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Conference raises tough questions about retreat from rising seas by SARAH FECHT July 17,2019   |  Source: State of the Planet/Earth Institute

As the global thermostat climbs and polar ice melts, the oceans are swelling and swallowing up coastlines. By some calculations, rising seas could displace 13 million Americans by 2100. Nearly every state in the U.S. will be affected by people migrating in and out.

During three days in June, the Managed Retreat conference (organized by the Earth Institute at Columbia University) brought together scientists, politicians, community members, and lawyers to discuss what it means for people, infrastructure, and ecosystems as risings seas push back coastlines around the world. In panels — many packed to overflowing — experts of all kinds voiced their concerns and raised important questions about what to do and how to minimize the damages.

Many of the questions were technical. When should a coastal community move? Where should they go? Who pays for relocation or adaptation in place? How do you get people out of harm’s way without an economic collapse?

Then there were the bigger questions — like how do you make sure that coastal retreat doesn’t splinter communities and exacerbate inequalities?

“A lot of the grand questions center around the societal solutions,” said climatologist Radley Horton, who helped to organize the conference. “The climate science is

 

© Earth Institute, Columbia University

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