Nobody ever said preparing for climate change was going to be anything but horrifically complicated, and when our pathologically inept and commitment-averse Congress is part of the process, it just keeps getting crazier and crazier.
The Senate just smacked a four-year snooze button on the Federal Flood Insurance program, which needed upgrading and retrofitting as much or more than the homes it was set up to protect. In 2012, Congress, trying to reduce the program’s sizable deficit ($24 billion), legislated a gradual elimination of subsidized flood insurance. Thanks to the Biggert-Waters Act, homeowners with older homes saw their premiums go up by 25 annually; new home sales lost their subsidies entirely.
Naturally, this pissed a lot of people off. Homeowners in coastal areas were suddenly that much closer to bankruptcy or extreme hardship, and made the welkin ring with their protestations.
But all of this is short-term sound and fury that succeeds in distracting us from the storms of the coming decades. Living on the coastline, or in the expanding inland areas designated as flood zones (because, you know, reality), is going to be drastically more expensive in the coming years, because the weather’s not going to get any better. My home city of Boston narrowly escaped massive damage several times last year, and there’s no reason to think our luck is going to hold out.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of hand-wringing among politicians who if nothing else are consistent in their adherence to short-term palliatives and their avoidance of actual solutions that address the problem in any meaningful way:
The crisis has provoked incongruous reactions among politicians. Deficit hawks who congratulated themselves on Biggert-Waters less than two years ago are calling for its repeal. Environmentalists representing liberal communities along the coasts are challenging the science behind the new FEMA maps and shrugging off their usual urgency about climate change. Free-market conservatives are ignoring the price signals that insurance rates are sending about increased environmental risks.
The rollout of Biggert-Waters is a mess, but the national flood insurance program needed reforming, and not just because it was in debt. Having the government underwrite the status quo obscures the real costs of climate change. And it minimizes incentives for communities to make their coastlines more resilient and neighborhoods more secure. That’s where taxpayer dollars should be going.
Flooding happens pretty much everywhere there’s the potential for extreme rain and inadequate place to put the water. Curiously, this often seems to correlate with income inequality. I wonder why?
Here’s a song in Telugu from a sympathetic South Indian, lamenting the lives lost last year in Northern India’s Uttarakhand floods:
And one from Thailand:
You get the idea. When it rains it pours.