Reason Podcast

Hurricane Harvey Isn't About Climate Change, It's About Bad Federal Policy (Podcast)

As greens rush to blame Harvey's devastation on global warming, the real culprit - subsidizing coastal development - goes unmentioned.

|

As the media and politicians rush to blame the intensity of and damage from Hurricane Harvey on climate change and zoning, Ray Lehmann of R Street wants to talk about a more obvious villain: public policies that use tax dollars to subsidize development and population growth in flood-prone areas.

Harvey, he says, isn't a weather problem, it's a "people problem."

"More than half the US population now lives in coastal counties," says Lehmann, who believes that climate change is happening and that human activity contributes to it. "That's up about 45% over the decades from 1970 to 2010."

One of the major reasons for that shift is that in the late 1960s, the federal government started offering federal flood insurance priced below market rates, which made it far cheaper for developers and people to build and live in areas more prone to extreme weather. Even worse, as Reason's Ronald Bailey has reported, the same program allows people to rebuild in flood-prone areas. "There was a great journal piece in Nature in 2003 [that projected global losses from weather events] would, by 2050, rise to about $60 billion, Lehmann tells Nick Gillespie. Even "if you did not include the impacts of climate change or sea level rise at all, it would still be expected to rise to about $50 billion dollars, just from economic development and growth in coastal populations."

Is Houston's lack of zoning is part of the problem? Lehmann points out the most of the areas destroyed by Superstorm Sandy were heavily restricted when it came to land-use, zoning, and planning. As an instructive alternative, he talks about Port Aransas, south of Houston the Gulf Coast. When Harvey made landfall then, it was a Category 4 hurricane, stronger than when it smacked Houston. Yet due to a 1980 law, the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, the area is less develped because all federal subsidies—for roads, electricity, water, flood insurance, and more—were barred. When people are faced to pay full price for where they want to live, they tend to choose areas less likely to get wiped out.

Lehmann believes that climate change is real and that human activity adds to it. Controversially among many libertarians and free-marketers, he and R Street support a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gases, even as he says any reductions will likely have minimal effects on the climate. Ideally, says Lehmann, the carbon tax would be used to reduce corporate income taxes to zero, freeing up resources for the sort of economic growth and technological innovation that will allow us to cope more easily with all sorts of problems, including extreme weather. "The greatest response to climate change is to be wealthy and to have the resources to be able to deal with the effects," he says.

Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.)

Subscribe at iTunes.

Follow us at SoundCloud.

Subscribe at YouTube.

Like us on Facebook.

Follow us on Twitter.

This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Nick Gillespie: Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie, and this is the Reason podcast. Today we're talking with Ray Lehmann, he's a senior fellow at R Street and he's also the co-founder of R Street, which is a public policy think tank that talks about environmental and other kinds of policy issues. Ray Lehmann, thanks for talking.

Ray Lehmann: Thanks for having me.

Gillespie: Okay, so we're talking about Hurricane Harvey, which has slammed Houston and is actually taking on other parts of the Gulf Coast right now. One of the things that we're hearing a lot … and this has certainly gotta be the most politicized hurricane in history, even more than Katrina as its unfolding … but we're hearing that Hurricane Harvey, and especially the damage in Houston, is evidence of climate change. The LA Times, this is a representative headline, in a house editorial they said, "Harvey should be a warning to Trump that climate change is a global threat." Is that the right way to be talking about Hurricane Harvey, and especially the damage in Houston?

Lehmann: It's not that … Obviously we believe climate change is a global threat. Whether any particular storm can be attributed to climate change is more controversial. It's not entirely clear that climate change, in and of itself, would change hurricane patterns in this way. There's various impacts that climate change could have on hurricanes. Sort of general consensus is that warmer sea temperatures will drive more powerful storms. There's mixed opinion on whether they will cause more frequent storms, and there's pretty much consensus, at least in the Atlantic basin, that the long-term effects of climate change would actually be to make fewer storms make US landfall, because the ones are gonna be weakening, so fewer storms are gonna get that northeast lift to take them off the Caribbean and into the United States. Unfortunately that means they'll mostly be hitting Latin America, where they don't have the same resources we do to recover.

Gillespie: Well that seems-

Lehmann: But what you can is … Yeah, that's a problem. What you can say for sure is that sea level rise is a threat. That has already happened and there are other causes of sea level rise beyond just climate change, all of which contribute both in this storm and flood risks more generally.

