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Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches Hardcover – June 15, 1999
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Castles built on sand are doomed, they say. But in our hunger for an ocean view from the living-room window, we keep building things we expect to last on beaches that never stay still. In Against the Tide, Cornelia Dean, science editor of The New York Times, outlines the global coastal management crisis and all the elaborate engineering methods developed to stave off erosion--revetments, sand-trapping devices, seawalls, groins and jetties, even artificial seaweed beds. In clear, journalistic style, she explains how all of these devices have failed to stop the inexorable march of coastal erosion. And they've failed at a staggering cost to taxpayers, despite the fact that they're usually deployed to protect private property. The world's sandy beaches continue eroding, and nowhere is this more visible than in the U.S., where oceanfront construction has been proceeding at a fast and furious pace for decades. Of course, the perfectly natural process of erosion is only considered a "problem" if it threatens buildings or property. Dean writes: "There is a kind of constituency of ignorance, people who have so much invested in coastal real estate that they do not want to hear how vulnerable it is."
Using examples from Galveston to Cape Cod, and a few places on the West Coast, Dean shows how building each "protective" structure has led to the need for more protection in a game humans are destined to lose to the ocean. "American political institutions," she writes, "are ill-suited to the indeterminacy and elasticity of nature." Part of the problem is that people are reluctant to admit that natural processes threatening our carefully planned and paid-for civilization are good and necessary parts of a dynamic ecosystem, and our efforts to prevent them will invariably buy us more trouble. Dean believes that it's time to make peace with the rising sea level and stop fighting nature. Against the Tide should be required reading for waterfront property owners, coastal zone managers, the Army Corps of Engineers, and beach lovers everywhere. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
An eloquent, forceful plea to save America's rapidly eroding beaches and coastline, this revelatory and disturbing report from the science editor of the New York Times is reminiscent of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in its sense of urgency and moral passion. From the motels and T-shirt shops of beachless Florida "beach towns" to Los Angeles County, most of whose beaches are artificial, the story Dean tells is the same. People build on unstable landforms, then attempt to avoid the inevitable consequences through quick technological fixes: concrete seawalls, artificial reefs, sand-trapping steel groins, jetties, underground "dewatering" systems of pipes and pumps, etc. These techno-fixes may prolong the life of coastal buildings, but they usually accelerate erosion and environmental degradationAand taxpayers end up spending tens of millions of dollars to protect the property of those who knew they were building or buying in an unsafe place. Dean's book is a lucid primer on coastal engineering; it is also an appalling tale of shortsightedness, greed and willful ignorance, as property owners and developers square off against environmentalists and beach preservationists. It opens with a dramatic account of the hurricane that blasted Galveston, Tex., in 1900, leading the city to make a "Faustian bargain" by erecting a seawall that hastened the beach's demise. Dean sees Hurricane Andrew's devastation of the Gulf Coast in 1992 as a warning about overdevelopment of the shore and the failure to make houses hurricane-resistant. As the book's title suggests, Dean's call for restraint in building, strategic retreat and conservation of our shores goes against the current, but it is well worth listening to, especially as many climatologists predict rising sea levels due to global warming. Photos. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Thankfully there are a few exceptions, and the discussion of using the natural habitat of the coast as a way to mitigate the impacts of storms is seriously on the table in places. But the fact that I have perspective and understanding on this issue I attribute to this book which made a truly lasting impression.