“About 1,062,000 flats and houses, 82,000 businesses, 2.5 million people and 2m acres of agricultural land, worth about £120bn in all,” are at risk from flooding and erosion brought on by global sea level rise. Some of them will be saved, and some will simply drop to the sea.
Their fates will depend largely on how much money they have and how much political influence they can wield. Those that have ample amounts will likely receive the government funds to protect the shoreline — even if there is no economic, social and ecological justification. On the other hand, those that are poor and politically weak, they will see their precious homes and towns disappear and be forced into a “managed retreat.”
Bear with us as we quote the article at length. It's the tale of two villages: “Kilnsea, in the East Riding just north of Spurn Head, is an example of how to play the system; Happisburgh, in north Norfolk, a classic example of a climate ghetto in the making.”
Late last year, the Environment Agency published a document about the future of the Humber estuary. Without warning, the villagers of Kilnsea, a small and pretty settlement, read this: “The coastal defences near Kilnsea are being threatened by erosion, and could be breached within five to 10 years, but possibly in as little as two years. There is no economic justification for realigning or replacing these defences, so they are likely to be abandoned.”
A village of poor and retired people might in these circumstances have meekly accepted their fate and shuffled off to the council housing that was being offered. But Kilnsea, which has 28 businesses and a fair share of forceful and articulate inhabitants, was not going to accept that. What riled them most was that a colony of little terns just north of the village was going to receive careful attention and money from the Environment Agency and Natural England, as the birds were to be protected under a potent European nature designation. Stuart Haywood, chairman of the village action group and an electrical technician with BP, is still angry. “It appeared to be a fait accompli. That was it. The human side of it was being abandoned, but our feathered friends were being accommodated.”
The village activated itself, found money from a dazzling variety of sources, badgered its MP and councillors, and has managed to get flood protection authorised for at least the next 20 years. The banks and channels to save their houses are being dug this autumn.
Happisburgh is at the other end of the spectrum. Beach Road, a yard or two of which is disappearing almost monthly, and which has lost 26 houses in the past 15 years, is at the poor end of quite a smart village. It has been without any sea defence since 1991, when the groynes and revetment below the cliff were partly smashed in a storm and the rest removed. The people at the end of Beach Road have implored the authorities to spend the money to defend their houses, but Defra maintains that the cost-benefit ratio is too high: perhaps £2m for 18 rather poor houses. Exceptions can't be made. Campaigns have been waged, but there has been no movement on the part of the government.
One wonders if the term “climate ghetto” can also be ascribed to Kilnsea, or at least when it is walled-in completely by its own fortification, when its neighboring villages up and down the coast have eroded away so long ago and is now an island surrounded by concretized channels, levees, revetments, sea walls, and groynes. If so, we could have two types of climate ghettos: one receding inland, forming ocean-filled valleys, and one jutting out to meet the coming sea, peninsular — in other words, the English fjords.
Cornelia Dean, "Next Victim of Warming: The Beaches," New York Times (20 June 1006)