Gillespie: What are the other causes of sea level change? And I'm working at this from a layman's perspective, but you, like Reason believes that climate change is happening, that temperatures are warming and that human activity has a t least something to do with that, but then, if it's not just the polar ice caps and whatnot, what's causing sea level rise?

Lehmann: If you go to southern Louisiana, it is erosion, soil erosion in general, which … or what you would call "land subsidence," which is the land falling as much as the sea rising, so that's happening in a number of areas including here. I live in Florida. That's happening even without change in the absolute level of the sea. In Louisiana, actually one of the major … not major, but contributing causes is the nutria rat eating away at a bunch of vegetations and that causing greater erosion. There are other definitely other causes besides just climate change that are relevant in these contexts.

Gillespie: To go back to this question of the effects of climate change on the number and intensity of storms, is there yet … I mean, there's a lot of theory out there but is there yet evidence that … because you also hear this, that, "Get used to this, there are gonna be more hurricanes. There are gonna be more big storms and they're gonna be more intense." And you're saying the evidence on that is a little bit mixed or ambivalent right now.

Lehmann: It's mixed.

Gillespie: Yeah.

Lehmann: Yeah, I mean the truth is we just came off a dozen years without a major hurricane making landfall in the United State. There had not been one since 2005. Sandy was a very large storm but it wasn't even a hurricane when it made landfall. It was a tropical storm, just a physically enormous one. You had Hurricane Ike, and that was a 2 and last year you had a couple 1s, but there hadn't been a 3 or larger, is a major hurricane.

Gillespie: But each big storm, and I guess whether it's a tropical storm or a hurricane and what category of hurricanes varies, but it seems that each big storm sets damage records and that's often kind of … That kind of gets equated with, "Well the storms are more powerful, they're more dangerous." But is the damage record, is that mostly because more people are living near places … like are living on the coast or in areas that are at risk? So it is really a weather problem or is it kind of a location and demographic problem?

Lehmann: It is primarily a people problem. As I mentioned, I live in Florida. It is a low-lying peninsula that juts out into the most hurricane-prone region in the world. If you go back to World War 2, Florida was the smallest, least-populated state in the south, and it is now the third-largest state in the country. More than half the US population now lives in coastal counties. That was up about 45% over the decades from 1970 to 2010. In fact, there was a great journal piece in "Nature" back in 2003, and they projected the global food losses would, by 2050, rise to about 60 billion dollars. That's about ten times what they have been, it's about 6 billion dollars. But if you did not include the impacts of climate change or sea level rise at all, it would still be expected to rise to about 50 billion dollars, just from economic development and growth in coastal populations.

Gillespie: Well, and Houston is like that. In 1950, Houston only had about 600,000 people I think. Something like that, and it's now got about 2.3 million people. It's nipping at the hills of Chicago to become the third-largest city in the country and then the metro area itself or the larger county is big as well. So it's clear that like, if a hurricane hits, a big storm hits in Houston now, it's gonna to affect magnitudes of order more people than it would have 50 years ago or 40 years ago, or property.

Other things that I've read that say, that attribute to the ferocity of the storm there though, is that the amount of pavement and developed surfaces around Houston is just gigantic because the more people you have, the more roads you have, the more houses you have, the more buildings, and that all makes it harder for water to dissipate. Is that sort of development a contributing factor to the effects of these storms?

Lehmann: I can't say it's not a contributing factor. Beyond just the fact that there are more people, more surface area making it more difficult for groundwater to be absorbed definitely contributes to the size of the flood. The thing that people have been bringing up specifically is noting that Houston doesn't have zoning, right? But zoning, if you look nationwide, the actual impact of zoning tends to be to fight dense housing as opposed to encouraging it. If everyone in Houston lived in the kinds of high-rises they live in in San Francisco or New York City or Chicago, then theoretically you could have that same-size city with less covered space, more open land. But you can't assume that that's what a zoning board in Houston would do, right? That's not how zoning boards usually act. People don't like density, and when you give governments power to control land use like that, they usually act in the opposite direction, which is where the politics are. So I think what you can say is that like, there are probably flood mitigation measures that they could still take.

