The Climate bill grows ever higher

Hurricanes and tornadoes, fires and floods, hailstorms and drought. The natural disasters keep adding up. So does the expense.

This week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the United States had 16 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2017 — tying the record — carrying a total bill of $306 billion, more than $90 billion more than the previous high.

Minnesota was one of 13 states (plus Puerto Rico) visited by such a calamity, a string of June hailstorms that racked up some $2.5 billion in damage in the metro area.

The past calendar year featured three of the five most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history: Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida, Maria in Puerto Rico. The Western wildfire “season” is now virtually year-round; 2017’s fire bill was put at $18 billion, triple the previous high.

And the cost keeps climbing. On Tuesday in southern California hillsides that lost their vegetation to the giant Thomas fire last month started giving way in the belated winter rains, bringing horrendous mudslides into residential areas.

Climate change is without a doubt part of the problem. We have criticized in the past this administration’s unwillingness to grasp that reality, and we renew that criticism today.

But another aspect is the continued insistence on development in high-risk areas, and the market distortions that mask or subsidize the cost of that development.

A century ago a hurricane could blow into Florida and not find much beyond swamp and shacks. Today Florida is the third most populated state, and the coasts are dotted with significant urban areas.

Houston is one of the nation’s largest metro areas, but remains flood-prone and resistant to zoning and development restrictions.

California, hard-hit by fires in both the wine country in the north and the hills in the south, is looking for ways to mute the effect the fires figure to have on insurance premiums.

People want to live on the coast. We get that. But as the planet warms and the extremes intensify, the risk grows and the costs mount. Insurance premiums are a blunt tool for discouraging risky investments, but they have a role to play.

When California and Florida officials talk about ensuring “accessibility” to insurance, they are also saying that those who don’t live and build in high-risk areas must subsidize those who do.

That approach will only continue the escalating cycle of disaster and destruction.

— Mankato Free Press

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