Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Big dreams and larger folly

Right up there with Ian McHarg ("Design with Nature") in the realm of writers who show us our folly is Orrin H. Pilkey, the renowned professor of earth sciences at Duke University. Pilkey and a North Carolina colleague, Robert S. Young, wrote a piece for today's New York Times op-ed page that calls down the Army Corps of Engineers for its scheme to restore the Mississippi Gulf Islands in response to last year's hurricane damage. It won't work, Pilkey and Young tell us:
"The corps’ failure to devise a rational redevelopment plan points to the futility of trying to maintain coastal development in such an unstable place. A realistic appraisal would conclude that the long-term outlook for coastal development there is bleak. Yet the corps, urged on by developers, seems determined to wage a quixotic fight.

This is particularly galling in light of a recent report issued by the British government under the leadership of Sir Nicholas Stern, who is widely viewed as a pragmatist. The Stern report concluded that it will probably cost global economies more to ignore climate change than to take steps to address it. It seems we are about to learn this lesson in coastal Mississippi. Rather than use a creative, flexible approach to redevelopment on a vulnerable, changing coast, the corps is commanding nature to behave itself."
They aptly call their piece Castles in the Sand. (Registration may be required.) And if you want to learn more about Pilkey and his thinking, check out this interview from Grist.

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