I know there are two major reservoirs that date back to like the '40s, and they've held up pretty well given the intensity of this storm, but they probably could use some updating. The army corps might want to look at that, and when it comes to storm water runoff, maybe they're not … The market on its own may not be pricing the externality of that appropriately. There's actually an interesting system in DC. In DC itself, they have something like a cap and trade system for storm water, where if you're downtown and it's really expensive to retrieve storm water runoff, you can buy credits from people up in Cleveland Park or whatever to get your share of the runoff through their properties. That's a thing. Either a tax on total paving or that sort of thing, that might be a way to move it in a more flood-friendly direction, but I don't think you can say it's zoning or development in and of itself.

Gillespie: Yeah. Well, and zoning it's, as Houston climbs the list of the most populated cities, the most popular cities in the country, zoning keeps coming up. "That's why it's so ugly. That's why it has no character. That's why it has flooding." And it's odd for a city that is almost universally rebuked by zoning czars and land planners and aesthetic architects, it seems to be quite popular, popular enough that more people keep moving there. It's strange and yeah, the whole notion that zoning somehow is the thing that separates us from the animals is kind of bizarre, to say the least.

Lehmann: Right, right.

Gillespie: You know, you have talked about, that right near Houston and actually in the storm, there is an alternative to … a story that's not really being talked a lot about that has to be with Port Aransas. Tell me about what is going there and why that kind of is a counter example of how we might seriously mitigate the effects of extreme weather.

Lehmann: Right. One thing that's interesting about this is that it's not actually the case that you should conceive of the damage we're gonna see from Harvey as primarily hurricane damage, because it's set over Houston for all these days as a tropical storm or even a sub-tropical storm, so all the flooding was not by a hurricane. It was done by just a massive and unprecedented amount of water. It was a hurricane when it landed. It was a category 4, and there's only been a few category 4s we've ever had. It landed near Port Aransas, which is just north of Corpus Christi, and you certainly saw damage down there, right?

Gillespie: And Corpus Christi is a few hours south down the Gulf of Mexico coast from Galveston and Houston.

Lehmann: From Houston. Yeah, from … Right, exactly. You definitely saw damage there. The early, the insurance modeling firms that do this kind of thing expect about two billion dollars in wind damages there, but for a category 4 storm hitting a coastal region, that's actually remarkably low, and the reason it's remarkably low is there's not much development there, and there's a good reason there's not much development there, which is that area is part of the coastal barrier resources system, which was set up in the early '80s. It was a Republican proposal, came from John Chafee of Rhode Island. It was signed by President Reagan, and what the Coastal Barrier Resources Act does, is any land within this zone of 270 million acres … if you put them together, they'd be like the third-largest national park in the country … any development in that area, you're free as a private citizen to invest your own money. What you can't get is federal subsidies.

There's no federal highways. There's no federal public housing. You're not eligible for flood insurance in this zone of barrier islands and coastal wetlands that were undeveloped as of the early '80s, and they've mostly stayed under-developed, because developers don't want to do it. They don't want to invest if they can't get the subsidies, and that's pretty key to our resilience from these sorts of storms because barrier islands serve the purpose of being a buffer. They absorb a lot of water. They can flood. They can be underwater for some period of time.

We saw, in places where barrier islands are developed, say the Jersey shore in Hurricane Sandy, the difference between … They're right next to each other, but Island Beach State Park and Seaside Heights. Seaside Heights is just north of Island Beach State Park. Island Beach State Park is part of the coastal barrier resources system. It serves its function of absorbing water. Seaside Heights is where Snooki goes and it served its function of getting knocked to hell when Sandy came through.

Gillespie: Yeah. Well, it's funny when you talked about the shift towards people living in coastal counties and whatnot. I, like you, grew up in New Jersey a painful number of years ago, but I can remember even in the '70s where … I grew up in Monmouth County by Sandy Hook, which is the first ocean beach. It's about 30 miles or 35 miles north of Seaside Heights, and I always felt kind of bad for … It was common, like the people who lived by the beach tended to have lower-income jobs. They were blue-collar workers. I mean, it was kind of a hard scrabble existence, and within 10-20 years all of a sudden everybody wanted to live on the beach. Similar in California, even. I lived in LA and Santa Monica during the course of the late '60s and '70s, went from kind of a sleepy working-class town to a playpen for Hollywood royalty. How much did federal policy or state policies kind of change to make the beach or the shore more attractive for people to live there? Was is that a bunch of policies went into place that helped soak up all of these high costs that people wouldn't be willing to pay out of pocket?

