Having land available makes a difference
Katrina's legacy & Is population growth a Ponzi scheme?
With both development and growth, “The profits go to the few, and everyone else picks up the tab.” We trim, blend, and append two 2009 articles from (1) the Weekly Wastebasket, Aug 14, on Katrina by Taxpayers for Common Sense and (2) Christian Science Monitor, Aug 17, on growth by David R. Francis.
by Taxpayers for Common Sense and by David R. Francis
The US Army Corps of Engineers released their years-overdue report on providing hurricane protection for Louisiana. Critics point to both a lack of specificity and little commitment to more modern cost-effective approaches to science and engineering. The possible price tag of whatever the Corps actually builds could exceed $100 billion for just the New Orleans area.
The media routinely reports about natural disasters and the human suffering and economic damage caused by them. But most “natural” disasters are actually “man-made” -- meaning we built in harm’s way and Mother Nature is just reminding us who is boss. If a hurricane slams into the coast and there’s no development there, is it still a natural disaster? Probably not.
Key to any cost-effective solution to natural disasters is getting people and critical infrastructure out of harm’s way. However, moving Miami or New Orleans or much of the Gulf oil and gas infrastructure from the floodplain is not likely. How can civil engineering help?
The Corps likes to build things, and they’ve been building levees since the 19th century. And remember, it was Corps levees that failed, inundating New Orleans in the wake of Katrina that August four years ago. So while the report talks about non-structural approaches like relocation, zoning, and wetland restoration, lurking below the surface is the idea of building a series of Great Walls of Louisiana.
Like in Field of Dreams, if you build a levee, they will come. Without strong restrictions in place, new flood protection induces development and puts more people and infrastructure in harm’s way for when the inevitable storm hits.
We cannot afford to lackadaisically pursue expensive failed solutions of the past. Louisianans and the Corps are going to have to make tough choices about where to rebuild, what to protect, and how. We cannot afford another Katrina and we cannot afford a Great Wall of Louisiana that doesn’t work anyway.
JJS: Used to be, many people erected buildings along the coast in the Carolinas and elsewhere on stilts, so when the inevitable hurricane flooded the area, the buildings were left high and dry. Seems like a simple technology that cities could get back to.
Along with the “hardware” solution, a powerful “social software” solution is to have the public recover the socially-generated value of sites and resources and to require owners to carry Restoration Insurance. The latter means the public won’t have to pick up the tab for restoration while the former soaks up site value, reducing the motive toward speculative development on vulnerable sites.
This geonomic reform has also succeeded at slowing population growth in a country that until then was suffering -- Taiwan.
Is population growth a Ponzi scheme?
Forty-five nations face a population “bust” that has some leaders wringing their hands. They worry about the costs of supporting an aging society and the loss of national and economic power.
But notions that population growth is needed for prosperity are “Ponzi demography,” says Joseph Chamie, former director of the population division of the United Nations. The profits of growth go to the few, and everyone else picks up the tab.
The trend toward fewer births is accelerating. In the rich, developed nations, the average age is rising at the fastest pace ever. Today they have 264 million aged 60 or over. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 416 million.
By that time, the world’s population should stabilize, the UN predicts. The population surge in poor countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East would be offset by declines in much of the developed world.
Some nations facing decline are fighting back with incentives for families to have more children. The United States is bucking the trend with its relatively high immigration rate.
Growth is a plus for some groups. For business, it means a boost in the demand for products and a surge in workers, which lowers wages. Religious and ethnic groups want more immigrants of their own faith and ethnicity to raise their political and social clout. The military regards young immigrants as potential recruits.
But the public pays a cost for a bigger population: congestion on highways, farmland turned into housing developments, environmental damage, and climate change.
Of course, there are also costs for countries with stable or declining populations: looking after older citizens. But governments won’t have to spend as much on children. And any labor shortage would fade if older people stay healthy [and when, we note, automation saves labor].
The costs of an aging but stable population would be more manageable than those of a population boom.
The goal should be gradual population stabilization, Chamie says. Does America really need more than its current 309 million people? With immigration at present levels, it will have 439 million by 2050. A stable or falling population, he says, “is not a disaster. It is a success.”
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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