Retreat, or relocating people and unbuilding land in places vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise, remains on the fringes of conversations about climate change adaptation. Yet already people throughout the world are moving away from the water en masse. Many more want to move but lack the resources to do so. Residents working to organize their own retreat are engaged in a struggle for recognition and support from, paradoxically, the very governments and institutions responsible for planning, implementing, and managing retreat once it becomes necessary. In this article, I contrast dominant official representations of retreat as marginal, unpopular, and infeasible with existing cases of collective movement away from rising waters that demonstrate just the opposite. I argue that the word retreat is a valuable and necessary addition to the language of climate change adaptation, serving to distinguish community-organized relocation from forced relocation and climate-induced displacement. Understanding community-organized relocation efforts as forms of retreat unifies this emerging practice with other social movements and political projects that seek more sustainable ways of settling on earth.

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