Pic of the day: Swallowed by the sea. (From the Japanese anime Stellvia.)
Drown the rich!
I have an idea. You know the greenhouse effect? It is, overall, a good thing. Without it, it would be painfully cold on this planet. But there seems to be a bit too much of it too fast, if not these days then in the near future. It is in the interest of most people to slow it down a bit so we can have a pleasantly mild climate for a long time, rather than a heat wave followed by the usual ice ages. So, what is the best way to Make Things Happen?
The most cost-effective way, as I see it, is for as many civilized countries as possible to pass the following innocuous law: "Any person or corporation that buys property after the 1st of January 2008 will not be eligible for any compensation, reparation or assistance for property damage due to rising sea levels. Any contracts of such payment will be considered not binding."
Why is this a good idea? Because it acts in advance, prompting people to look out for their own interests, rather than acting after the fact to repair the damage. Because it brings the greenhouse effect from the room of theoretical physics to the rooms of economy and personal life. And because the rich are disproportionately likely to build in the beach zone, and we want them to get involved.
The most important part is probably acknowledging that the seas will rise. It is not a question of whether this will happen, but how fast and how much. Since a lot of people – perhaps most people in the world – are going to live in coastal cities in the near future, the costs are likely to be unimaginably high. This is not a disaster scenario, except for a few places that are already too low (like New Orleans and much of the Netherlands). It is first and foremost an economic question. By the time seawater is flooding the basements regularly, the pressure against the government to "do something" will be enormous, and other important tasks will suffer. To reduce this as much as possible, we have to put the brakes on building at the edge of the water, and make people consider building a bit away. Quite a bit away, if they look far enough ahead.
Most people have rooms in their mind (unfortunately, I'd say). I noticed this in school, when we learned the same things in maths, accounting and business economics. For me it was enough to learn it once, but my classmates mostly started over in each class, learning the same things as if they were new. I have later seen similar things in religion: People have a holy room in church (or whatever your locale is called) and then they walk out of there and into a non-holy room at home, and forget everything. It is the same here, I think. People read about the greenhouse effect, but it is in the science room, not in the money room or the living room, as it were. But the water WILL be in the living room eventually if you live close enough to the sea.
The nifty part here is that we get a reverse chain reaction through time. Obviously if you buy a house by the seaside and the sea rises a few feet, your house will be essentially worthless. Even if this won't happen for 50 years (and most home buyers will probably be dead or by then, or if they are alive they may not know it), it still influences home prices long before that. By the time you sell your house, or pass it on to your children, it will already be pretty hard to sell ... it will basically be slum since it won't be standing much longer. You don't pay full price now for something that is going to be slum when your kids inherit it. And you most assuredly don't build anything new in that area.
Now you may say: Building further inland is a good idea for those who don't get saltwater in their cellars, but it won't stop the greenhouse effect and all its other effect. But that's where you just may be wrong. You see, we did not prohibit building near the seashore, and we certainly did not condemnate the buildings already there. People who own seaside property – whether to live there themselves, rent or sell – will have a very strong motivation to support any action that can reduce the greenhouse effect. Every time they drive a gas-guzzling car, every time they turn on their air-conditioning powered by coal-fired electricity, they will think of their property and cringe. In fact, every time they see someone else do it, they will cringe too, and try to think of some way to dissuade them.
As long as we expect someone to bail us out – the government, the insurance company, Jesus – we are encourage to just go on down the same wrong track. But this isn't a government problem. We have known for quite some time that the seas will rise. In fact, they have begun to do so. You don't drive against a one-way sign and expect the insurance company to pick up the bill, do you? Besides, the people who build by the sea are disproportionately the upper class. They can afford paying their own bills. They also generally tend to be better informed; and if not, it is certainly nobody else's fault. These are exactly the people we want to think long and hard about what can be done about global warming.
But won't this hurt the economy? Wouldn't it be better to let the economy run full tilt so we have more money when the expenses come? No. For each passing day, new houses are built in areas that will be flooded in 100 years, perhaps even 50. Every such act of folly hurts the economy in the long run. It is a misallocation of resources, as we call it. A market functions best when everyone makes informed decisions. The purpose of this bill is to inform people that their houses will grow gradually worthless and they can't expect the rest of us to bail them out. Knowing this, they will react in a rational way. Not knowing it, the market will be distorted and less effective.
Oh, and notice the "property" specification. Those who lose their homes due to rising sea levels will still be eligible for welfare like any other homeless person. They just won't get compensated for the property loss. But that should be plenty enough to motivate them to change their own lifestyle and encourage others to do the same.
The title is a pun on the famous book "Eat the rich".
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.