in the world about “the worst flooding for 75 years”, thinking everyone is as stupid as they are, by implying it is something to do with AGW! HAGWE folks everywhere, now where are those four-packs?

  27. george e. smith says:
    July 18, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    I favored Prop 13 when it passed. I’m not disputing any of the points you made. What I’m trying to point out is there are other consequences to passage that have had strong negative effects on everyone else. Prop13 has allowed people to become even more smug and unconcerned about the effects of their actions (votes). The dirty little secret is those with their piece have tried very hard to exclude others from getting theirs, meanwhile cashing in on the distorted market. A free market would have produced more housing at a price people could afford. Prop 13 prevents made it possible for what might be a majority of people to own and keep property valued much higher than they could afford to buy. It was home owners’ support of policies and regulations preventing new construction caused the price rises.

    Regarding schools, more money doesn’t necessarily produce better education. Where is all the money going? Again, we have bloated administration. I recently discussed some issues about my son’s education with a vice principle who was complaining about making about $450 instead of $500 per day. Really? A vice principle making that much? Ya gotta wonder how much other school bureaucrats are making. Then we have the feedback loop of the teachers unions taking dues funds and feeding the campaigns of the politicians who continue to shovel money into the schools, while our kids continue to get propaganda and social engineering instead of real education. It is no accident that Bill Ayers former terrorist and Obama groomer was a professor of education.

  28. george e. smith [July 18, 2013 at 10:39 pm] says:

    @Blade

    Well you don’t need ANY Constitutional amendments…

    In a perfect world you are exactly right. But the founders overestimated the integrity of the citizens and underestimated the evil of the enemy. I also believed that we didn’t need anything like this, perhaps a single Supreme Court could turn it around with a ruling stating that: “The Constitution makes no mention of the People and the States granting wealth redistribution power to the new federal government, nor have any Amendments been added, and since the 16th was necessary for income taxing, and the 18th for prohibition, and none say anything about socialism, this law is unconstitutional!”. Again, that’s how the would-be tyrants should be thwarted in a perfect world. I think it is now self-evident that we need Amendments, to get very specific about their few and clearly defined powers.

    The Ninth and Tenth Amendments were the firewall designed to fulfill the promises made in the Federalist Papers to a skeptical war-weary colonial society unwilling to serve another tyrant. But they are intentionally forgotten ( how do you fight that? ), and the bureaucrats are working like mad to eviscerate everything else, astonishingly including the First, Second and Fourth even as we speak. They use tech companies to violate the Fourth to do the dirty work of spying and then revoke their First Amendment right to even mention it. The attacks on the Second Amendment is most dangerous, they are playing around the nuclear button now and are but two Supreme Court heartbeats away from detonation because over a hundred million well-armed people are unlikely to bow to their whims, to say the least.

    Consequently the time for feet-dragging and hand-wringing about Amendments is over. We are at the precipice and the enemy is willing to shove the nation over the cliff and see what happens. They are intent on calling our bluff. The idea of more Amendments is kind of a Hail Mary last resort before the really ugly part comes. Unfortunately, our well-meaning purist friends have helped delay it and now it may be too late. Just 13 states are needed to block any Amendment ( sad and ironic as it matches the original number of colonies ) which would even neutralize the product of a Constitutional Convention. So IMHO, there is nothing left after this, even 537 completely new faces on election day cannot dent the bureaucratic momentum. But I’m open to ideas, what do you got?

    P.S. In addition to Amendments stating absolute specificity of the limited powers that We The People grant to the knuckleheads in the District of Criminals, I believe there is at least one large change needed, and that might be for a new fourth branch of government. It would be empowered to only watch over and scrutinize the other three branches with absolute authority to investigate anyone taking a taxpayer funded paycheck and remove them at the first appearance of impropriety. The details need be worked out by Constitutional scholars ( real ones ).

  29. That seawall shouldn’t have been forgotten. It was visible when I moved away in 1976…….you climbed steps to go over it in order to go on the beach and the rocks were exposed. And the only reason Bay Head flooded so much is because of the lakes and high water table.

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