As a former coastal geography student (yes, you read that right), I’ve long been intrigued by the unique interface of social presence, livelihood and physical coastal processes. We’re now two months into 2011 and global climate change is at the forefront of many scientific circles with coastal hazards and threats to coastal populations being one of the most discussed topics. Of course, that hits home with all our famous Hawaii beachfront property.
Civilization has for centuries rooted itself in coastal locations from Hawaii to Alexandria for many reasons: access to coastal resources (primarily fish), ease of trade (going back to the early days of shipping) and more tolerable climates (of course, this referring to mainly tropical and semi-temperate regions). So it’s no surprise that even today, a significant percentage of the world’s population lives within a very narrow distance from the coast.
This close proximity to the coast presents an inherent vulnerability to certain hazards: hurricanes, storm surge, sea level rise and coastal erosion to name a few. However, these hazards are not new — they’ve been with us for thousands of years even if their danger to us ebbs and flows over time. So it stands to reason that we have tolerated or mitigated the threat of such events over time as well. But we also learn from them — or at least we should.
What Have We Learned?
And this brings me to the point of this post. What have we learned? If we look at the footprint of development here in Hawaii, it’s plainly obvious that we are still inclined to live as close to the beach as possible. Yes, we have populations back in the valleys in the Ewa Plain here on Oahu and the volcanic nature of all the Hawaiian Islands does, to a large degree, force us to settle along the coastal perimeter. But do we need houses within 20ft from the shore?
I’m not saying the sky is falling. I’m more curious than anything. Today we have mandatory shoreline setbacks and shoreline hardening regulations to manage our coastal presence and risk to life and livelihood. But what is the current mindset? Do people in Hawaii still want that beachfront property or would they prefer to have the first house on the opposite side of Kam Highway? In simpler terms, it’s a matter of risk/reward. With risk at one end of the spectrum and reward at the other, where do we lie? Is that changing? Whenever I drive around the windward side of Oahu and I see the waters rise right up to the road, I can’t help but wonder what our pattern of home ownership will look like 20 years from now.
Please share your thoughts on this very important topic for those of us here in Hawaii and in other coastal locations around the world….