The Geography of Risk — Non-Barrier Islands

Two Gilberts — same conclusion about risks and who should pay for the risk.

by Eric Holdeman / October 21, 2019

A recurring theme for this blog and for the United States is the continued ignoring of risk and recurring destruction in favor of increased economic development. A favorite phrase of mine is, "It is what it is," which seems to be everyone's approach to enabling people to live in high-risk flood areas with their risky behaviors being supported by the federal government, and paid for by taxpayers who are not participating in the benefits (should there be some) of living near water.  

I listened to this podcast, 'Geography of Risk' Calculates Who Pays When A Storm Comes To Shore, which was an interview with Gilbert M. Gaul, about his new book, The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America's Coasts.

Needless to say, we have met the enemy and it is us. As a nation, people, local governments, and primarily the federal government, we continue to enable bad behavior by a few at the expense of us all. Local governments sacrifice people's long-term economic welfare for more tax dollars in their coffers and jobs that come from rebuilding and rebuilding and rebuilding. 

The podcast is a good summary of portions of the book, but then I think you should have that book in your library, since what happens on the coast is repeated on our rivers and streams for flooding. It is repeated in the West and other areas with wildland fire hazards. Poor zoning, or NO-ZONING, permits the behaviors that we see.

On the podcast, the name Gilbert White was mentioned as the father of our national flood insurance program. If you don't know anything about one of the historical champions of mitigation, watch this short 10-minute video, Gilbert White and the Flood Problem. In the podcast, they explained something I did not know. The national flood insurance program we have today was not what Gilbert White intended. I thought that "over time," the system was corrupted. I should have known better! It was corrupted right out of the gate. The premiums were to pay for the program. There was to be a reserve for when huge hurricanes or storms inflated the damages that were to be eligible for payment. And, the idea was to do some program pilots to learn from experience and adjust the rules before rolling out nationally. None of the above was done — from the get-go. 

Add in climate change and rising seas, and we have not seen the worst of what is yet to come. Unfortunately, until we are at a financial collapse and can't pay the bills or borrow our way out of them, this behavior will continue. 

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