Sea Level Silliness
Three weeks ago Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans and devastated the city; the last link in a chain of stupid human actions and unfortunate natural events. In the days that followed the disaster, the Speaker of the House of Congress, Dennis Hastert, made the statement that New Orleans should not be rebuilt in place. This was followed by his public castigation and condemnation.
From my perspective, the House Speaker is the lone rational voice crying out in the wilderness. The press and most of those affected by to storm are all clamouring to repeat the mistakes of the past: building one's home below sea level is not rational.
All over the world people do things that are not rational, but that itself is neither good nor bad; it's just part of being human. What is bad about such behaviour is when such individuals expect society around them to pay the price of the poor judgment of those individuals. I have no issue with individuals choosing to live in places such as where New Orleans was situated, but I do take great offence when I am expected to pay for the decisions those people make.
Given past insurance contracts, the insurance companies will have to make good on the insurance policies of those who had homes flooded when the New Orleans levies broke; however, there is no reason that any insurance company or government should agree to offer insurance again to anyone building below sea level in the Mississippi River delta.
I am not advocating that the ports should be completely abandoned or that the former inhabitants should move hundreds or thousands of miles away; rather, I am advocating that the city be rebuilt a few tens of miles inland, such that the land the city is built on is above sea level. In addition, I believe that as a society we would be well served to restore the Mississippi River delta wet lands in place of the former city.
Taking rational action at this time would lessen the financial burden society will bear in the rebuilding of the city, and it would reduce the ongoing cost of maintaining the city. It would also serve to set a going forward example to the rest of society: that society will no longer pander to the emotional desires of a few greedy, self-serving individuals. Let's take the billions of dollars to be saved by not rebuilding in-place and use that money to the benefit of the many, instead of making a few people feel good.