22
SEP
2018

Slipping into the Danger Zone

As the flood waters recede in the Carolinas, the cleanup begins.  And billions of our tax payer money will be used to help the victims of Hurricane Florence recover.  My guess is that most of us want to help our fellow citizens in their time of great need get back on their feet and using our tax dollars is a great use of our taxes.  We’d all hope that if circumstances were reversed and it was ourselves in a similar predicament we’d want the same consideration.  On top of that, I suspect that many of you did the same as me and made a contribution to a private (non government) fund to provide immediate and additional support.

The following article points out, though, that because of our government policies that provide people that build or live near costal areas the comfort of knowing that if their private insurance is too minimal, or if they can buy any at all due to their vulnerable location, there will still be compensation to help put their lives back together.  In this endeavor we are providing a horrible incentive for people to build and live in these danger zones whether inland near rivers and creeks that can overflow or near the coast that can be inundated by storm surge and high winds.  

Thus we’ve created the environment that leads to such huge losses both in human and financial terms as the following article points out.  Maybe we should be trying to figure out how to keep people from building or rebuilding in a flood zone in the first place rather than encouraging them by providing them with the peace of mind that should things go terribly wrong that they have a fallback to rely upon.

 

“not climate change but “the growing number and value of coastal properties is the largest factor impacting hurricane risk today.” A whopping $17 trillion in property now exists inside the U.S. storm-surge zone.”

 “how should aid be conditioned so it doesn’t become an artificial incentive to live and build in high-risk places?” 

 

“Congress has struggled for decades to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which long ago turned into a perverse subsidy for coastal development.”

 

“Compare this with the U.S. response of rushing in with federal dollars to rebuild so the next storm will always have something bigger and more expensive to knock down.”

 

Perhaps we should stop and consider how we can PREVENT people from living in the danger zone rather than providing an incentive and peace of mind to do so?

 

 

 

The U.S. Is Rich, So Storms Are Worse

Donald Trump’s thought processes may be a mystery, but better hurricane policy isn’t.


President Donald Trump at a meeting with the administrator of FEMA at the White House, Sept. 11.
President Donald Trump at a meeting with the administrator of FEMA at the White House, Sept. 11. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

Why Donald Trump opened a discussion of the number of deaths from last year’s Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico just as a storm was descending on North Carolina is one of those strategic mysteries that might yield to an icky stroll around Mr. Trump’s brain.

He’s wrong that researchers who estimated nearly 3,000 deaths in some way connected to Maria were motivated by anti-Trump animus. He’s not wrong that such motives apply to many in the media who tout such estimates.

To reach the shocking number of Maria deaths they did, experts looked for excess deaths above the normal trend, then attributed these to the storm’s aftermath. We can argue about the utility of such statistical exercises but it gives little insight into what’s happening now in the American coastline’s encounter with Hurricane Florence.

North Carolina is not an island. Its people and their state are not broke. In many cases, its potential victims aren’t even present, riding out the storm at a hotel or relative’s house in another state. Their utility infrastructure is not crumbling and out of date. Help will pour down the interstate highways in the form of power crews, food, water and first responders. The electricity will be restored in days, not months.

Barack Obama had been president for eight years and Mr. Trump for eight months when Maria hit. In a non-politicized discussion on the “PBS NewsHour” on Wednesday, Mr. Obama’s former head of emergency management said the problem isn’t who is president, but how Congress legislates for emergency response.

The questions are two: What kind of more realistic provision should we make in advance of an emergency, including hiring full-time vs. part-time responders? Perhaps equally important, how should aid be conditioned so it doesn’t become an artificial incentive to live and build in high-risk places? 

A 2016 study published in the Stanford Law Review pointed out what everybody in Washington quietly knows: “We call weather-related catastrophes ‘natural disasters,’ but the losses” are often due to “questionable government policies.”

On this principle, Congress has struggled for decades to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which long ago turned into a perverse subsidy for coastal development.

Or as Bob Sheets, then-head of the National Hurricane Center, said after 1979’s Hurricane Frederic: “It was like an urban renewal program out there.”

As the respected insurance consultancy AIR Worldwide put it in 2015, not climate change but “the growing number and value of coastal properties is the largest factor impacting hurricane risk today.” A whopping $17 trillion in property now exists inside the U.S. storm-surge zone.

Maria-style, one could even legitimately ask how many have died over the decades as a result of artificial subsidies for Americans to locate in harm’s way.

An interesting archaeological study finds that, starting in the first century A.D., post-Neolithic Germans raised “dwelling mounds” and constructed dikes in response to rising seas and “storm-flood levels.” Compare this with the U.S. response of rushing in with federal dollars to rebuild so the next storm will always have something bigger and more expensive to knock down.

Which brings us to the dilemma that preoccupied Wednesday’s PBS discussion. Why is there insufficient money budgeted in advance for predictable hurricane relief and rebuilding, but an endless gusher after the fact?

The real answer went unmentioned. If money were budgeted beforehand, taxpayers elsewhere would be able to see and debate how much they are spending to support the lifestyle choices of people on the coasts.

Where is Al Gore when you need him? Oh, right, the climate crowd has become enamored of coastal development because it creates a constituency for doing something about climate change. Well, not exactly for doing something about climate change, but for throwing money at coastal dwellers and calling them “victims of climate change” for the benefit of generating media coverage of climate politics.

There will be harrowing and heroic stories out of this week’s Hurricane Florence. You will see them on every news site and cable news channel. Major storms are charismatic events. They afford great footage, which feeds a false sensation in viewers that storms have become more frequent and more powerful. Meanwhile, tragedies befall Americans every day for which the federal government does not shower them with aid because CNN is not present.

Even so, fiscal despair is not in order. Practical steps toward living rationally like the post-Neolithic Germans are still possible. These could begin with Congress quantifying for the American people how much they are forking over annually to entice their fellow citizens to live near the beach.

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