Review: The Geography of Risk by G. Gaul

This well written book hasn’t any philosophical implications on which to comment. I put this here in my rapidly expanding “book review” subsection because of its relevance to my commentary on Slavoj Zizek’s “The Courage of Hopelessness”. My commentary on the Zizek book ended up being mostly about climate change and ecological disaster, something that Zizek mentions but doesn’t much talk about. My point in that commentary was that the re-making of the world’s social, political, and economic orders that are the focus of Zizek’s book (many of his books in fact) will be made mostly irrelevant thanks to the utter destruction of the present global order beginning with its economics.

That’s what I said about Zizek. Specifically, with regard to the United States I said that climate change would soon bankrupt it, and that long before the impact of the twin phenomena (climate change and [partial] ecological collapse) was fully felt. Now a couple weeks after writing that commentary, along comes this book which, while focused on a singular aspect of the problem (the U.S. East and Gulf coasts), illustrates and puts numbers to my claims.

The Geography of Risk by Gilbert Gaul (2019)

Only two weeks ago I wrote a blog essay commenting on another book I recently reviewed (Slavoj Zizek’s “The Courage of Hopelessness”). In my commentary I pointed out that the on-rushing phenomena of climate change will shortly (next few decades) overwhelm the social, political, and financial capacity of any national or even supra-national organization. I accused Zizek of ignoring “the elephant in the room”. Only a few days after that essay (see my Amazon profile for blog address) this book by Gilbert Gaul appeared on my radar. Its title alone seemed a validation of my claims. I was not disappointed, though as it turns out, the focus of the book is geographically very narrow.

Dr. Gaul is an expert in the economics, geography, and risk of coastal and near-coastal communities of the United States Eastern and Gulf coasts. That, specifically is what this book is about. He is easy to read, gives us all the important numbers, but isn’t dry. He tells the story historically through the eyes of many involved: developers and politicians one one side, scientists and some of the engineers tasked with fixing a hopeless situation on the other.

Why this region? First, the U.S. Eastern seaboard, especially from New Jersey to southern Florida, and then throughout the Gulf of Mexico is riddled with barrier islands made mostly of sand, and then behind these barriers lots of shallow bays, estuaries, and low-lying land sometimes extending inland hundreds of miles. Second, all of this coast is among the world’s great hurricane and “rain bomb” bowling alleys. Third that same coast, all those barrier islands, have evolved demographically from a few fishing villages in the 1940s through inexpensive (once middle class) small summer homes costing a few thousand dollars, to multi-million dollar mansions. Fourth, back in the 1950’s the Federal Government covered 10% or 20% of the cost to rebuild thousand dollar homes when storms destroyed them, today the government covers 90% of the cost to replace a like number of million-dollar homes!

The net result of all this is that the taxpayers of all States, not just the coastal states affected, were, 70 years ago, on the hook for a few millions of Federal dollars spent on this process. Today, the number is in the hundreds of billions! As it turns out, according to Gaul, the cost to U.S. taxpayers to repair hurricane and rain damage to places that are destroyed by these weather phenomena every decade or so (sometimes more) is higher than damage from all other disasters (inland floods, fires, earthquakes) combined and by a big margin.

How this all came to be is much the focus of this book. In the end the answer is politics and economics. Take a barren piece of sand and put a few homes on it. Soon you begin to need services, sewers, roads, traffic control, bridges, banks, and so on. There come to be small towns with mayors, police, fire fighters, contractors (building and repairing homes), bankers, and so on. These are jobs paid for by property taxes. When the properties are destroyed (repeatedly) the tax base disappears and all these jobs are threatened. The solution is always to build back as quickly as possible and to make up for the temporary losses faster, to build more and bigger. As all of this re-construction occurred, the homeowners themselves could afford a smaller and smaller percentage of it all. To save the jobs (and ever larger community tax bases) Federal tax payers assumed a larger percentage of the replacement cost until today, this often comes out to more than 80% of costs to rebuild homes of millionaires and 100% of the ever growing network of roads, flood control projects (which never survive more than one next storm), bridges, sewers, and so on.

Of course all along these decades there were individuals in and out of government who pointed out that this cycle was absurd and would eventually become un-affordable not to mention physically unsustainable as the islands became smaller (erosion) and bays and wetlands were filled in to make yet more homes (and roads), further increase the tax base, and in consequence make it more difficult for high water to drain exacerbating the problem. The solution of course is to stop the building, abandon the islands back to small fishing villages, and let the waters do what they will. But repeatedly re-building small homes and a few services back on line meant jobs and now re-building big homes and greatly expanded services means even more jobs and trying to protect those towns (a hopeless endeavor) is always wasted work (Gaul gets into some of the crazy numbers). But millions of jobs are now invested in the continued functioning of those economies! The cycle goes on!

