Review of Steven Apfelbaum’s “From Denial to Integrated Solutions.”

coastline photoA call to action is not the only thing Steven Apfelbaum requests in his article “From Denial to Integrated Solutions,” posted in the Metropolis Point of View blog on February 19th, 2013. He also bids for a revision of current ideas and, perhaps, a reality check.

Apfelbaum, founder of the environmental consulting and ecological restoration company Applied Ecological Services, Inc., is fully aware that big storms have occurred throughout history and that today is no exception, but he gently reminds us that humans have contributed. We have modified our environment in a way that increases the frequency and severity of storms. Climate change is an issue gaining more ground every day in the eyes of world citizens, but scientific reports and articles are giving way to proof in the pictures. As Apfelbaum points out, “The visible devastation of New York City and the Jersey Shore brings tangible urgency to our efforts.” We are no longer being asked to take someone’s word for it. We can see for ourselves the destruction, the damage that these meteorological changes are generating. Yet, as influential as it is, climate change is just one piece of our contribution. He states that we must also look at the way we build and what we build. Storms seem to be growing greater and stronger, but Apfelbaum points out that we have also developed directly in the line of fire through expansion along the coastlines. His call to action is two-fold: “We need a paradigm shift in our land-use patterns and energy consumption.”

We are reminded that nature will always have the last word. Nature is ever-changing and highly-adaptable, and we should learn from it when creating solutions. Apfelbaum calls for answers that will work as climate change adaptations as well as mitigations, not simply handling the problems as they arise, but working to prevent them. We should reduce our impact on the environment, but also remove ourselves from potential harm by reconsidering our land use. Apfelbaum provides a suggestion: change the way we use shore lands and implement “soft shorelines” that imitate nature. Moving away from structural methods, these soft shorelines would require a returning of some claimed shores to the sea, creating natural barriers and carbon sinks through marshlands, functional habitats for wildlife, and even nurseries for fishing industries. Parts of Europe are at the forefront of these ideas, and through “managed retreat or realignment,” they relinquish land to the sea and restore marshes along the coastlines. This eliminates the need for hardening water courses and shores and develops natural protection for inland developments.

There are several principles of creating soft shorelines. Imitating nature through the installation of a variety of native vegetation helps to strengthen a shoreline’s structural integrity. Armoring is a strategy that protects sites on higher ground from erosion, but can also damage natural habitats and radically alter shores. Rather than installing traditional seawalls and bulkheads, live plants and logs can be used as natural armoring against upland erosion. Keeping slopes gentle is another technique that helps absorb the impact of waves. The crash of a wave against a steep slope can increase erosion not only in that location, but along neighboring shorelines. Apfelbaum asks that we look to our ancestors who worked with nature in order to survive and follow in these footsteps again. We must not think of these ideas as moving backward, but as resurrecting strategies that were good and sound. The author closes with this thought: “[we] must draw wisdom from the very origin of both adaptation and mitigation— nature itself.”

Apfelbaum, Steven. (2013). From Denial to Integrated Solutions. Metropolis: Point of View Blog.



Author: Samantha Longshore

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