Cuomo's coastal homeowner buyouts offer a sign of things to come

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) proposes to use as much as $400 million from the state's allotment of the federal Hurricane Sandy aid package to buy out homes in flood-prone coastal regions, reports The New York Times.

Cuomo's offer, according to the Times, would pay pre-storm values for homes and even offer bonuses to those households located in especially vulnerable places should they agree to move.

The homeowners should take the money and run. In the future, buyout terms for property owners in coastal stretches of land prone to battering from increasingly frequent storms will be less generous, the money to rebuild will dry up and those living inland will rightfully grow resentful that the storm-absorbing properties of barrier islands, beaches and wetlands are blunted by human development.

Coastal landforms "are highly dynamic and sensitive to even small changes in physical forces and feedbacks such as warming, storms, ocean circulation, waves and currents, flooding, sediment budgets, and sea-level rise," notes a recent federal technical report. And those changes are occurring; the global mean sea level will rise between .2 to 2 meters over the course of this century, the report predicts with high confidence. Human-built structures in those areas simply won't stand up to the pummeling global warming has in store for them, and inland areas will increasingly depend on an unencumbered coast to absorb storms' force.

A pattern of development that assumed a static coastline is unsustainable. It never was, but inaction on global warming means in addition to mitigation, attention now must seriously turn to adaptation. In its early stages, when the full extent of global warming is still theoretical, adaptation can occur on generous terms. Later, money for generosity will dry up; there won't be enough to go around.

The Times quotes a New York politician who represents low-lying areas of New York in a reaction typical of the short-sighted. "These are residents that chose to live by the water," Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. told the Times. "They're not going anywhere." He's wrong: They are going. It's just a question of when, and under what terms. - Dave