Let seas wash away beaches, most say

Saving them isn't worth cost, most in climate poll maintain
2013-03-29T00:00:00Z Let seas wash away beaches, most sayThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

WASHINGTON - More than 4 out of 5 Americans want to prepare now for rising seas and stronger storms from climate change, a new national survey says. But most are unwilling to keep spending money to restore and protect stricken beaches.

The poll by Stanford University released Thursday found that only 1 in 3 people favored the government spending millions to construct big seawalls, replenish beaches or pay people to leave the coast.

This was the first time a large national poll looked at how Americans feel about adapting to the changes brought on by global warming, said survey director Jon Krosnick, a professor of political science and psychology at Stanford.

The more indirect options the majority preferred were making sure new buildings were stronger and reducing future coastal development. New building codes rated the highest, with 62 percent of those surveyed favoring them.

Three in 5 people want those who are directly affected by rising seas to pay for protection, rather than all taxpayers.

Krosnick said the low favorability of seawalls and sand replenishment "reflect the public's fatalistic sense that it's more realistic to just give up the beach than to try to save it when other storms in the future will just wash it away again."

The nationally representative survey of 1,174 Americans, conducted online by GfK Custom Research, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

University of Miami geology professor Harold Wanless, who wasn't involved in the survey, said he was at a Miami Beach meeting on Thursday with business and political leaders on how to try to keep from losing their "hugely expensive" land. But they are afraid of spending money in vain attempts that won't work.

There are three ways the public can deal with the effects of rising seas on beaches, said coastal geology professor S. Jeffress Williams of the University of Hawaii. He is an expert on sea-level rise and methods of adapting to it. You can "hold the line" with expensive seawalls, retreat and leave the beach, or compromise with sand dunes and beach replenishing.

Sand dunes helped protect the New Jersey town of Seaside Park more than its duneless neighbor, Seaside Heights, when superstorm Sandy hit last fall, said Laurie Mcgilvray, a government coastline science expert.

Williams said the public's attitude about not doing much to protect current beach development would be fine if it were 100 years ago. "But we've got ... trillions of dollars of a tourist economy that depends on the coast.

"You should expect that if you are going to use the coast, you need to put some money in to maintain it," he said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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