Lehmann: In 1968 we created the National Flood Insurance Program. Prior to that, there really wasn't very much insurance coverage for floods. There had been some market in like, the late 19th century and the early 20th century. There was a series of Mississippi River floods in the '20s that kinda ended that, and after that it became very difficult to get insurance coverage for floods. Some of that is things that are sort of accidents of the history of the insurance market in the United States. It's always been state-regulated, and so historically most insurance companies were local. We didn't have the national companies that you do now, back then, and so local companies would face extreme … unlike a fire, which is a fortuitous thing, it tends to only affect one property at a time, maybe two or three if it's a major blaze … a flood can destroy an entire city. So insurance companies that were local didn't want to be exposed like that. The re-insurance market, which is insurance for insurance companies, wasn't yet as developed as it is now, and so you didn't have very much private flood insurance.

In the '60s, we created the National Flood Insurance Program, which extended under-priced flood insurance offered by the federal government, to pretty much everyone, to any community that wanted to participate and met certain basic standards. The original idea was that it was going to encourage communities to invest in flood mitigation. I think it did a little bit of that early on, but it has not really served that purpose in the long run. It served the purpose of making it possible to live in places people never lived before, because now you have a mechanism to bail you out once things go wrong. The state of Florida, for sure, was built on the National Flood Insurance Program. It's about one-third of national insurance program policies are here in Florida.

Gillespie: Wow, and is there any movement to restrict that or to peel it back? I mean, it sounds like farm subsidies in a way where … and obviously it's not the only reason people flock to the water. It's also true that construction methods get better.

Lehmann: It's nice.

Gillespie: Yeah. People like the water and the weather and all of that, but it's a contributing factor and it's certainly one that's under our control. Is there any sense that these are policies that can't stand and why the hell are people who live in either parched areas of the country or places not prone to flooding are bailing out? People who tend to be wealthy are living on Long Island, living on the Jersey Shore, living in Florida?

Lehmann: Back in 2002, we had a bill called the Bigger Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, that passed and was signed by President Obama, and Bigger Waters took those policies that were not paying appropriate rates and put them on a path to gradually see their rates increase. Then just about immediately after that bill passed, you started getting scare stories that were distributed with the help of FEMA by not responding to them. Served the interest of home-builders and realtors who did not like that this was going to have an impact on housing markets, and people were told that their rates might increase to $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 … There was no evidence of this. Just none at all, but FEMA did not really do anything to provide clarity, and in the middle of that hysteria, we then got a second bill in 2014 called the Grim Waters Act, which is I think appropriately named. Also appropriate that Maxine Waters, who sponsored the original bill, was then on the second bill that largely repealed the Bigger Waters Act, or at least it slowed it down enormously. That was unfortunate.

It's still the case that over the long term, these properties are seeing rate increases. They're pretty modest and we will get to a point eventually where they're paying what they should, and there's also encouraging signs that we're getting a private flood insurance market. It's still new. It's not very large. It's not yet enough to take over completely, but it's building and we'll get there. There is legislation right now, flood insurance programs' authorization expires at the end of September. There's legislation right now that passed through the House Financial Services Committee a couple months ago, that would help with some of the key questions on private flood insurance like, "If you have a mortgage, does the private flood insurance count? What kind of private flood insurance do you need that would be equivalent to the NFIP?" There's also rules like … Currently the NFIP policies are sold by private insurance agents who are usually affiliated with insurance companies. If you are an insurance company that takes part in that, what's called the "write your own" program, then you are not permitted to write private flood insurance, so that's another rule that would change in the House bill. And also just getting the data available from FEMA to the private market about flood losses and underwriting. All of that I think we will push forward towards a more robust private market that will hopefully more appropriately price

Gillespie: Right, and the goal of that is just that, to the extent that insurance is a risk management tool, we'll get a fairer pricing of the cost and benefits of living in areas that are prone to extreme weather.

