The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America's Coasts

The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America's Coasts

by Gilbert M. Gaul


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This century has seen the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history—but who bears the brunt of these monster storms?

Consider this: Five of the most expensive hurricanes in history have made landfall since 2005: Katrina ($160 billion), Ike ($40 billion), Sandy ($72 billion), Harvey ($125 billion), and Maria ($90 billion). With more property than ever in harm’s way, and the planet and oceans warming dangerously, it won’t be long before we see a $250 billion hurricane. Why? Because Americans have built $3 trillion worth of property in some of the riskiest places on earth: barrier islands and coastal floodplains. And they have been encouraged to do so by what Gilbert M. Gaul reveals in The Geography of Risk to be a confounding array of federal subsidies, tax breaks, low-interest loans, grants, and government flood insurance that shift the risk of life at the beach from private investors to public taxpayers, radically distorting common notions of risk.

These federal incentives, Gaul argues, have resulted in one of the worst planning failures in American history, and the costs to taxpayers are reaching unsustainable levels. We have become responsible for a shocking array of coastal amenities: new roads, bridges, buildings, streetlights, tennis courts, marinas, gazebos, and even spoiled food after hurricanes. The Geography of Risk will forever change the way you think about the coasts, from the clash between economic interests and nature, to the heated politics of regulators and developers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250758224
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 11/10/2020
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 382,817
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Gilbert M. Gaul has twice won the Pulitzer Prize and has been shortlisted for the Pulitzer four other times. For more than thirty-five years, he worked as an investigative journalist for The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and other newspapers. He has reported on non-profit organizations, the business of college sports, homeland security, the black market for prescription drugs, and problems in the Medicare program. His books include Giant Steps, Free Ride (with Neill A. Borowski), and Billion-Dollar Ball. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and a Ferris Fellow at Princeton University. Gaul lives in New Jersey.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Old Man and the Sea 3

Part I Building the Modern Coast

Troubled Waters 11

1 The Deal of the Century 15

2 Blue-Collar Houses 23

3 Manufacturing Dirt 32

4 Five-High: The Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 47

Part II The Political Economy of Water

5 The Bantam Mayor 63

6 A Brief Shining Moment 69

7 The Revolt at St. Francis 75

8 Tipping Point 87

Part III Disaster Capitalism: Catastrophes, Subsidies, and Bailouts

Acts of God and Man 103

9 Federalizing Disasters 109

10 A Flood of Trouble 124

11 The Secret History of Sand 146

12 The Unluckiest Island in America 166

Part IV The Coming Storm: Fat Tails, Rising Water, and the Nature of Risk

13 Building a Better Hurricane 181

14 A Finger in the Dike 197

15 Drowning Fast and Slow 213

16 The Problem with the Bays 234

Epilogue: The Future Is Now 251

Sources 255

Acknowledgments 273

Index 275

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