Geography of Risk: Hurricane Economics

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

This is a book alert. I have just cataloged this at work (for those who don't know I work in the catalog department at the Public Library in Cincinnati). The book in question is called: The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America's Coasts by Gilbert M. Gaul.

This book looks interesting because it is an economic assessment of the hurricanes of the past twenty years. Here is the publisher's description of the book. Maybe your local library will also get a copy. I thought some of the data points for cost were remarkable. And now we are entering hurricane season, with the first wave just behind us... luckily my daughter and her husband were up visiting from Norfolk, VA this past week... (he is in the Navy and stationed there...)

"This century has seen the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history―but who bears the brunt of these monster storms?

Consider this: Five of the most expensive hurricanes in history have made landfall since 2005: Katrina ($160 billion), Ike ($40 billion), Sandy ($72 billion), Harvey ($125 billion), and Maria ($90 billion). With more property than ever in harm’s way, and the planet and oceans warming dangerously, it won’t be long before we see a $250 billion hurricane. Why? Because Americans have built $3 trillion worth of property in some of the riskiest places on earth: barrier islands and coastal floodplains. And they have been encouraged to do so by what Gilbert M. Gaul reveals in The Geography of Risk to be a confounding array of federal subsidies, tax breaks, low-interest loans, grants, and government flood insurance that shift the risk of life at the beach from private investors to public taxpayers, radically distorting common notions of risk.

These federal incentives, Gaul argues, have resulted in one of the worst planning failures in American history, and the costs to taxpayers are reaching unsustainable levels. We have become responsible for a shocking array of coastal amenities: new roads, bridges, buildings, streetlights, tennis courts, marinas, gazebos, and even spoiled food after hurricanes. The Geography of Risk will forever change the way you think about the coasts, from the clash between economic interests and nature, to the heated politics of regulators and developers."

Alacrates's picture

Sounds informative - there are so many great books out there, where an author has obviously compiled a set of information that is very relevant to understanding our current situation - kind of which I could leave an aspect of myself at the library to read through all these while I go to work! But I guess in reality we just have to use our free time judiciously. I really prefer books like this to scattered articles though, when I get through them I feel like I can evaluate information related to them a lot easier.

Hurricanes have been on my mind recently, obviously Dorian has been in the news, but my girlfriend was on the east coast last week and experienced the edge of that storm system in a cabin as well, said it was tremendously strong winds.

I'm trying to work my way through some climate change books, and the chapter I was on this weekend was going over hurricanes. I have some trouble relating to this info, for most of my life I've lived in Winnipeg, on the plains, storms haven't been especially troubling here - I can relate a bit more to heat waves/cold snaps, river flooding and snow storms. But I'm trying to understand climate on a wider scale to get a picture for what is in store for the continent. The book I was reading was saying that, since hurricanes draw their energy from the warmth of the oceans, with increased ocean temps we can expect fiercer hurricanes, and, because of how pressure systems are affected, more of them to be driven in-land.

Of these sort of general "we've got a problem here" type books, I've got a few more on my list to get to:

The Road Taken, by Henry Petroski, about the infrastructure crisis that we've entered.
The Grid, by Gretchen Bakke, about the problems with the electrical grid.
When the Trucks Stop Running, by Alice Friedemann, about peak oil issues especially as they relate to diesel and transportation issues.

Kind of dark subject matter, but I do find these types of books fascinating as well, the more people to engage with them and bring their information to the public consciousness, the greater the chance we will attend to these issues collectively.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Alacrates, I like how you are informing yourself about the wider aspects of climate change -even those that don't immediately affect your location. About your gf experiencing the edge of the storm: it is interesting how far of a reach the hurricanes & other big weather patterns have. We will often (though not always) get rain and wind off the tail end of some of the storms. I've been kind of aware of that pattern since Katrina.

In Ohio though... we're mostly affected by huge thunderstorms, tornadoes, & heat & cold. Similar to what you mentioned. I think in the future we will be affected by immigrants/refugees from the coasts.

My library owns the Road Taken and the Grid. Those look does the other one, but we don't have that.

As for my own 'dark' reading on similar subject matter, a few weeks back I finished "Springtime for the Snowflakes: Social Justice and its Postmodern Parentage" by Michael Rectenwald. I highly recommend it. It's an academics memoir. Someone who was deep into "Critical Theory" and even studied poetry under Allen Ginsberg before becoming an academic... It's fascinating. One reviewer wrote this, "Michael Rectenwald’s new book offers up passionate intellectual debate in a climate where the discursive righteousness, sexuality, sex, skin color, and feelings of the speaker too often matter more than the thoughts espoused. It is a portrait of the contemporary scene of academic freedom, which is anything but free, and even less academic."... I think this would be good background reading for those studying the rise of eco-fascism. Or contemporary specters of fascism that may arise from within the SJW ranks.

Next up by Rectenwald on my reading list is his new book "The Google Archipelago: The Digital Gulag and the Simulation of Freedom". It reminds me of your comments on Jonathan Franzen's twitter on that thread.

Dark reading for sure... or real reading. We have to be able to discuss these things freely.

I'll have to look for this book. I grew up in Delaware and the beach communities were tiny and limited. The big resort back in 1900 was in Bowers Beach and that community was located inside Delaware Bay and not facing the open ocean.

People who lived by the ocean belonged to two categories: poor fishermen who rebuilt their shacks on their own dime and the ultra-rich living behind a row of dunes who rebuilt their castles on their own dime.

You will notice that TAXPAYERS didn't rebuilt beachfront property!
Why should I pay for you to rebuild your house deliberately built in harm's way?
Don't get me started on paying to rebuild someone's house multiple times because they have to live in a flood plain.


Teresa from Hershey

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Yeah, it's frustrating to learn the ways our money is being spent. I always thought the owner of the property was responsible for the property. No tax payers helped my wife and I out when we needed a new roof, or had to make repairs to our porch.

David Trammel's picture

Our neighbors in the North seem to be learning it doesn't make much sense to keep paying people to rebuild in dangerous areas.

Canada Tries a Forceful Message for Flood Victims: Live Someplace Else