All of this and I haven’t even mentioned climate change. The economics and politics of this process is the focus of Gaul’s book, but he doesn’t ignore this. The bottom line here is that it would be bad enough to be loading American tax payers more and more economic risk as the economies of these storm-prone places get larger. Even if the storms and sea levels stayed constant the economic burden on the American taxpayer is already onerous and growing. Climate change will only make this worse. Gaul’s focus is the American East and South coasts whose risk grows disproportionately because of its exposure to more frequent, bigger storms and sea level rise. But he is well aware also that interior climate-related disasters, fires and floods, will grow in severity and so cost.

In my blog commentary mentioned above I said that this problem generally, this growth in the cost of disasters, would, in another decade or two, bankrupt the United States. Gaul’s book, though narrowly focused, is an argument for my claim.

Review: Pusser’s [new] 15-Year-Aged Rum

Review: Pusser’s [new] 15-Year-Aged Rum

From the back label: The Royal Navy Admiralty-approved blend of Pusser’s Aged 15 Years is heavily influenced by rum from the double wooden pot stills of Port Mourant, Guyana, which have been in production since 1732. The Greenheart staves of these historic stills provide unique tasting notes incomparable to those of modern metal stills, giving way to an unparalleled and authentic drinking experience. Additionally, the blend is aged to perfection in charred oak barrels for 15 years.

So a rum from Demerara sugar and so from Demerara Distillers Limited.

I was told by my vendor there is no sugar or any other additive in this rum but the rum has been tested independently to 8g/l of sugar. That isn’t very much, but it is not strictly sugar free. I include a link below to a review by “the fat rum pirate” who did the testing. Its color comes from the long aging in charred oak. Its smoothness comes from that, but also its bottling at 40% ABV,  a little weak, and cheap, for a 15 year rum costing $85/bottle. Even the base level blue-label Pusser’s is bottled at 42%! Come on guys and gals. I’d like to see what this is like in the 46-54% range… I suppose a bottle would have to be $100+. Too bad…

Color: medium dark and red-brown like old polished copper.
Legs: Fast, thin legs run down when the glass is swirled.
Aroma: Lots of complexity. Some alcohol, dark fruit (over-ripe prune, raisin), lighter pineapple or apricot, heavy into dark caramel, dark-brown sugar and warm spice. The aroma is mostly sweet with some bitterness in tobacco notes.

Flavor/texture: This turns out to be one of those rums that must be tasted to understand where good rums can go. Whether you like it or not is another matter. What strikes me is a glassy texture, not creamy, and definitely not sweet. Smooth, yes, there is only a little warmth going down and a rather bitter tobacco sort of flavor on the medium finish. But there is a funk here, that “old socks” or “moldy forest” sort of funk you also find in the Pusser’s blue label. Here it is less prominent but sharper without any sweetness to back it up. Not a fruity Jamaican funk but something vegetal. The fruits, caramel, and sweetness in the aroma are gone in the flavor. I imagine it is the wooden pot stills and the long aging in ex bourbon barrels that gives it this, maybe strong woody note.

I compared this to another “sugar-free rum” from Guyanese distillate, Hamilton Demerara at 43% ABV, which I took down to 40% with a little water. Both had the same level of non-sweetness, but the Hamilton lacked all the funk and woody bitterness. I think this sort of rum would appeal to a drinker of scotch, rye, or bourbon. One thing I do notice, the funk is at its heaviest when the bottle is first opened. A few glasses and a week of evolution in the bottle have already changed it; the bitter woody or tobacco notes seems better blended into the over-all flavor. Maybe I’m just getting used to it.

Is it worth $85/bottle? Everything is going up! All the Foursquares I see are now in the $75 and up range, even the Hamilton’s have gone up. This trend seems par for the course now. Yes, you can tell this is a high quality rum. But if I’m going to spend $85/bottle I’d rather get something without that bitterness. That’s just me though. There are rum aficionados, especially those I think who like whiskeys, who are going to love this. For me, no. If it was $50 or less I would buy another bottle, but at $85 I think this one bottle will have to do.

Here is a link to a review by The Fat Rum Pirate who has far more experience with rums than I. As is often the case, you will see his aroma and flavor impressions are very different from my own.

The cigar pictured is one of the last of my Foundation Tabernacles, among my best cigars. I’ve paired a few different cigars with this rum. They all work, but I haven’t yet found one that stands out. To my taste, this is an afternoon drink and not for the evening when I seem to much prefer the warmer tones.

Have at it and let me know what you think if you try this rum.