Coastal Land Loss and the Mitigation-Adaptation Dilemma: Between Scylla and Charybdis
Coastal land loss is an inevitable consequence of the confluence of three primary factors: population growth, vanishing wetlands, and rising sea levels. Society may either mitigate coastal land loss by engaging in human engineering projects that create technological solutions or restore natural processes that protect the coastal zone, or it may choose to adapt to coastal land loss by shifting development and other human and economic resources out of areas especially at risk for coastal land loss. This Article first details the primary threats to coastal lands. Next, the Article discusses two primary means of addressing coastal land loss— mitigation and adaptation—applying those terms slightly differently than they are used in the broader climate change context in order to focus more precisely on the coastal land loss phenomena and its solutions. Finally, the Article makes three normative claims for why policy-makers should approach coastal land loss mitigation in particular with caution: (1) uncertainty of mitigation’s effectiveness scientifically and institutionally; (2) the political expediency of choosing mitigation over adaptation; and (3) the fact that failure to adapt past land-use activities in the coastal zone has contributed to the need to adapt or mitigate today.