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On the one hand, New York City begins to prepare for rising seas - it's got 520 miles of coastline, probably the American city most (after New Orleans) exposed to rising seas. The city is already eyeing storm surge barriers, large walls spanning the Narrows entrance to New York Harbor with gates that could be closed in the face of epic storms. The $1.5 billion being spent on small stuff doesn't include price tags for barriers, artificial wetlands, and similar huge infrastructure projects with equally huge price tags.

On the other hand, smaller West Coast towns are considering retreat rather than fight the tides: "there is growing acknowledgment that the sea is relentless and any line drawn in the sand is likely to eventually wash over." One project at a time, cities' enthusiasm for armoring the sea is fading along with the realization that armoring just doesn't work.

And then there's the North Carolina approach to sea level rise. Because rising seas will harm coastal development, legislators are considering a bill to ban sea level rise. Technically, the bill wouldn't actually ban sea level rise. It would just make it illegal to measure reality. Or to plan for it. Or to face it. No wonder that Stephen Colbert calls the proposed bill "Sea, No Evil."

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I've been predicting that, in the medium-to-long term, government at levels from federal to local will spend obscenely trying to protect the great cities of the Northeast - New York City, Washington, Boston - from the rising seas, while smaller cities are left to abandon their infrastructure or be allowed to sink beneath the waves. I've imagined that hard choices would need to be made, but should take into account reality-based factors such as a city's importance to the nation. I never thought that a critical factor should be a region's legislated stupidity.

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