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27 October, 2009

Sea-Walls and Dykes Are Not The Answer

The Australian government is considering measures that would force property owners close to the sea to give up their properties if threatened by coastal erosion or repeated flooding. It is estimated that about 80% of Australians live by the coast. The figure is not so high for other countries but everywhere faces the same problem: global warming is causing sea levels to rise, possibly by as much as 2 to 4 metres in the next fifty years. Coastlines are being eroded and flooded and it will get worse and worse.

Of course, property owners are incensed. There has been a recent 'sea change' rush to the coast and coastal properties have soared in value over the past decade. Owners believe the government should build coastal defences. Failing that, they believe the government should compensate them in full if it pulls them off their land.

Here's what I think. Anyone moving to the coast in the past 10 years must have been off their heads. Anyone investing in coastal properties in the last ten years has made a truckload of money but now the party is over. We've known for a very, very long time that global warming was happening and that sea-level rises were inevitable. If people want to gamble on global warming not happening then that's fine, but it's a gamble they have lost. Tough luck. Maybe next time they'll buy an ostrich farm.

Anyone who has continued to live on the coast despite the sure and certain knowledge that sea levels are going to rise, is also nuts. How many times have they moved house in the past 20 years? How many opportunities have they had to move inland? And now they want the government (i.e. you and me) to build futile sea defences, or to pay them to move elsewhere?

I don't think so.

A compassionate government should provide rehousing assistance to the feeble-minded or gamblers who end up with nothing. As a nation, Australia needs to build more low-rent housing anyway. But no-one forced anyone to buy investment properties near the beach and throw up monstrous high-rises. No-one forced well-off city-dwellers to grab up coastal properties and build million-dollar houses there, turning every seaside town into a yuppie retirement community.

And no-one can force the tax payer to bail all these gamblers and fools out now their 'investment' has turned bad. Surprise, surprise! Climate change is real. Even at the beach you can't bury your head in the sand forever.

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