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Menopausal Mother Nature

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Three Ways to Build Back Smarter After Hurricane Ian

The expansive climate, health-care and tax bill signed into law by President Biden earlier this year will includes a $2.6 billion investment into coastal communities over five years to help them prepare and respond to climate disasters, in part emphasizing nature-based solutions.

Repeated disaster-and-rebuild cycles have prompted some communities to make a painful calculation about not just how to rebuild, but where and whether to rebuild at all. Across the country, officials are increasingly, though often reluctantly, relocating communities away from vulnerable areas in a controversial process known as managed retreat.

There are significant challenges associated with asking families, and sometimes entire neighborhoods, to relocate inland. “Retreat” is a word that signals defeat, something that’s hard to swallow for families that have lived in these areas for generations. Retreating from land may also threaten culture, traditions and a way of life for Native communities.

In some cases, implementing managed retreat can also be an inequitable process, particularly for low-income and minority homeowners who already have less financial protection to brace against climate risks. Federal programs to help Americans relocate away from disaster-prone areas gave more assistance to wealthier counties, a 2019 study revealed.

In cases where “we know an area is going to experience a high frequency and a high intensity of extreme weather events in the future,” Dr. Baroud said, it may be wiser, and less costly, to relocate communities and critical infrastructure, like health care facilities, away from those areas.

Communities must factor in not only the monetary cost of repeated rebuilding in high risk areas, she said, but also the cost of the human suffering and the loss of life itself, which are “extremely difficult, if not impossible to quantify,” Dr. Baroud said.

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