NORFOLK, Va. - In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, pundits and academics with altitude are looking down on those of us in coastal communities, saying we need to move away from the shore.
They talk about "depopulating" our shoreline as a rise in sea levels and stronger storms bring higher personal and financial risk.
Our present losses and future fortunes are becoming clearer with each passing storm, leaving coastal dwellers stranded somewhere between the clear, abstract logic of change and the emotional and economic forces that hold us in place.
Billions of dollars of investments, both business and personal, tie us to the shore. Walk away from all that we own and possess?
Not yet. Not unless someone is willing to make us whole.
Armor and protect what we value? Who chooses, since there is not enough money to save us all?
Stop wasting money on causeways and strand roads to coastal towns?
In the next state over maybe, but not in my own stretch of the shoreline, where tourists still flock to rent our beachfront homes.
As we start discussing a change in direction, we quickly encounter complications. There is no clear path forward, no strategy, no policy that bridges between today's reality and a future that allows us to avoid devastation from the next Sandy.
Worse, the messages constantly conflict.
At one end of the Commerce Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there is an obvious, present danger from flooding and a rise in sea levels.
Other Commerce agencies - the ones with money, the ones that count - will fund any economic development project we want, regardless of elevation and future risk.
Across government, one agency advises, Don't build near the shore, while other agencies underwrite beachfront mortgages, finance coastal infrastructure, and give tax credits on tidewater development as if it were, well, yesterday.
Hurricane Katrina showed the dangers faced by low-lying, lower-income communities such as the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans.
Today, years after Katrina's lessons, the Department of Housing and Urban Development still funds lower-income housing anywhere along the shoreline, regardless of projections in sea-level rise.