Lehmann: And if that happens, then there are projects that might otherwise take place if they're subsidized by the government, that won't take place as you see in the coastal barrier resources system, because if you have to pay your full freight, if you have to take account of what the real risks are, then at the margin, you're gonna adjust your behavior. Which doesn't mean no one lives at the coast. That's sort of how the commanding control environmental movement would approach this. There are efficient ways to live at the coast. There are efficient losses to take, but at the same time, we don't want this to be on the backs of taxpayers.

Gillespie: What are some other policies that would mitigate the effects, say, of hurricanes, of extreme weather and floods that we should be pursuing and that we should be talking about rather than arguing over whether or not Melania Trump should have worn stilettos or sneakers when she was leaving to visit Houston?

Lehmann: Right. Like Shakespeare said, "First kill all the lawyers," I say, "First kill all the subsidies, then we can move on to stage two." I think Libertarians will differ on the degree to which they think a lot of things are government responsibilities. I'm more or less okay with things like levies and other public construction. I'd like to see more things done at the local level where they can be more responsive, but I think that those are appropriate infrastructure projects to help protect communities. I think you can have some degree of land uses planning where it's things like, for instance, if you have a repetitive loss property and the government's gonna buy it and move this person somewhere else. Say, "Okay, you've flooded too much or you've suffered whatever sort of disaster too frequently, we're gonna buy you out and move you somewhere else," then maybe you don't allow people to build there anymore. Move that money. Otherwise you're creating an incentive to just keep moving in and taking the buyout.

Gillespie: Does that happen frequently? I seem to recall, somewhat dimly, stories about like whole towns on the Mississippi kind of getting bought out, people being relocated …

Lehmann: There are two programs within FEMA. One is within the flood insurance program and one is just disaster and mitigation in general, that do have authority to do buyouts. In the National Flood Insurance Program, it was back in 2004, Congress passed this bill … I can't even remember the name, Jim Bunning and Earl Blumenauer were two of the sponsors … that, the intent was that if you had three losses, then you would be bought out. You would either have to raise your home or be bought out, but I don't think they ever funded it, and so lacking any funding, it never really happened. So there's a limited number of buyouts that happened through FEMA, but it's not terribly much.

Gillespie: Right. What about on a … and I'm thinking three … and especially Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, you would think three strikes and you're out, like you get nothing, you are now officially owned by the government or something.

Lehmann: Of course that was the name of the bill.

Gillespie: Three strikes and then …

Lehmann: "Three strikes and you are out of the National Flood Insurance Program."

Gillespie: I thought it was like, "Three strikes and we bring out the tee and you just keep hitting until you get on base."

Lehmann: Right, exactly.

Gillespie: What about on a global level? What are your preferred ways to deal with climate change? It seems to me there are, within the broader Libertarian community or the broadly-defined Libertarian community, there are some people who still say that global warming isn't happening or it happens all the time and we have nothing to do with it, and so why talk about it at all? Most people I know who are Libertarians say, "You know what? Climate change is happening. It's observable. Human activity is contributing to it, and then, what do you next?" One of the things that I find very attractive is the idea that, to the extent if … I mean if we go with a massive global program that slows down economic innovation and economic activity, suddenly instead of living in South Florida we're living in Bangladesh, and we have fewer resources to kind of be resilient and to build better buildings and come back with weather events. Is that kind of your approach to global warming, or what are the ways that we should deal with climate change as a planet?

Lehmann: What we certainly agree with is that we think the greatest response to climate change is to be wealthy and to have the resources to be able to deal with the effects, which are still largely, right? You can't know what you're going to need to do, but having more money always helps. We also … This is not a secret. We support a carbon tax, one that does not in any way raise taxes. In fact, we have proposed replacing the corporate income tax entirely with a carbon tax. Carbon tax, we will fully admit, does not actually reverse global warming. It may help at the margin, but it is unlikely to mean that we have no effects. We're gonna have effects that we're gonna have to deal with, but if you do it in the right way, if you de-regulate, you use this to get rid of the existing regulatory structure, and to zero out a tax that is more destructive to capital. We think that you can still grow and still be prosperous and at the margin, control some of the worst effects.

Gillespie: So in R Street's plan for slowing carbon emissions, it would be … I mean, you tax everybody who is emitting carbon, you raise the price of carbon so you get less of it, that's the plan.

Lehmann: Yes, correct.

