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Good evening and welcome today's meeting of The Commonwealth Club of California, I'm John McMahon member of the Commonwealth Club's Program Committee and your chair for today. We also welcome our listeners on the radio and invite everyone to visit us on the Internet www.commonwealthclub.org. And now it's my pleasure to introduce our distinguished speaker Roger Kennedy. Roger is the Former Director of both the National Park Service and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Born in St. Paul Minnesota he received his B.A. from Yale University with a law degree from the University of Minnesota. He has served several tours of duty with the government in Washington and special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General and the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and the Secretary of Labor. He was also a White House Correspondent NBC and appeared on his own NBC radio series and in the first of NBC's television documentaries. In 1960s Roger became a banker and was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Northwestern Bank of St. Paul Minnesota. At the end of the decade he became Vice President Investments, the University of Minnesota and then Vice President of Finance for the Ford Foundation. He has also served as Director now Director Emeritus of the National Museum of American History for the Smithsonian and from 1993 to 1997 as Director of the National Park Service. He is now associated with the Center for Environment at Harvard and an Honorary Member of the American Institute of Architects. His latest book which is available in the lobby to purchase "Wildfire and Americans: How to Save Lives, Property and Your Tax Dollars" was published in 2006 and chronicles the tremendous danger that wildfires present especially here in California. Natural disasters cannot be stopped but Roger argues they are high cost to us and the earth. It can be mitigated and controlled. He is talking very broadly here about the politics of disaster - the ways we endanger ourselves and what we can do about it. Please welcome Roger Kennedy. I want the radio audience to know that I'm between 35 and 40 old, six feet three, the body of an Olympic athlete. And we lost count of the audience out there when we got passed 10 to 15,000 and I want the radio audience to know that we are all very glad that you are here too. The rest of this talk is serious, earnest and truthful. What's going on across the west? Construction crews are in arrays with fire crews. Some bulldozers are busy preparing new firetrap residences while other bulldozers are just up the hill carrying firebreaks. Every year millions of acres now burn because little cleansing fires were suppressed for so long fire load has accumulated - brush and little trees have a habit of growing. So the trend has been for more and bigger fires every year even before global climate change has been fully felt. The fire is most costly in dollars and in lives have been in places where the conditions have been often repeated enough to expect something. Yet, the construction goes on stimulated by tax payer funded incentives. There is a tax subsidized land rush into danger in this country and it is a disgrace. Fortunately it is a horrent interaction between natural processes and unnatural and inhuman policy. It can be reversed. This is one set of circumstances that we can fix. The problem is not fire. There is no such thing as a natural disaster. The problem is people in dangerous places. Disaster is affliction to humans. The problem is people in dangerous places subsidized, encouraged and insufficiently warned. That's the problem largely financed by tax paid mortgage interest subsidiaries which is what the Federal Mortgage Insurance Program does and tax paid transportation subsidiaries and that's what the highway program does. Those counties in the west especially in California, Colorado and New Mexico afflicted in recent years by the worst wildfires are also among those with the greatest influx new residence and in each state that's true. If you look at Colorado for example, the flat part which isn't terribly fire prone isn't getting an awful lot of new residents in fact its losing them but the fire prone part is gaining residence at a an immense clip. Half half the nation's population growth is taking place in the 10 fastest growing states and seven of those 10 rank in the top 10 of the percentage of their population at risk of wildfire. This is to across the west its also increasing true in east. When I wrote this book I sort of left Florida, Georgia and Texas rapidly growing states out of the fire computations. 