Man Against Mother Nature


The Wall Street Journal has a good science article about the man-made activities—destruction of wetlands and barrier islands, construction of levies, dredging of shipping channels—that took away some of nature's shock absorbers to hurricanes, intensifying Katrina's blow.

Which is all well and good to point out. But as a resident of Los Angeles, I'm particularly sensitive to the Hastertian vibe you always get from the rest of the country at times like these … why do you crazy people live there? Instead of answering that, I'd like turn the question around—what parts of the country are actually sensible to live, in terms of avoiding natural catastrophes and constant reliance on guvmint to bail citizens out? Much of the Mississippi basin would be uninhabitable wetlands if we let the Big Muddy go where it actually wants to (for an account of this, and of the insanity of Southern California development, I highly recommend John McPhee's The Control of Nature). The Midwest is a tornado-generating sinkhole of federal farm subsidies; everything west of the Rockies is a nightmare of water mismanagement, Florida and California are famously doomed, the Pacific Northwest is filled with active volcanoes, whole chunks of the Canada-adjacent strip are uninhabitable for several months a year (in my judgment, at least), and the entire eastern seaboard could be swallowed by a tsunami if that volcano on Montserrat volcano on Las Palmas blows the wrong direction. Not to make light of a heartbreaking tragedy, but is there a sane, self-reliant place to live in this country? Or is wrestling with a hostile Mother Nature a feature, not a bug?

While you chew on that, here are some relevant Reason articles about American catastrophe:

In January 1993, Glenn Garvin documented the pork-filled government response to Hurricane Andrew. In April 1994 Nick Gillespie showed how rent-control disincentivized Santa Monica landlords from preparing for the Northridge Quake. In December 1996, Hurricane Fran victim John Hood observed that the "road to recovery was paved with good intentions but incredibly wrongheaded government policies." In August 1997 Virginia Postrel made an intriguing analysis of the difference between "anticipation" of natural disasters and a more generalized "resilience." In April 1998 James DeLong argued that "many dams probably should not have been built." In February 1999 DeLong was back with a look at "the lunacy of the 30-year-old flood insurance program." In October 2003, I criticized government-subsidized homeowners insurance in high-risk areas. And in March 2004, John Stossel confessed that he built an Atlantic Coast home only because he knew the government would bail him out once nature destroyed it (which it did).