Climate change means we need to talk about moving populations inland

Flooding in the Sun Valley, California, February 2017. Image: Getty.

We are all too familiar with images of flooding in low lying areas after heavy rainfall or houses destroyed by coastal erosion after a storm. For an increasing number of people, coastal flooding and erosion is a real threat to property, the local economy and, in some cases, life. Hurricane Florence, for example, is forcing more than a million people on the US East Coast to flee from their homes.

Coasts support important industries (such as ports and tourism) and their populations are growing faster than inland areas. But coastal areas are also particularly sensitive to impacts of climate change, which are likely to increase the extent, intensity and frequency of coastal flooding and erosion.

So not only have we occupied areas that naturally flood and erode from time to time, we have changed the environment in ways that increase coastal flooding and erosion risk. And we continue to do so, sometimes with serious legal consequences. Meanwhile, public policies have not been very effective in managing this predicament.

Traditional hard engineering approaches of coastal protection (such as groynes, revetments and seawalls) are known to cause detrimental effects, which in the longer term can aggravate the problem they were supposed to solve. The impact of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was a stark reminder that engineering structures are not effective against all events at all times. They are built based on trade-offs between the level of protection needed and the costs of construction and maintenance.

Soft engineering, such as beach nourishment (where sediment, usually sand, is added to the shore), can offer a level of protection and beach amenity – but these reduce through time, as erosion continues. Meanwhile, “protection” gives a false sense of safety and enables occupation of risk areas, increasing the number of people and assets in risk areas.

A serious conundrum

Climate change has forced a paradigm shift in the way coastal flooding and erosion risks are managed. In areas of lower risk, adaptation plans are being devised, often with provisions to make properties and infrastructure more resilient. Adaptation may involve requiring raised foundations in flood-prone areas or the installation of mitigating measures, such as sustainable drainage systems. Building codes may also be established to make structures more disaster-proof and to control the types of constructions within risk zones.

But such adaptation options are often of limited use or unsuitable for high-risk areas. In such areas relocation is the only safe climate-proof response.

Planning for relocation is problematic. There are large uncertainties concerning the predictions of climate change impacts – and this makes planning a difficult task. Uncertainty is not an easy concept to incorporate in planning and coastal management. In some places, effects of sea level rise are already evident, but it’s still difficult to be sure how fast and how much it will rise.

Similarly, there is still great uncertainty about when and where the next “super storm” will happen and how intense it will be. Inevitably, areas that have already been affected by flooding or erosion will be affected again – the question is when and how badly.

Relocated

Despite these issues, relocation is increasingly being adopted as a strategy. There have been some successes at the local level. One such example is the Twin Streams project in Auckland, New Zealand, where relocation (through the purchase of 81 properties) has provided space to create community gardens and cycleways where 800,000 native vegetation plants were planted. This was made possible by engaging over 60,000 volunteer hours.


Although not on the coast, the town of Kiruna in Sweden shows that, when risks are high, forward thinking and long-term planning can make large-scale relocation possible. Kiruna is at risk of ground collapse due to mining. Over a 20-year period, more than 18,000 residents will be relocated to a new city centre 3km away. The layout of the new city centre has been designed to be more sustainable, energy efficient and have better options for cultural activities and socialising. Local residents were engaged and helped identifying 21 heritage buildings they want relocated to the new area.

The French, meanwhile, have instigated the first ever national strategy focused on relocation from high-risk areas. French policy places a duty on local authorities to develop plans by 2020, identifying the areas at serious risk of coastal flooding or erosion, what needs to be relocated and how (including sources of funding). Five pilot areas have been selected to test how the strategy might be implemented at the local level.

Two of these areas have contrasting approaches and outcomes. In Lacanau, a top surfing stop in the Bay of Biscay, coastal erosion threatens the tourism-based economy. Although public opposition was initially high, the development of a local plan has generally been positive, mainly due to the inclusive community involvement in the project. A local committee was created to act as a consultation body, and decisions were informed by open discussions based on clear communication of technical, legal, financial and sociological issues.

In Ault, northern France, the experience was less positive. The risk reduction plan identified a high-risk zone within 70 metres of the cliff edge. It was decided that no new construction would be allowed here and restrictions to improvements on the existing 240 houses were imposed. This would force relocation if the properties were damaged by flooding or erosion. In May 2018 a residents group won a court case which considered the plan illegal, lifting the restrictions imposed on renovation of existing properties until a new plan is drafted.

