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Against the Tide

Against the Tide


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Castles built on sand are doomed, they say. But in our hunger for an ocean view from the living-room window, we keep building things we expect to last on beaches that never stay still. In Against the Tide, Cornelia Dean, science editor of The New York Times, outlines the global coastal management crisis and all the elaborate engineering methods developed to stave off erosion--revetments, sand-trapping devices, seawalls, groins and jetties, even artificial seaweed beds. In clear, journalistic style, she explains how all of these devices have failed to stop the inexorable march of coastal erosion. And they've failed at a staggering cost to taxpayers, despite the fact that they're usually deployed to protect private property. The world's sandy beaches continue eroding, and nowhere is this more visible than in the U.S., where oceanfront construction has been proceeding at a fast and furious pace for decades. Of course, the perfectly natural process of erosion is only considered a "problem" if it threatens buildings or property. Dean writes: "There is a kind of constituency of ignorance, people who have so much invested in coastal real estate that they do not want to hear how vulnerable it is." Using examples from Galveston to Cape Cod, and a few places on the West Coast, Dean shows how building each "protective" structure has led to the need for more protection in a game humans are destined to lose to the ocean. "American political institutions," she writes, "are ill-suited to the indeterminacy and elasticity of nature." Part of the problem is that people are reluctant to admit that natural processes threatening our carefully planned and paid-for civilization are good and necessary parts of a dynamic ecosystem, and our efforts to prevent them will invariably buy us more trouble. Dean believes that it's time to make peace with the rising sea level and stop fighting nature. Against the Tide should be required reading for waterfront property owners, coastal zone managers, the Army Corps of Engineers, and beach lovers everywhere. --Therese Littleton

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Mandatory Reading

This book is mandatory reading for anyone living in a coastal community. Well written and well researched, it is helping our Beach and Dune Committtee understand what options to consider. Thank you very much for an interesting and informative book.

Another Sad Tale of How Humans Foul Their Nests

An astounding book that will not be read by enough people. Ms. Dean provides us with a well-researched book on the physics (don't let that word throw you off; she makes it all quite understandable) of beaches, and how, in one century, we have managed to destroy them. Quite simply the ocean cannot and should not be conquered. While capable of causing intense damage to our shores, the ocean, given time, will also inevitably repair the damage it has caused. But, build houses, hotels and other structures as well as jetties, revetments, seawalls, and groins on the beaches and you will ultimately destroy them.The truly sad part of this book is not just that we have destroyed thousands of miles of our beaches, but that we are led by ignorant, self-serving politicians and greedy commercial and private interests to build even more damaging structures on what's left of our shores. To add insult to injury the taxpayer continues to be dunned for the money to pay for continued "beach management" (read: mismanagement), and for rebuilding destroyed structures in areas where nothing should be built. I no longer have the slightest sympathy for people whose shorefront homes are destroyed by storms. Move inland where you belong.A must read for the concerned citizen.

Cornelia Dean Deserves The Pulitzer Prize!

I don't know Cornelia Dean but I wish she was my neighbor. This daring, wonderful, woman should be given a national award for her works in "Against the Tide." She blows the whistle on widespread negligent coastal management practices that are evident everywhere. It was extremely unsettling to me to read about almost identical patterns of coastal abuse that I have observed where I live at Alligator Point, Florida. A revetment was constructed in 1994 despite the warnings of coastal experts that it would contribute further to erosion rather than preventing it. This was done at a staggering waste of taxpayers' money and with the permission of county, state, and federal governments. Today, the beach area that once provided recreation and a protective buffer is gone because of revetment-caused erosion. Turtle areas are destroyed. Dwellings are sitting dangerously in water. The road is ruined and unsafe. And, there is no required accountabilty for removing the wall. It is now a permanent monument to disaster. Cornelia Dean articulately reveals how shamefully common this is. She has superbly documented the inept practices of coastal management efforts that are prevalent all along America's coasts. Nothing was written, however, about how to undo this American tragedy. I will, therefore, offer one suggestion based on Cornelia Dean's numerous contacts and her rapport with coastal planners. She should be given a special Presidential appointment to head up a commission to consolidate all coastal management agencies and to develop and enforce a unified set of standards. Ms. Dean's outstanding book certainly qualifies her for such a step.

Beautifully written and explained.

This book is a must-have for anyone interested in beach erosion and overdevelopment. The author clearly lays out the arguments against such beachfront "improvements" as armoring, sandtrapping, etc. As a hydrologist, I was already well aware of the futility of most attempts to preserve beaches in their existing configurations, yet this book explains these issues in a very compelling and succinct fashion. The author also describes those rare occasions when intervention can indeed be helpful, and the special circumstances under which it is justifiable. Yet what is most compelling is the overall argument that in the majority of cases, most attempts at beach and property preservation actually hasten the destruction of the very things requiring protection. Ultimately, a particular beach structure is by its very nature a transient thing, yet it is most durable in its present form if left alone. Unfortunately, with beachfront development continuing at its currently rapid pace, it is unlikely that much of this important information will be heeded. Nevertheless, it is necessary to disseminate this knowledge. Perhaps this book can help inform the public of the need to let beaches be beaches.

Edition Details

Publisher:Columbia University Press
Lowest Price:$3.59
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