Gillespie: The purpose of the tax then is to shut down carbon emissions or to lower that in the hope or the idea that it will on some level help mitigate climate change. What happens to that money? Does that just go into a general revenue stream or does it get earmarked or does it … What happens?

Lehmann: There's a lot of proposals that have come forward by a lot of different people. Al Gore wants to use it to offset the payroll tax. There's others who come up with what they call a taxing dividend system, which essentially means you apply the tax and then you give it back to people, presumably based on their income. We have proposed using it to replace the corporate income tax, and what we think is an advantage of that is, replacing the corporate income tax actually raises some money in and of itself. If you just repealed it, because of how inefficient it is, and so that helps take care of some of the problem, because if you got rid of the corporate income tax, then a good portion of that income would instead be earned by corporate CEOs or shareholders through dividends and through capital gains and you could capture the money that way at the individual level. We think it's always gonna be the case that corporations will have more lobbying power than people, and so any time you create a new corporate tax, any time you try tax reform, it does not take very long for that get mucked up with all sorts of exemptions and special treatment. Get rid of the corporate tax. Use this tax instead.

Gillespie: How do you levy a carbon tax? How do you identify the sources and then say, "Okay, you owe this much, you owe that much"?

Lehmann: Generally you want to do it as close to the source as possible, at the level of, either say the refiner if you're talking about motor fuels, or at the level of the generator if you're talking about electricity. There are other sources of carbon, other sources of greenhouse gases. Smarter people than I would tell you the most efficient way to deal with them, but that's the broad strokes of it.

Gillespie: But essentially it would be like putting a meter on devices that produce carbon so it's kind of like an electric meter or gas meter, something like that.

Lehmann: Right, and you want it as far from the consumer as possible. You don't want it to be like, at the pump the way a gas tax is, because the further down the stream it is, first of all the more chances that it's gonna get multiplied, and also that you change behavior in ways that are inefficient.

Gillespie: Do you worry at all in … I mean, it almost sounds the way you're talking about it is that the way you see the carbon tax as almost a way of buying off environments, especially if it's not gonna have a profound impact. It's more like, "Okay, here's a way that we can shut them up for a while and get rid of the corporate tax," which virtually … even a lot of progressive economists will say, is almost completely a stupid tax. It doesn't raise as much money as it should because of lobbying power and it just gets in the way of business development.

Lehmann: I think we … That's not unfair as a characterization. If you go back to the Waxman-Markey bill, the cap and trade bill, they wanted to do the same things. It was just with their own priorities. They wanted to use cap and trade to raise some money, spend it on solar projects and other things that were important to their base and their donors. Climate change was the issue, but cap and trade was the mechanism to get other things they wanted done. Well, there's other things we want done and we can think we can use this to get those things done.

Gillespie: Alright. Well, as long as we're keeping dry. Last question. We have had, at least each of the previous two presidents, George Bush with Katrina which was his response … and he certainly was not the only major political figure going back to the governor Louisiana as well as the mayor of New Orleans, they all handled Katrina very poorly … Barack Obama, it's not clear to me I think, or a lot of people whether or not Sandy was his finest hour, but also the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico where he talked about he was gonna go looking for asses to kick in his administration, because the federal response was terrible to it. What's the essential thing? What does Donald Trump as president need to do to kind of break the chain of bad responses to major breaking environmental events?

Lehmann: One thing you notice with … certainly with George W. Bush, and that is an issue now with Donald Trump, is that at the time of the storm, they were already fairly unpopular. So I think from a political perspective, the first thing you should do is no harm. Donald Trump would help himself to show more empathy than he has, but otherwise, he has a pretty good FEMA director, which is something that you could not have said probably of anybody since James Lee Witt, with Clinton. Craig Fugate under Obama was also quite competent, but it is pretty common for the FEMA director to be some political hack, and Director Brock under Trump is a guy who has experience from FEMA, has experience as Alabama's manager during the oil spill, and Texas, I'd say more than Louisiana, has competent state government and they are gonna be able to respond more competently, so Trump should mostly stay out of the way, but rather than being weatherman and bragging about the size of the storm, I think he'd do himself some favors to try to show that he's a human being who actually is concerned about other human beings.

Gillespie: So that may be his toughest challenge yet, right?

Lehmann: Yes.