Engaging communities

These examples demonstrate that engaging with local communities from the inception of any such project is essential. Unfortunately, people instinctively resist change – and relocation is a complete shift from the centuries-old approach of fixing coastlines and fighting against coastal dynamics. Our current legal and management frameworks are too geared up for maintaining the status quo. Funding and legal aid to support purchase of properties and removal of infrastructure that are not imminently deemed inhabitable are limited.

But open and inclusive debate about the need for relocation and the consequences and benefits of it can change people’s perceptions. The “Nimby” (not in my backyard) attitude is strong in coastal communities, but can subside after personal experiences of severe flooding or erosion. The environment around us is changing and we cannot continue living the way we did in the past.

Prevention is always less costly and more effective than remediation, particularly when involving people’s safety. The earlier we accept the need to change, the less damaged is the legacy we will leave to the next generations.

The Conversation

Luciana Esteves, Associate Professor, Bournemouth University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

How the rise of anti-crime politics caused lasting harm to Black Americans

"I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become," James Forman Jr. says. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The police killing of George Floyd, and the protest movement that emerged from it, has reinvigorated a national conversation around reinventing criminal justice policy in the United States.

At the same time, reports that violent crime is rising in many US cities have resurrected talk of the much-disputed “Ferguson effect,” a theory put forward by law enforcement professionals, and some researchers, who argued that police slowdowns in the wake of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests resulted in elevated rates of violent crime. President Donald Trump is trying to weaponise this narrative, paired with images of federal officers clashing with protesters in the streets of Portland, to wage a 1968-style backlash election campaign.

“People who want to mobilise a lock-them-up style of either policing or prosecution have tried to weaponise those short-term increases,” says James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School. “Criminologists will say you have to be very, very cautious about short-term movement [in crime statistics]. We don't know whether or not what we're seeing right now [with violent crime increasing] is going to sustain itself. But the fact is, it's here and people are talking about it.”

In 2018, Forman won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Drawing on his experience as a public defender in Washington, DC, he traced the emergence of anti-crime politics in late 20th century Black communities. Forman showed how newly empowered Black politicians fought for policies they believed would protect and uplift Black Americans, but inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration. 


CityMetric recently caught up with Forman to discuss crime trends, where he sees reason for hope in this moment and how the Black political class’s attitude toward crime and punishment has shifted since the latter part of the 20th century. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

There is talk right now about a resurgence of crime and violence in American cities. We saw similar, more localised concerns after the initial 2015 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you fear this could reinvigorate the kind of politics you describe in your book among segments of the Black community and political class?

I fear that it could be reinvigorated nationally and also in the Black political class. Look at the political conversations that are happening in Atlanta right now, for example, a city that also has seen a short-term uptick in crime as it is a site of a lot of protests about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on the national level, as well as Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery more locally in Georgia.

I think that you can already see in some of the language of the local elected officials this idea that we have to be very careful about pulling back. [They are saying] “while the protesters may make some valid points, we can't risk returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Those decades really traumatised the United States, and particularly traumatised Black communities. There's a deep fear about returning to the levels of the violence that we saw in the crack years.

You write a lot about class divides among Black Americans, where middle income and elite Black people don't suffer as much from extremely punitive policies. They also have closer ties to the politicians who are creating these policies. There are very specific groups of people, even in marginalised communities, whose voices are heard.  As a result of these dynamics, you write about Black politicians fighting for things like mandatory minimum prison sentences or against decriminalising marijuana. Is there still that disconnect between those who suffer the most from criminal justice policies and those who are actually heard in political discourse?  

Let me just say a caveat, that when we talk about class divisions in the Black community it's important to hold two truths in our head at the same time. Bruce Western and others have shown the way in which class, educational status, income can dramatically reduce the likelihood of being hardest hit by the criminal system – namely incarcerated. Middle class and upper middle class Black people get some measure of protection. It's also true at the same time that Black people of all classes are worse off relative to their class counterparts in the white community. 

One area where class is least protective is policing and police stops. The police do not know how many degrees you have. They don't know how much money you have in your bank account. I want to be very clear that in making this point about class, I'm not making the argument that race or racism don't matter in this context. 

In terms of how it plays out now, I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become. Twenty or 30 years ago they had a consciousness, but there's levels of understanding. Many of the people I write about in the book wanted to promote the interests of the Black community. They weren't motivated by indifference or callousness. When presented with mounting evidence of how awful this system has been in Black lives, they're reconsidering and recalibrating. 

