Why is the government in the flood insurance business? That's the question considered this morning by David Kestenbaum on NPR's Planet Money. Lack of such insurance in the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, he reports, led the federal government to establish the National Flood Insurance Program. The program worked great until Katrina, which exhausted the program's budget and sent it into deficit. He quotes Mark Browne, professor of risk management and insurance at the University of Wisconsin, Madison:
"This is why flood insurance is a tricky business. You can have a quiet three decades, then a huge hurricane plows into a major city. Suddenly you're back in the red."
In fact, Kestenbaum concludes,
"Over the past few years, the National Flood Insurance Program has had to borrow $17 billion from the government . . . . The head of the National Flood Insurance Program says the program plans to repay the money it borrowed from the government — but it may take 20 or 30 years to do so."
Unless, of course, there were another major hurricane--or two, or five, or ten--during that period. Here's the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007:
“Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs. There is less confidence in projections of a global decrease in numbers of tropical cyclones. The apparent increase in the proportion of very intense storms since 1970 in some regions is much larger than simulated by current models for that period.”
So--the economics of federal flood insurance make sense--as long as you ignore climate change. Josh Laughren, climate and energy director for the World Wildlife Fund-Canada, makes a similar point in an editorial about the Keystone XL pipeline in Toronto's thestar.com. He's commenting on a letter written by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall to U.S. President Barack Obama, urging him to OK the pipeline:
As always, the argument is simple, and narrowly framed: 1. Canada has a lot of oil and the U.S. needs oil. 2. We don’t have enough pipeline capacity to handle our ambition for unconstrained growth in oilsands production. 3. Building the pipeline will create jobs.
What could be simpler? Nothing --as long as you pretend climate change doesn't exist and don't make it part of the conversation."
Climate ignoring--it's the new climate denial.
Photo by PickStock/iStock: A family evacuates during the flood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2008.