The USA was originally created with the idea of Manifest Destiny, which meant that Europeans had, they felt, the God-given right to move across the continental United States, setting up new communities, opening up new farms, building new towns; and, in the process, dispossessing the indigenous peoples.
The places chosen to settle had fertile land, resources of some sort (e.g. lumber, minerals, water), and most importantly, water routes to transport goods, resources, and people. With the coming of the railroads, and more importantly, the interstate highways, where to live and where to do business began to be a question with a much more extensive set of options. The answers were very random: where could the most money be made, where could the best living be had, where was the most amount of resources to be found? Many of the answers drove people toward the large cities, or to places with industry, or to communities in need of servants and service workers.
And, in the past twenty years, as the baby boomers (full disclosure: my generation) began to retire, the answer was where the weather was mild and the view beautiful: so coastlines began to be filled with vacation homes, then retirement homes and finally nursing homes. But just because a place could be lived in, especially with the use of industrial grade destruction of the land and environment, does not mean that it should have been used for unfettered residential or resort development!
Building up the coastlines may have made sense while the coastlines were stable- but these are now due to be inundated in the near future.
The sea surges like the one that washed over lower Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 are predicted to be a much more frequent occurrence.
So, if you know for sure that these coastlines are going to be underwater in the foreseeable future, what is the wisest course of action? Why not consider moving to higher ground?
There have been large movements of people all during US history. The one that comes to mind is the Great Migration of six million black folks out of the South to the North and West between 1916 and 1970. These people were not rich, but they improved their lives by moving to a better part of the country.
I believe that as climate change in our country gets more extreme with more and more places becoming unliveable due to drought, fire, and flood, we are about to enter another era of great population movement within our country.
In an ideal world, the government (Federal or state) would fund the relocation by buying the homes that are in endangered neighbourhoods, freeing the inhabitants to move elsewhere. The government should also make strict zoning laws to prevent desperate people from living close to toxic industrial sites. And the companies that run these sites should be heavily fined and made to pay the clean up costs of their pollution.
But we are dealing with a much less than ideal world. The Texas state government is allowing the French company, whose chemicals are throwing noxious smoke into the air in Crosby Texas, to keep hidden the actual components of that smoke! And it already looks as if much of the money earmarked for help to Houston will find its way into resources for Republican lawmakers in Texas for the 2018 midterm elections.
So my question becomes, if the government can not be counted on to help, what can we do as individuals and small communities? And can we do this better in the 21st century than we did in the 19th?