Sea level rise requires new forms of decision making


“That option is currently too politically controversial as the local community was concerned that local businesses could lose customers, that it would cause more traffic jams in the city, and that it would ultimately reduce property value”, says Boda.

The study highlights that this course of events has left Flagler Beach with effectively only one option on the table: some form of sea wall, since re-nourishment was deemed too expensive to implement, and the city’s residents and politicians are currently unwilling to relocate coastal infrastructure.

“Yet this option, since it incorporates no procedure for adapting to sea level rise, will only lead to ever-increasing cost of erosion control, and the eventual loss of all sandy beaches along developed shorelines”, explains Boda.

According to Boda, this indicates that Flagler Beach, along with many other American cities unable to afford ever more expensive re-nourishment projects, has effectively reached the limit of what actions it is able to take in terms of addressing erosion and sea level rise. The city is now effectively back where it started, holding the line against erosion with expensive and environmentally problematic temporary projects, with no clear plan for how to address future erosion caused by storms or to make the tough decisions needed to adapt to climate change. The continued degradation of the local environment will likely pose a major problem for the city’s tourism economy and tax base in the coming years, particularly as sea level rise continues.

The study argues that a new decision-making model - a social choice model – could be one way forward. By taking primarily economic criteria into account, a wide variety of other concerns citizens have, including those of far-away tax payers and future generations, are left out. Therefore additional criteria, whether environmental, cultural, or recreational, should be identified through reasonable public discussion.

This would require not only more effective collaboration between federal, state and local governments, but also the ceding of more decision-making power to citizens and civil society organizations.  

“By using a social choice model, the city would have a richer source of options and ideas to work with. Something that puts all available options on the table and requires that they be evaluated with a more comprehensive and long-term perspective”.

Because social choice involves changing the way decisions of public concern are currently made, it is not likely to be justified by current government or economic calculations, according to Boda. This means civil society initiatives would need to provide the primary mechanism for achieving the needed change in practice.

“There are many cases in U.S. history where civil society has played a crucial role in bringing about change. These institutions could be the drivers for new ways of collective decision making since we can no longer rely only on the market or formal government to offer solutions that will protect both our environment and our society in the face of rising seas and a changing climate”, Boda concludes.

— Read more in Chad Stephen Boda, The Beach Beneath the Road: Sustainable coastal development beyond governance and economics (Lund University, 2018)