A FEW miles off the shore of Wellfleet are the remnants of the community of Billingsgate Island. Nearly 100 years ago, this was a typical New England coastal settlement. Yet today most people have never heard of Billingsgate; the community is simply gone. Sea level rise, storms, and erosion gradually made life on the island untenable, and people moved away. What was once a bustling community is now known as “Billingsgate Shoal.”
Billingsgate’s fate may be an omen for how some coastal communities will react to climate change. Today, we armor our shorelines with seawalls, raise coastal homes on pilings, and begin to plan for sea level rise. But as climate change continues, some people will simply move away. It will require serious public discussion, and tough choices, about when to fight and when to flee.