The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America's Coasts (Paperback)
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.
“Carefully researched and eye-opening.” —Arlie Russell Hochschild, The New York Times Book Review
“Excellent . . . A patient and relentless investigation.” —David Wineberg, San Francisco Review of Books
"Probing . . . There’s a lesson about developing our coastlines to be learned from Gaul’s reporting, but it’s not one that everyone is ready to hear." —Reid Singer, Outside
"Gaul’s work provides a sobering historical and present-day account on a seemingly never-ending cycle.Thoughtfully written, minutely researched, and eminently readable, this sobering analysis seeks to make people start asking questions about the viability of building on the coasts in an era of climate change." —Laura Hiatt, Library Journal (starred review)
"Punchy . . . Mixing breezy storytelling with the nitty-gritty details of inside-politicking, Gaul demonstrates how state and federal agencies have tried, but failed, to rein in developers and decelerate coastal development." —Publishers Weekly