If we're reforming, we might start with government's contribution to the problem. You're heard those worrying reports about the increasing economic damage hurricanes do? Well, the costs are not due to any spike in the number or intensity of storms, explains the NOAA, but rather the result of "greater population, infrastructure, and wealth on the U.S. coastlines."
How did that "infrastructure" -- including huge, opulent houses right on the beach -- come to be located in areas prone to hurricanes? You've paid for it. Private companies declined to offer flood insurance for such properties, for obvious reasons. But since 1968, the federal government has provided subsidized flood insurance. The result has been a huge liability for taxpayers (the program was $18 billion in the red before Hurricane Sandy), and increasing vulnerability to future storms. Even if the planet stops warming forever, there will be bad weather -- and the properties for whose loss American taxpayers will pay are multiplying.
It's expensive for taxpayers and also environmentally unsound to build so heavily along the coastline. Natural dunes and wetlands protect against storm surges. In fact, some of Bloomberg's proposals for New York include expanding such natural defenses.
It gets worse. As James DeLong noted in a piece for Reason magazine, "People are now becoming so used to the idea that the federal government will pay for disasters that they are not bothering to buy even the subsidized flood insurance. In most places, less than 30 percent of the properties located in designated flood plains are covered." True to form, the federal government shelled out $60 billion for relief after Sandy. Those who objected that the bill contained $10 million for FBI salaries and $2 billion for road construction in areas untouched by the hurricane, among other goodies, were accused of heartlessness.
Whoever turns out to be right about climate change, certain reforms are worth doing. One is to stop subsidizing disaster.
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