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Heck no, we won't go

20 Nov 2019 | OP ED Watch

An obstreperous objection to climate orthodoxy has been raised not by a person or think tank but a town in, of all places, California. Del Mar isn’t exactly denying climate change. But its city council is refusing to run away from it, saying it’s more cost-effective to restore beaches, reinforce seawalls and dredge a nearby river. The state is not pleased since its “managed retreat” policy requires communities to remove structures from land that computer models say will get washed away later. Those being ordered out don’t seem convinced.

Del Mar offers an interesting defence of its position: too many people want to live in the allegedly soon-to-be flooded lands and the city can’t afford to buy any. “The extremely high land value in Del Mar means that public acquisition of any property the city does not control will be difficult and cost-prohibitive,” said a City Council resolution last year. So, the city planners don’t believe the hype about rising oceans and neither does anyone else, because if they did they’d all be fleeing and the land would be cheap. And it also raises an argument more normally heard from a different political direction, namely that decentralized decision-making beats central planning. A report by Del Mar’s “Principal Planner” says “Instead of taking into account the local context and particular nuances ... it appears that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is being tested on Del Mar.”

If everyone stopped believing in gigantic centralized “one size fits all” solutions to all manner of problems it would bring quite a revolution in public affairs. California seems an unlikely source for such a revolution but we are open-minded and welcome it. Even on the notion that the right way to adapt to rising waters, if any, is for local communities to see whether it’s manageable with a series of affordable initiatives like seawalls or at some point you “head for the hills” but in a calm and deliberate way instead of blind panic.

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