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researchers make the case
for coastal communities to actively plan a retreat from at-risk areas.
it comes to climate change, moving people and development away from
at-risk areas can be viewed, not as a defeat, but as a smart strategy
that allows communities to adapt and thrive.
Thats the case for carefully planned managed retreat made by three
environmental researchers in an article published in the Policy
Forum section of the journal Science. The article was written by lead
author A.R. Siders of the University of Delaware, with co-authors Miyuki
Hino and Katharine J. Mach of Stanford University and the University of
We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war, said Siders, who is a core faculty member of UDs Disaster Research Center and an assistant professor of public policy and administration and of geography.
Were not winning or losing; were adjusting to changes in nature.
Sea levels rise, storms surge into flood plains, so we need to move
Moving away from coastal and other
endangered areas usually occurs after disaster strikes, she said, and is
often handled inefficiently and haphazardly. Instead, the researchers
argue that retreating from those areas should be done thoughtfully, with
planning that is strategic as well as managed.
Retreat is a tool that can help achieve societal goals like
community revitalization, equity and sustainability if it is used
purposefully, Siders said. People sometimes see retreat as defeatist,
but I see it as picking your battles.
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In the Science paper, the researchers point out that retreat is a
difficult and complex issue for many reasons, including the short-term
economic gains of coastal development, subsidized insurance rates and
disaster recovery costs, and peoples attachment to the place where they
live and to the status quo. Also, when disaster strikes, the more
affluent residents are more able to relocate, often leaving behind those
who dont have the financial resources to move.
No matter the circumstances, moving is hard, Hino said. People
have chosen where to live for a reason, and it is often difficult to
find a place to move to that meets all their social, cultural and
One major challenge with retreat is that were so focused on getting
people out of harms way, we miss the chance to help them move to
The researchers take the long view, noting that retreat may be
the answer to climate change in some areas, but it may not be a step
thats necessary this year or even this decade.
The challenge is to prepare for long-term retreat by limiting
development in at-risk areas, they write, and making plans for further
action based on responding to specific triggers and constantly
monitoring and evaluating conditions.
The story of retreat as a climate response is just beginning, Mach
said. Retreat is compelling because it brings together so many aspects
of how societies work, what individuals are trying to achieve and what
it takes to ensure preparedness and resilience in a changing climate.
The paper makes note of a variety of areas where additional work is
needed, including coordination of various levels of government and
support for relocation assistance programs. First, Siders said,
communities must identify which areas they most want to protect and how
to encourage and assist relocation.
Managed retreat needs to be embedded in larger conversations and
social programs, she said. Retreat cant be just about avoiding risk.
It needs to be about moving toward something better.
The Case for Strategic and Managed Climate Retreat: Why, where,
when, and how should communities relocate? was published Aug. 23 in
A.R. Siders, previously an environmental fellow at the Harvard
University Center for the Environment, joined the UD faculty in August.
Hino is a doctoral candidate in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University.
Mach previously was director of the Stanford Environment Assessment
Facility at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and a
senior research scientist at Stanfords School of Earth, Energy and
Environmental Sciences. She is now an associate professor at the
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
and a faculty scholar at the universitys Abess center.
Article by Ann Manser; illustration by Jeffrey C. Chase