Climate change should cause reappraisal of FEMA grants


Climate change is likely to blow in storms of greater intensity more frequently onto the East Coast. As our nation – kicking and screaming along the way – eventually come to grips with this fact, there's a parallel debate about what role the federal government should play in society.

The latter is a debate not answered decisively by the last election, glib and insulting talk about "gifts" to the electorate aside. As per usual, it's probably safe to conclude that Americans collectively are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum: believing in the social good and utility of a safety net but also for ensuring that it doesn't incentivize unproductive behavior.

Of course, what constitutes a balance between safety and sloth is hardly a settled point – but the prospect of climate change combined with the current mood of the national debate on entitlements hopefully will result in a significant reappraisal of Federal Emergency Management Agency public- and individual- assistance grants.

In other words, it's time to stop FEMA from subsidizing rebuilding in storm-prone areas – and the sooner we do so, the more money we'll save as a nation and the better we'll be to handle the shock of climate change.

FEMA grants have always come loaded with the danger of moral hazard, but it's increasingly clear that we won't be able to afford continual rebuilding in areas whose geography is vulnerable to storms. Sorry angry residents of barrier islands in any state – I have no interest in paying taxes to subsidize your ultimately doomed year-round seaside existence. We as a society shouldn't be subsidizing your presence there, either, since it's one thing to offer social justice to the neediest, and another to pretend that hurricanes don't exist. - Dave