750,000 acres of Texas burned last year, 300,000 acres in Florida burned last year. These are states that are now intensively fire prone. The subsidized land price into a tinderbox arises from policies that make no distinction between safe and unsafe neighborhoods or building materials. The housing, transportation and development assistant programs the federal government and most state governments endorse blind and indiscriminant acceptance of risk by subsidizing it indiscriminately. Tax payers build roads the power lines into firetraps and the tax payers insure the mortgages of those who live there. When fire closes in we tax payers of course eagerly pay to rescue the victims all too often prefering to ignore the fact that we have our tax dollars encouraged construction while risking the lives of the homeowners and those sent to rescue someone. Its unclear how many billions are wasted in this cruel fashion largely because its impossible to calculate the precise amount of the federally insured mortgage programs at underwrite construction in flame zones because we don't keep track. Since 2000 however, suppression and cleanup of this annual this annual conflagration has cost more than a billion dollars a year every year and there is a big business there. There is a fire industrial complex which has a fairly predictable income stream because most of the work for that billion bucks goes to private companies. The current system according to the government accountability office is determined, provides little incentive there wards to mitigate fire risks such ass requiring homeowners to use fire resistant materials and landscaping. In hot-dry places with vegetation that burns a few communities are requiring of neighbors that they not put other neighbors in peril this is true in Colorado it's not true in California. And therefore in most states these fire wise principles are ignored. Same goes for flood wise principles. Subsidies to building in flood zones are just as crazy and murderous as encouraging people to build in flame zones. It's crazy. There is plenty of information available wide fear warning and channel construction away from danger, satellite imaginary tells us enough about specific likelihood of fire and flood to enable the reinsurance industry to enable the insurance industry to make prudent judgments. I know that in two states in the last three weeks specific insurance companies have said they are not going to underwrite for fire losses anymore they are just not going to do that. However, distortions by political pressures in states such as California in particular force insurers to participate in the funding of pools that in turn encourage unsafe pools of money that encourage unsafe construction. Now some states refuse to do that some states refuse to force insurers to join pools to underwrite building just anywhere. In those states the rates do reflect the fact as to personal safety and property safety. The insurers know zip code by zip code, mailbox by mailbox where and how severely people are at risks in fire prone states. Do you do you know that? Did you know how risky was the location in the last (indiscernible)? Did the insurance premium you paid tell you that? No, it didn't it did not, because state insurance commissioners see to it that it doesn't. Chances are that you didn't know. It isn't, because the industry refuses to let you know it's that very few people know where to get it and even more importantly that information which exists is on file and it's commercially accessible. Its not being used by or accessible to governmental bodies including planning boards. The first thing we really need to do here is just let people know the truth. Few families would put their lives and their positions in firetraps if they were fully informed. Most migrants to the fire prone west and now the fire prone south-east hear about recent droughts and they are not warned either about the accumulating consequences of fire load or the likely drying and heating effects of global climate change. Its time to reform a promiscuous process of the tax payer, mortgage interests subsidies and transportation subsidies and developer subsidies that don't require the truth and don't adjust practice to accommodate risks, they don't. We need a more economical and human recognition that some places are more dangerous than others. This isn't really a very complicated idea that just suggests that there be a national flame zone atlas that tells us place by place where it's safe and where it isn't. In California that information is quite hard to get, because in California you can essentially self nominate community by community as to whether or not you want to be designated as dangerous or not. Big sign, we are dangerous here, not bloody likely as - as said in many - Shakespeare play or at least an (indiscernible). The very existence of a national flame zone atlas would drive home two truths. First that wildfire is a fact of life and that the moral and political imperative of force is not just adapting to it, but reducing the number of people going uninformed into danger. Fire like flood teaches political lessons about taxpayer subsidies that encourage building in danger zones. We need to stop encouraging people to do that. We need to protect them when they get there, that's a moral imperative of course. But we better do that recognizing as some people in part service here, no. We better recognize it when we do that. We are putting other brave young people at risks doing the rescuing. Fire fighters died in South Canyon in Colorado during my tenure in the service. They died protecting a real-estate development. That's what was down in Canyon, a real-estate development. 