Hurricane Harvey hit one of the world's most important metro economies. And the risky spots with so many important assets are growing.
My Belltown condo building, constructed in the early 1970s, is putting in new windows and sliding glass doors. They’re heavier than the old ones, intended — or so the workers tell me — to withstand hurricane-force winds. The Puget Sound region is no stranger to nasty windstorms, but hurricanes? In our climate-change future anything is possible.
Hurricane Harvey, which dropped a record amount of rainfall on Houston, is expected to cost $160 billion and be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Climate change’s role is being underplayed by cautious and self-censoring scientists, but it is real and substantial. Houston is rich, with an enormously consequential economy — and not just in oil. So rebuild it will (even though in the worst-hit areas, 80 percent lack flood insurance).
However, with 6.7 million people in the nation’s fifth-largest metro area — heavily built on flood plains, paved-over wetlands and around bayous — one has to ask whether this is the best location for a place so large and important?
The question also applies to hurricane-prone areas of the Southeast that have seen their populations skyrocket in recent decades, and building codes that are often far from rigorous. Miami and south Florida, set to face catastrophic sea-level rise from climate change, are a prime example.
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Our glass house is a bad place from which to hurl stones. My colleague Sandi Doughton’s pioneering reporting showed how the Pacific Northwest, including booming Seattle, is much more vulnerable to major earthquakes than previously believed. A U.S. Geological Survey study said nearly half of Americans live in earthquake-prone areas. Fracking for oil and natural gas has increased the risk of “induced earthquakes” for other areas.
It’s a free country and people and businesses go where they wish. Silicon Valley isn’t going to relocate to Omaha, Neb. And the great migration to the Sun Belt (and lately the Puget Sound) isn’t going to reverse anytime soon back to the Midwest and Northeast. But we can expect ever-rising costs from natural disasters, especially as climate change becomes more pronounced, and cities such as Houston fail to take preventive steps.
What’s the plan? In the other Washington it is apparently tax cuts.
Today’s Econ Haiku:
Pike Place market is my store
I’ll eat off the grid