Summary of Retreat from a Rising Sea

Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change

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Retreat from a Rising Sea book summary
Sea levels are rising, and coastal cities face the consequences.


9 Overall

10 Importance

8 Innovation

8 Style


The “retreat” in this book’s title isn’t a description, but a prediction. Orrin H. Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis and Keith C. Pilkey – co-authors of previous environmental books – argue that rising sea levels will doom coastal development. They say that in many areas beach renourishment and seawall construction will prove expensive and futile. Decades from now, they predict, people will be forced to abandon Miami, New Orleans, Norfolk and other coastal cities. The authors criticize the US government’s flood insurance program for encouraging building in low-lying areas instead of strategizing movement away from the coasts. They also warn of the danger of locating nuclear plants near the shore. Climate change skeptics may not appreciate the Pilkeys’ fatalistic mindset. However, they also present a compelling overview of a potentially devastating problem and of what government is and isn’t doing to mitigate its risks. While always politically neutral, getAbstract recommends their insightful, well-researched report to investors, city planners, policy makers and anyone living near the sea.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How high sea levels will rise,
  • How the change will affect developed areas and
  • How cities must respond to an overflowing ocean.


Fighting the Oceans
For two centuries, two trends have been on a collision course. Sea levels are rising, and people are moving closer to the water. Half of the globe’s population lives fewer than 40 miles from the coast, and many megacities are near the water. Spurred by ocean shipping...
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About the Authors

Orrin H. Pilkey is James B. Duke professor emeritus at Duke University. Linda Pilkey-Jarvis is a geologist and Keith Pilkey is an administrative law judge. The three have collaborated on previous environmental books.

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