14 people very costly. So we should protect where people are yes, in deed but we better recognize what we are doing when we do it. The second thing we need to do seems to me is to remember that we can learn something's from the past. We of course need a national fire core, that's not such an outrageous idea. We are now having one, it's called the U.S. Forest Service. Its backup is the U.S. Park Service, but limitedly they have other things to do which they don't do when they are busy fighting fires, that's who the national fire department is, you are looking out the window at the fire service and the park service who have other things to do for us. This is a fulltime professional job. Now, I wanted to stress at this juncture a couple of things. First, that there are three human induced processes that have made this problem far worse, each of which can be reversed. This is not the action of some set of malign gods or goddesses. This is us and here is what we have done. First of all we have occasion by our use of certain kinds of combustion to drive our engines, climate change which is drying and heating our habitat as a human species. That's what's happening, we are decertifying North America incrementally and we are going to make parts of it along the core along the shore very wet, very, very dangerous. Second, we have as a species in the last 90 years caused fire load to accumulate, because we are putting out, cleansing little fires and we permitted the fire load to accumulate, that's a human action. That's Smokey the bear may us please retire Smokey soon, because Smokey's messages put out the little ones that you could get out and let the fire load accumulate so the big ones come along that you can't put out until they kill somebody. That's the second. And the third about which I want to give the next 10 minutes, because it seems to be an unfamiliar story though its quite accessible and that is that the process whereby we are distributing our people in the tens of millions away from traditional cities into dangerous fringes where now half the population of the United States is neither living in the country or in the city, but in something in between, that process of dispersion of the tradition much safer places to live. Dumping and out in the places that are not safe, that process is also a deliberate artifact to policy. Now I want you to follow me with this if you will, because this is a story which to my astonishment is not widely known. I do stumble on to it, because I got a little indignant that peoples career has been ruined in the park service, because they were being used as scapegoats after fire problems. Why were - everybody in those places needing to be rescued? Why did we build a bomb factory in a firetrap - that's Los Alamos. Los Alamos is a bomb factory set deliberately in a firetrap. Why were we so extraordinarily unwilling to recognize the unnatural conditions and natural conditions? Well, here is why. I stumbled unto a footnote in a book called "Divided Highways" which referred in the footnote to an essay written in 1951 by E. Teller, M. Marshak and L.R. Cline in 1951. I that it was just there is a reference to the bulletin of the atomic scientists. So I called the current director there and she said, "Oh, I'm glad you found that, have you seen the 1947 essay by those guys?" And I have that's how I found the 1947 essay which was in the archive. And it said L.R. Cline and I thought to myself couldn't be oh, why not give it a whack? When I was the Chief Financial Officer of the Ford Foundation, we did some stuff with portfolio distributions that seems to make some rational sense and the guru for that was an economist and L.R. Cline who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1980. I thought to myself well, 1947 is a long way back. So I called the Wharton School where I knew that Mr. Cline had been and I said to the operator, "Is Professor Cline alive?" Its one of the questions that we octogenarians intend to ask and they said, "Sure, he is alive" and I said, "Would he take a phone call?" and they said, "Of course, he take a phone call", so I made a phone call and left my message left my number. About in the afternoon the phone rang - this is a true story - phone rang and the voice said, "Roger, this is Larry" and I thought my god, "Hello Professor Cline, I said, how very kind of you to call back." And he said - he chuckled and he said, "You have forgotten, haven't you?" And I said, "Yeah, I guess I have." And he said, "Let me remind you the basement of the Holiday Inn and Plains Georgia in 1976 you and I wrote Jimmy Carter's economic program." Well the truth is a little hoarser that I wrote down Jimmy Carter's the economic program - Larry Clint wrote it, he I helped it with an occasional notion along the edges, but it was his idea. And I said, did you by any chance - and this was in the year of our lord 2005 that this (indiscernible). "Did did you write an essay with Edward Teller and the great Marshak of the Chicago Cowles Commission in 1947?" And he said, expectedly, "Sure - sure" he said, "Let me tell you what happened." Teller walked in Marshak was the Head of the Department I was a graduate student. Teller talked about the necessity to disperse the major targets that the Soviets were going to go after, the big industrial cities where our industrial capacity was concentrated, where the ICBMs could reach them easily and that it was our