The U.S. is slowly being gripped by a flooding crisis as seas rise and waterways overflow with ever more alarming frequency. An idea at the forefront for how to help Americans cope is so-called managed retreat, a process of moving away from affected areas and letting former neighborhoods return to nature. It’s an idea increasingly en vogue as it becomes clearer that barriers won’t be enough to keep floodwaters at bay.
But new research shows a startling finding: Americans are already retreating. More than 40,000 households have been bought out by the federal government over the past three decades. The research published in Science Advances on Wednesday also reveals that there are disparities between which communities opt-in for buyout programs and, even more granularly, which households take the offers and relocate away. The cutting-edge research answers questions that have been out there for a while and raises a whole host of new ones that will only become more pressing in the coming decades as Earth continues to warm.
“People are using buyouts and doing managed retreat,” AR Siders, a climate governance researcher at Harvard and study author, said during a press call. “No matter how difficult managed retreat sounds, we know that there are a thousand communities in the United States, all over the country, who have made it work. I want to hear their stories, I want to know how they did it.”