Coastal Land Loss and the Mitigation?Adaptation Dilemma: Between Scylla and Charybdis

Author:Blake Hudson
Position::Assistant Professor of Law, Stetson University College of Law, Gulfport, Florida. For their comments and insights, I wish to thank Lisa Grow Sun and Brigham Daniels, as well as the other participants in the symposium: John Costonis, Robert Twilley, Peter Byrne, Dave Owen, Ann Powers, Mark Davis, and Michael Pappas. I am grateful to the members...
Pages:31-68
SUMMARY

Coastal land loss is an inevitable consequence of the confluence of three primary factors: population growth, vanishing wetlands, and rising sea levels. Society may either mitigate coastal land loss by engaging in human engineering projects that create technological solutions or restore natural processes that protect the coastal zone, or it may choose to adapt to coastal land loss by shifting... (see full summary)

 
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Coastal Land Loss and the Mitigation–Adaptation
Dilemma: Between Scylla and Charybdis
Blake Hudson
ABSTRACT
Coastal land loss is an inevitable consequence of the confluence
of three primary factors: population growth, vanishing wetlands,
and rising sea levels. Society may either mitigate coastal land loss
by engaging in human engineering projects that create
technological solutions or restore natural processes that protect the
coastal zone, or it may choose to adapt to coastal land loss by
shifting development and other human and economic resources out
of areas especially at risk for coastal land loss. This Article first
details the primary threats to coastal lands. Next, the Article
discusses two primary means of addressing coastal land loss—
mitigation and adaptation—applying those terms slightly differently
than they are used in the broader climate change context in order to
focus more precisely on the coastal land loss phenomena and its
solutions. Finally, the Article makes three normative claims for why
policy-makers should approach coastal land loss mitigation in
particular with caution: (1) uncertainty of mitigation’s effectiveness
scientifically and institutionally; (2) the political expediency of
choosing mitigation over adaptation; and (3) the fact that failure to
adapt past land-use activities in the coastal zone has contributed to
the need to adapt or mitigate today.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Introduction: The Ancient Myth and the Modern Reality .....32
II. The Perfect Storm for Coastal Land Loss: Population
Growth, Vanishing Wetlands, and Rising Seas .....................36
Copyright 2012, by BLAKE HUDSON.
Assistant Professor of Law, Stetso n University College of Law, Gulfport,
Florida. For their comments and insight s, I wish to thank Lisa Grow Sun and
Brigham Daniels, as well as the other participants in the symposium: John Costonis,
Robert Twilley, Peter Byrne, Dave Owen, Ann Powers, Mark Davis, and Michael
Pappas. I am grateful to the members of the Louisiana Law Review for inviting me
to participate in the symposium and for their wo nderful suggestions, edits, and effort.
I dedicate this article to my good friend and renowned wordsmith Jeremy Smith,
whose mastery of epic literature has caused “Charybdis” to hold ever-changing and
enlightening meaning for me through the years.
32 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 73
A. Population Growth ...........................................................36
B. Vanishing Wetlands .........................................................41
C. Rising Seas .......................................................................44
III. Caught in a Double Bind: The Mitigation–Adaptation
Dilemma… .............................................................................48
A. Mitigation: Facing Charybdis, a Louisiana
Case Study .......................................................................49
B. Adaptation: Running on Scylla ........................................53
IV. Choosing to Run on Scylla: Adapting to the
Rising Tide and Approaching Mitigation with Caution ........55
A. Uncertainty of Mitigation’s Effectiveness
Scientifically and Institutionally ......................................55
B. The Political Expediency of Choosing Mitigation
over Adaptation ................................................................63
C. Failure to Adapt Past Land-Use Activities in the
Coastal Zone Has Contributed to the Need to Adapt
or Mitigate Today ............................................................66
V. Conclusion .............................................................................68
I. INTRODUCTION: THE ANCIENT MYTH AND THE MODERN REALITY
He runs on Scylla, wishing to avoid Charybdis.1
Erasmus, Adagia
In Homer’s epic Odyssey, the hero Odysseus faces a tragic
choice. He must guide his men through a narrow strait and either
pass close to Charybdis, a sea monster that spewed forth water
three times per day with disastrous consequence, or pass close to
Scylla, a monster on the coast with six snake-like heads filled with
fangs and encircled with the heads of baying dogs around its
1. The idiom “between Scylla and Charybdis” means “between two
equally perilous alt ernatives, neither o f which can be p assed without
encountering and probably falling victim to the other.” Scylla Definition,
DICTION ARY.COM, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/scylla (last visited
Aug. 31, 2012).
2012] THE MITIGATION–ADAPTATION DILEMMA 33
waist.2 Odysseus ultimately chose the latter fate, accepting the loss
of some of his men by crashing into the coast, but calculating that
he would lose far fewer men than if he challenged the raging sea.
U.S. citizens and policy-makers face a similarly costly
choice_that of either grappling directly with increasingly
menacing and encroaching seas or undergoing the societally and
economically disruptive, but potentially less devastating, transition
to further inland. As the climate continues to change and sea levels
continue to rise, the United States will continue to lose coastal land
due to these “geologic” forces. At the same time, American
citizens continue to flock to the coastal zone at a rate tracking the
already high exponential rate of population growth.3 Along with
that growth comes increased residential, commercial, and
industrial coastal-zone development and associated infrastructure
improvements, resulting in what may be described as “artificial”
coastal land loss, or “runaway land consumption,”4 as land
continues to be appropriated from its natural state by human
activity. Though land development has certainly contributed to
societal, economic, and technological advancement, when land
development becomes wasteful of valuable ecosystem service and
other functions provided by natural habitat, then those attributes of
the land are lost and society is faced with great difficulty (if not
impossibility) in recreating them. Consider the leveeing and
diversion of the Mississippi River or the filling in of coastal
wetlands. As these natural lands became increasingly developed
and subject to human-made engineering projects, their functional
provision of buffer from sea-level rise, protection from hurricane
storm surge and provision of other forms of flood control, water
filtration services, and habitat protection may certainly be
considered a form of land loss.
In later times, Scylla was rationalized as a rocky shoal, an
inescapable threat upon which those seeking to avoid Charybdis
would inevitably crash. Indeed, due to population and development
pressures, the U.S. coastline is becoming increasingly hardened
2. Scylla and Charybdis, BRITANNICA ONLINE ENCYC LOPEDIA, http://www.
britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/530331/Scylla-and-Charybdis (last visited Aug.
31, 2012).
3. KRISTEN M. CROSSETT ET AL., NATL OCEANIC & ATMOSPHERIC
ADMIN., POPULATION TRENDS ALONG THE COASTAL UNITED STATES: 1980–
2008 1 (2004), available at http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/programs/mb/pdfs/
coastal_pop_trends_complete.pdf.
4. DANA BEACH, PEW OCEANS COMMN, COASTAL SPRAWL: THE EFFE CTS
OF URBAN DES IGN ON AQUATIC ECOSYSTEMS IN THE UNITED STATES ii (2002),
available at http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/
Protecting_ocean_life/env_pew_oceans_sprawl.pdf.

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