patriotic obligation to find ways to disperse the traditional industrial cities. Marshak listened for the day and turned to Cline and said, "Okay Larry, I am persuaded, you do the numbers." That was the first essay. It was the first of 10 years of many, many essays and I am going to detail it for you a little bit what was in them like a rattle through this rapidly, because story is pretty decent that I think. I was having a sort of lunch with an old friend Carl Kaysen, economist at MIT and not terribly long after, I told the story how delighted I was it I had found a Nobel Laureate and he chuckled and he said, "You think you are pretty hot stuff, don't you, you find yourself one Nobel Laureate dispersing the cities." And he said let me give you two more and me. He said Jim Tobin and Paul Samuelson and I were also members of the same group, we were in Project Charles. Cline and company were in Project East River, but they were about at least between 200 and 250 first-rate economists, some demographers, mostly academic economists whose job it was to help our country find ways to disperse the targets during the Cold War which could be most very easily hit by the Soviets and they developed an extremely elaborate process which is detailed in Wildfire Americans. I have laid out for you the essays written and the consequences of now declassified hearings before the congress. But the essential methods were lying across highways that did not just go from city to city but through cities through cities. The highway program which General Eisenhower himself did not support that is the through city the blitzing through highway construction of Kansas City, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and many, many other cities that you could think of the blitzing of them by highway systems was a deliberate act of dispersion. Eisenhower declared when his Highway Commission headed by Lucius Clay met and reported on him finally as to what had been done that this was not his program, his program was an auto bond like system which would go from city to city meeting ring roads and proceed not through. The second component aside from highway program is that would act in the terms used by the dispersers were they would create fire breaks that the memory of fire in Dresden and Coventry was very, very strong to say nothing of the loses in the Japanese cities which were not necessarily so much from the nuclear blast, but fire thereafter. The lesson was a very powerful lesson and this was done for completely patriotic reasons, but the other devices which have continued to this day were where more hit insurance would be available. Have you ever tried to rehabilitate a thoroughly urban neighborhood and try to get Fanny Mae or Ginny Mae or any of the other federal insurers to help you? Don't, because they won't, its very, very tough. The financing occurs so to speak out of town and it occurs generally speaking in identical units, (indiscernible) where the administrators do not have to go visit each property, because each property looks like every other property. It's highly efficient. Mortgage insurance has been used as an urban dispersal device under recommendation from the best economist in the nation, same thing for highways through cities. The other term which one can barely bear to summon after 50 years of experience is slum clearance remember slum clearance. Slum clearance means generally speaking traditional minority neighborhoods with long continuities, but many ethnic neighborhoods are slum clearance too, because you take out the core. Chicago has half the population that didn't (indiscernible), Cincinnati has about a third less, Cleveland is down to about half its maximum population, so highly successful program. Developers direct subsidies recommended in great detail over a course of 10 years of essays by this set of people for very good patriotic reasons. Defense plant location explicitly stated not to go to reinforce the old industrial town. Then of course we built the plant cities. We built Oak Ridge in Hanford in Los Alamos. Now, we did all these for extremely significant patriotic necessary reasons. It was extremely successful. The difficulty at the moment of course because that's not how we deliver in the modern world, the most dangerous of explosive devices we don't deliver them by ICBMs. We could deliver them in other ways as everybody now knows. Now, the process however, was of course picked up by people who did not have purely patriotic incentive reasons to do so and awful lot of money was made by on the highway program by steel companies, asphalt companies, cement companies, car companies, fast-food companies, lots of people. Nothing wrong with this and its not unpatriotic, it was simple recognition of opportunity. But the opportunity was recognized very early on and the support for the dispersion strategy was a composite support. I comment to you a little detail really really here. What I want to stress here is that there was no biology in this at all and there was no urban sociology in it. There was no respect for traditional communities and continuities. This was the end this is a radical program, if you don't mind my using sort of 19th century terms like conservative as they were used in my youth which meant a