Gillespie: So we will leave it there. I want to thank Ray Lehmann. He's a senior fellow at R Street, where you can check out, rstreet.org. He's also a co-founder. Ray, thanks for talking to us about Houston and the causes and best responses to massive flooding in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lehmann: Thank you.

Gillespie: This has been the Reason podcast. I'm Nick Gillespie. Thanks so much for listening. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there.

NEXT: Insane Clown Posse: Juggalos Are Being Fucked With; We Have To Do Something About It.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.


  1. Lehmann believes that climate change is real and that human activity adds to it. Controversially among many libertarians and free-marketers, he and R Street support a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gases, even as he says any reductions will likely have minimal effects on the climate.

    So, a cunt then?


    1. Ideally, says Lehmann, the carbon tax would be used to reduce corporate income taxes to zero, freeing up resources for the sort of economic growth and technological innovation that will allow us to cope more easily with all sorts of problems, including extreme weather.

      You know, asshole, you could just set the rate at zero. But no, he wants a labyrinth of lawyers to be a requirement for that.

  2. The human animal prefers to live on the banks of rivers, lakes or streams or by the coasts and outflow deltas of rivers into the ocean. This is it’s ideal habitat.

    Humans would live in these places with or without external incentive and, in point of fact, did prior to external incentives being offered.

    When your premises don’t comport with reality, they should be re-examined, not re-affirmed.


    1. “More than half the US population now lives in coastal counties,” says Lehmann, who believes that climate change is happening and that human activity contributes to it. “That’s up about 45% over the decades from 1970 to 2010.”

      So…?

    2. Yes, when those water bodies are a primary food source and most people are primarily occupied with acquiring food. In modern times, things are a bit different. The human animal also responds to economic incentives quite well and subsidized flood insurance most certainly does encourage people to build and live in flood prone locations.

      1. There’s a place in Northern Cambodia where people live above a lake in shacks sitting on platforms. Cheap material and not too hard to put together quickly. Taking advantage of Texas’ permissive laws, someone is bound to go Khmer.

    3. “The human animal prefers to live on the banks of rivers, lakes or streams or by the coasts and outflow deltas of rivers into the ocean. ”

      There is a big difference between human animals who live on river banks and those who live on coasts. Riverside cities, Florence, London, Moscow are centres of bureaucracy and government. Coastal cities, New York, Liverpool, and Venice are about trade and innovation. I’m surprised to see Reason come out so openly against coastal cities.

  3. “Controversially among many libertarians and free-marketers, he and R Street support a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gases, even as he says any reductions will likely have minimal effects on the climate.”

    There’s nothing controversial about it among libertarians: anyone who supports a tax, _any_ tax, is not a libertarian.

    1. I don’t think that’s actually true. Libertarians are not anarchists and you have to pay for government somehow even if it’s very small.

      1. I’m not against taxes. Just against a never ending bunch of bullshit taxes to support unnecessary spending, waste, and fraud.

  4. Taxation of goods is authorized by the Constitution and signed off on by the founders. You can’t be pro-Constitution and anti all taxes.

    Not to say all libertarians are pro-Constitution.

    Taxes are necessary, how much taxes is very debatable. And IMO, should be minimal.

    1. One line in the sand: taxes that fund necessary or beneficial investments or services (bridges, navies, parks) might be okay; taxes that fund social welfare or stupid human behavior (e.g. subsidized construction in high risk locations), probably not.

  5. Proposing a tax which the proposer openly admits won’t work and expecting us to be naive enough to believe that the money will be spent wisely and that other taxes will be cut or removed? I have trouble believing that even a minarchist libertarian would do that.

  6. “2006: Expect Another Big Hurricane Year Says NOAA”

    “NOAA Predicts Above Normal 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season”

    “NOAA Increases Expectancy for Above-Normal 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season”

    “Forecasters: 2009 to Bring ‘Above Average’ Hurricane Season”

    “NOAA: 2010 Hurricane Season May Set Records”

    “NOAA Predicts Increased Storm Activity in 2011 Hurricane Season”

    “2012 Hurricane Forecast Update: More Storms Expected”

    “NOAA Predicts Active 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season”

    “A Space-Based View of 2015’s ‘Hyperactive’ Hurricane Season”

    “The 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season Might Be the Strongest in Years”

    “NOAA: U.S. Completes Record 11 Straight Years Without Major Hurricane Strike”

    NOTE: the NOAA is The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a scientific agency within the Department of Commerce focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere.

