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"Managed retreat" from climate change isn't turning out the way we thought

New study raises as many questions as it answers, but researchers say that's the point.


As climate change increases flooding worldwide, the idea of relocating structures in vulnerable areas may become less of a last resort and more of a future-thinking climate strategy.

In some places, this strategy is already being put into place.

It’s called “managed retreat” and it involves the government buying land from people in areas at great risk of flooding, restoring those areas to open, undeveloped land. A new study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, describes what some of these buyouts have looked like in the United States so far, and how trends can inform future policies.

“It is a good way to reduce disaster risk if you move out of hazardous places,” Katharine Mach, Ph.D., lead study author and an associate professor at the University of Miami, told reporters on Tuesday.

“Really importantly, though, it’s not a ‘retreat or else’ type of question,” she said. “It’s how retreat fits into our broader portfolios of climate change adaptation.”

Moving out of one’s home may seem like a severe reaction to flood risk, but it’s already happening and has been for decades. After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York City in 2012, residents of some of the hardest-hit areas on Staten Island decided not to rebuild in the vulnerable location; instead, they sold their homes to government buyout programs, as Mother Jones reports.

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