Lots of former elected officials have said to me some version of “I didn't know at the time and I appreciate that you showed us in our full complexity. I appreciate that you showed the pressures we were under. If I had known then what I know now, maybe I would have been less quick to go along with some of these harsh measures.” 

The second thing that has affected the Black political class has been the emerging movements, led by Black people in particular and led by young people. They not only educated leaders, but pressured them and made them understand that there is a political cost. If you're not moved by the moral argument, then you'll be moved by the political argument. You'll be moved by the people protesting outside the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles, for example, where Black Lives Matter LA has held, I believe, a year of consecutive protests against a Black district attorney who has had really some of the worst practices.

From what I can tell, she's been pressured by the movement to change some of her positions on important issues like prosecution of low-level drug offenders, for example, and the aggressiveness with which she prosecutes police officers for acts of violence.

What do you make of the calls to defend or even abolish the police?

What I find so compelling about abolition, initially in the prison context and extended to the police as well, is that it shifts the conversation and forces us to go through experiments in which we imagine what it would take to build that world. I think that exercise is very important, because it pushes us further than we are naturally inclined to go. Cultivating a broader imagination is an incredibly important part of this work, because as you know from my book, often it was lack of imagination that caused people to fall back on [punitive policies]. 

That's what caused D.C. Councilmember David Clarke to call the police rather than public health experts when he was overwhelmed with letters about heroin addicts in public space. He was anti-drug war, but he couldn't imagine responding to a call for help with heroin addicts with anything other than police. That's a very common move from even really good and progressive people. 

People who are for defunding, for abolition, are absolutely right about reinvesting that money into alternative structures that support communities. But the reinvestment part doesn't follow naturally from the terms. We might want to come up with a term that captures the new stuff we want to do. I think that's particularly important because one of the reasons Black communities have ended up supporting more police is that Black communities have always wanted their fair share of the resources.

Then, the evidence suggests the United States has too many police officers doing prophylactic, preventative, or stop-and-frisk style policing. The style of policing that leads to district level harassment, pulling people over for no reason. But we have too little investment in the parts of police departments that investigate unsolved crimes. I'm talking about the investigator or the detective who comes to your house after there's been a robbery, an assault, a rape, or homicide. 

As compared to European countries, in the United States we actually underinvest in those parts of our police departments. Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside shows this in dramatic detail. She describes an LAPD that's stopping and frisking Black drivers wantonly and yet the homicide detectives are still relying on a fax machine and the fax machine is broken. They have to go with their own money to Staples to buy a printer. Meanwhile, other aspects of the department are kitted out in this ridiculous riot gear that makes them look like they're in Fallujah. 

That under investment is particularly damaging to Black communities because we're disproportionately victimised by crime. Because of racism and this allocation of resources, the police are less likely to respond in Black communities. The kids I used to work with in the charter schools in DC, we talk about no snitching, but one of the reasons they would never call the police after they'd been victimised by crime is they would say, “They're not even going to come. You're wasting time.” 

I did a Q&A with Jill Leovy too and her argument is one I've struggled to articulate in our present moment. She argues the state doesn't have a monopoly on violence in low-income Black neighbourhoods, because investigations of violence are deemphasised and crime victims or their loved ones often take retribution into their own hands.  But right now, establishing or preserving the state's monopoly on violence isn't an appealing talking point. 

Yes, this is another thing nobody's talking about. Whatever we're going to do instead of the police has to be accountable to the public. The best, most direct way to have accountability is to have the individuals be public employees. As long as we have 300 million guns in this country at least some of those state employees are going to themselves be armed. It's unreasonable to ask them to do the job without it. Not as many need to be armed as are armed now, but some of them need to be. But they can't be hiding behind union contracts or civil service protections which make it impossible to remove even the worst performing, most abusive officers. 

We can not call them police if we want to. That's semantic, but maybe symbolism matters. But those people have to be state employees. They can work with community-based nonprofits, but there are also communities that don't have as robust of a nonprofit network, and they deserve protection too. These [community] groups have to be accountable to the state and, when they don't exist, the state has to be there. 

Progressives get all the points I just made when it's applied to education. The notion that things be public and accountable to the state is understood when it comes to schools. It's exactly why so many people on the left are opposed to charter schools, because they say they don't have public accountability. They want these things to be a state function. But this point about the difficulty in removing this entirely from the hands of the state is, I think, one that liberals and progressives understand from other contexts.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.