    [Tip of the hat to James Taranto’s WSJ Best of the Web]

    I’m sure that *EVENTUALLY* they’ll get one right…2016 was the “strongest in years” but was still pretty much meh, except for Matthew’s impact on Haiti.

    Actual activity in 2016: 15 named storms, 7 hurricanes, 4 CAT3+

    Average (1981?2010[1]) 12.1, 6.4, 2.7
    Record high activity 28, 15, 7

    1. In all fairness to NOAA, most of those headlines were just that, written and published by our profit-seeking media (and nothing makes for media profit like hype and anxiety). I lived in Houston for 15 years, and recall at least several years when hurricane season predictions were thankfully quiet.

  7. severe repetitive loss properties

    More than 2,100 properties across the U.S. enrolled in the National Flood Insurance Program have flooded and been rebuilt more than 10 times since 1978, according to a new analysis of insurance data by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). One home in Batchelor, Louisiana has flooded 40 times over the past four decades, receiving $428,379 in insurance payments. More than 30,000 properties in the program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have flooded multiple times over the years. Those homes, known as “severe repetitive loss properties,” make up just 0.6 percent of federal flood insurance policies. But they account for 10.6 percent of the program’s claims ? totaling $5.5 billion in payments.

    The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which currently provides policies for more than 5 million American homes, is $23 billion in debt following a string of major natural disasters over the last decades, including as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

    Of the 30,000 homes analyzed by the NRDC, the average cumulative payout per property as a result of repeated flooding was $181,444. Nearly half of these repetitive loss properties have been paid more in flood insurance money than their houses are worth, the NRDC found.

    [https://e360.yale.edu]

  8. Uh yes, Houston’s problems stem from a lack of planning. But this weather event really had nothing to do with coastal storm flooding, but rather from the increased probability of extreme rain events caused by anthropoclastic climate change. The same libertarians who laud Texas’s pro-business attitude about putting chemical plants close to the fossil-hydrocarbon feed stocks now seem to be saying that it should not have happened. MAKE UP YOUR MINDS!

  9. In other news (i.e. Houston Chronicle article discussing the need for flood insurance reform):

    “Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, whose district includes some of the city’s most flood-ravaged areas, said such reforms were too costly for homeowners and government needed to accept the costs of rising floods and forgive the NFIP’s debt.”

  10. Global climate change is a phenomenon that has always existed and will continue to exist. It is complex and no model can capture all of the factors involved or the relationships between the factors driving climate change. Climate change is too complex for models to predict the future of climate change and there is no reason to believe that humans can control or direct climate change.

    Two things that concern about climate change is good for, is creating an environment of fear and a [fake] moral argument for more government. Since climate change will never be either predictable or controllable, fear of climate change will be a perpetual justification for more and more government power. Every plan will fail, politicians and climate experts will keep coming up new scare stories, improved models, and with improved plans which require more power for the government and less liberty for the people. Just like with economic controllers, climate “problems” will never be solved and their lust for power will never be satisified.

    Fear of climate change is a powerful driver for the destruction of individual rights and liberties. The myth that climate change can be controlled to make the world safer, is a dangerous myth supported by nothing but irrational fear and pretend science. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who would sacrifice their freedom for a safer climate future, deserve neither.

    1. And if anyone can predict it accurately, it sure as hell won’t be a bunch of subnormal progtards.

  11. NPR says that hurricane damage in Texas is due to lax zoning laws in Houston!

  12. The frequency of US-landing Hurricanes has fallen in recent decades. See graphs at RealClimateScience.com

  13. Hurricane occurrence is the situation where the home and property of people are damaged in large extent. No one can stop it from being in existence but can take the safety precautions to save their life. There are various option one can adopt to save their life and their property too. Website here gives one of the option to prevent home from being damaged and also gives the many other benefits of using the respective option.

  14. During storm one emergency is needed of electricity. But, do not try to figure out what fuse is off or what caused the issue as you may end up getting electrocuted. It is best to hire some carpenters or reliable electrician like City Electrician, Electricians Newtown Square PA, etc., who are available for everyone who needs to repair or electrical work of their home or business after the storm and they knows how to determine what happened and how they can fix it as they know what to do in instances of no power.

Please to post comments