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Green Economics

Rising sea levels and the case against federal disaster relief

Government disaster relief and prevention efforts are noble, but they can have unforeseen negative consequences.

By Guest blogger / February 21, 2012

In this file photo, a dark cloud over the Chesapeake Bay dwarfs a cargo ship as it passes the coastline of Virginia Beach, Va. Kahn argues that federal disaster relief efforts can have unintended consequences, including sticking taxpayers with a huge relief burdens.

David B. Hollingswoth/AP/The Virginian-Pilot/File


Who knew that Grist has a free markets libertarian streak?  This piece  by Tom Horton makes  a lot of sense.  He argues that sea level rise along the Virginia coastline should nudge an organized retreat and the growth of wetlands.  But, he notes that government disaster relief efforts offer insurance and will have perverse effects as we adapt to climate change. Here is a quote from the end of his piece.

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Mathew is an economics professor at UCLA and has written three books: Green Cities (Brookings Institution Press); Heroes and Cowards (Princeton University Press, jointly with Dora L. Costa); and in fall 2010, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter World (Basic Books).

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"The only way many wetlands could adapt would be if adjacent uplands are left undeveloped to give the marshes a chance to migrate inland as the Bay rises, Stiles says. That’s a good reason to leave places like Bluff Point in conservation zones.

Ultimately the taxpayers will pick up the bills, bailing out places like Bluff Point as flooding escalates. Taxpayer-supported federal flood insurance programs, beach replenishment programs, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are all seeing costs soar as coastal flooding escalates. Private insurers have already pulled back from many coastal areas."As you know, I discuss this exact point at length in my "Climatopolis."  We need to harness market forces to help us to adapt to climate change.  Well meaning government actions often have nasty unintended consequences and this is a classic example.    

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