Coastal Warning: An Unwelcome Messenger on the Risks of Rising Seas

Marine scientist Orrin Pilkey has long been cautioning about sea level rise and the folly of building and rebuilding along coastlines. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about why an eventual retreat from oceanfront property on the U.S. coast is inevitable.

For six decades, Orrin Pilkey has written, taught, and preached about the beauty of barrier islands and the extraordinary risk of building in coastal floodplains. In more than 40 books, 250 scientific papers and journal articles, and countless opinion pieces, Pilkey has fashioned a vision of coasts as dynamic, living landscapes, with their own personalities, quirks and flaws, “not unlike people,” he says.

To the extent that America has a public conscience of its coasts, it just may be the voluble marine geologist, a short, hobbit-like figure who for decades wore an unruly gray beard like the wizard Gandalf. Pilkey warned about interfering with the natural processes of shorelines and questioned developers, politicians, and engineers who helped to fill the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts with trillions of dollars of vacation houses, investment properties, and businesses, often subsidized with generous federal tax dollars.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone appreciated his message.

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