California Against the Sea is a Way to Think Forward

If there’s one takeaway from the Deer Creek Watershed study project, it is that all watersheds are interconnected parts of Earth’s circulatory system.

In her book, California Against the Sea: Visions for Our Vanishing Coastline, Rosanna Xia travels along California’s coastal towns interviewing city, county, and state land policy managers, as well as Native People, Black communities, activists, and private homeowners as she investigates how people think about coastal erosion and property defense tactics.

This subject applies to all places where people live. Do we adapt to change or fight it?

How do we develop governing policies that encourage desired behaviors?

So many people still seem to be estranged from nature – unaware, or unwilling to see, how much we’re holding onto land meant to burn or drown. ‘We love what we have, and we always want it to be the same forever, but it’s just not going to be.’

As I read about high-priced sea walls, diminishing sand, and underserved communities, I couldn’t help but think about home insurers pulling out of California, ongoing Nevada County fire-hardening work, and our Nisenan Tribe.

“I exist because my ancestors resisted multiple and sustained sate and church sponsored efforts to eradicate us physically, culturally, and spiritually,” she said. “They resisted, and they continued – continued to love, laugh, speak their language, sing their songs, build and sustain their communities through all the violence.”

The book takes a while to get through; it is information-dense. It might seem like the subject would be depressing, but it’s not. Xia leaves readers feeling hopeful.

The sooner we arrive at a consensus about ecosystem-specific environmental adaptation, and set plans in motion for forward movement, the less loss of life, housing, commerce, and investment there will be.

Rosanna Xia is an environmental reporter for the Los Angeles Times, where she specializes in stories about the coast and ocean. She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2020 for explanatory reporting, and her work has been anthologized in the Best American Science and Nature Writing series.

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