Because I would like to see the world less ravaged, I’m pleased by the study, recently written up in Nature, that investigated the sort of protections that natural habitats like oyster reefs, marshlands, and dunes lend coastal areas. The authors quantified risks for different scenarios of sea level rise for the United States, and then measured, by generalizing the protection each gives, what is gained by preserving existing habitats—and, perhaps, restoring them for the sake of enriching resilience.
But that’s wishful thinking. Because, while the study measured impacts in terms of population and property values, the arbiter of what to do will be, as it usually is, the dollar. This is apparent even in the underlying methodological aspirations of the study’s authors. One states, “It really is going to get to the point where we’ll be able to put dollar values on what we gain from restoring natural habitats.”
Which makes cents of things, in its cold way. And so may actually spur authorities and the elite to action in “high-value” places where loads of money will be washed out to sea (and scores of people displaced), but the places that do not count for much in dollar terms—the Delta, for instance, or basically anywhere outside of the rich inlets of California, New York, and Florida—will be left to the rising tides.
Those not worth much will have to hope for cheap ways of saving themselves.