respect for continuities, for the things that were tested, for ways of living together respectfully, that's what conservative is to me. Now there was no respect in this program for those conservative values of continues community easier in the disrupted cities which of course as you know essentially died at the core. Tax based diminished, people could effort it, moved out accommodative by a very complicated and effective financing system. But neither was the respect and here it feels I think perhaps a little more poignantly in the west than in the east. Neither was the respect for traditional villages and towns and the ways in which people leave together in them. We simply set up conveyor belts that moved people out before they had traditionally lived into places where other people had traditionally lived and we did extremely successfully. But once again, we are talking here about fire and flood so let's not talk about people anymore, except to that's people who suffer. There is no biology in this at all. Nobody is saying this is what the continent will take, this is what nature will accept, this is there is nothing in this that says if we produce mortgage programs and highway programs and develop assistance programs that encourage just as easily in fact much more easily building on the flanks of mountains or on the shore of the Gulf or an islands along the Gulf or in low-lying places in the center of the country it will be an affliction to the natural processes of those places. None of those economists were asked to nor did they pay attention to that. So we got no history, we have no and we have no sociology and we got no biology aside from that terrific program. That's what we are living with. When I asked Marshak - I am sorry, when I asked Cline what Teller had in mind. He said, well, let me tell you. Teller said to us do you know what you look like? I had dinner last night at an Italian restaurant where they had a tablecloth check tablecloth - blue and white check tablecloth, he said, its going to look like that have you looked from the air at Los Angeles lately? Have you looked at Kansas City or Minneapolis or St. Paul? Do you got Teller's check tablecloth - no, it isn't because it was Teller check tablecloth it's just - that's the way, it is come to look. We have what you - I call "Corridopolis." We have corridors with things built along them and they met and for a while at the intersections there is a development until it has doubled declining digit digits or rapid appreciation and then we build another one. Now, this all sounds fairly gloomy. I don't want it to sound gloomy, I simply want it to sound the way that the bell sounds when it's true, because this is the story of of the greatest generation my greatest generation. We saw to it that we got fire load accumulation, we did fire suppressions, we got enormous fires because of our behavior, we saw to it that our use of the internal combustion engine, we produce global climate change, that's another great achievement of our generation. It has been going on little longer, but our greatest generation didn't do badly with that and thirdly, we dispersed the American traditional American city disrupted the traditional American village and we got no place in between which is where most Americans now live. Now, is this a natural process? Maybe. But let me ask you we don't have time to examine if it is whether it's a natural American propensity or not. But let me just ask you to carry with you a couple of questions to carry in your own head. Is this what Brigham Young had in mind for Mormons? Do you know anything about what Brighamite or Mormon town planning? Because if you do this is not this is not Mormon town planning. That's about a coherent community that builds around the temple, of course. But that's not terribly distant from the traditional New England village. It is that about this the great pattern about the black and white check? No its not. It's about a town center with a church maybe maybe a bank in the Midwest. But it's something that is a significant unifying factor, that's what the village is. That's not what this is. But there are plenty of villagers in this country. Is this what the Hispanic tradition is that is to say, altered dispersion, the answer of that is no, there is a apparently a propensity on the part of Mexican Hispanics, not to disperse this readily as Non-Hispanics into the boondocks where what used to be the boondocks and there is no longer the boondocks its not anything in particular. I am simply - want to suggest to you that if you reflect upon the distribution of American citizens between country and city in 1800 and the distribution of Americans between country and city in 2000, you will see that there is something of a tendency for Americans to go from country to city. Now, it reverses itself just a little bit from 1980 onward and my suggestion isn't that redistribution is not wholly natural - no. About five minutes more would you start the thing? Okay. I want you to be able to mix at up here a little bit. But I do want to suggest a couple of things if we need to have I think cooking on the fire as we move towards the discussion period here. We are not the first people to observe what happens when people move into dangerous places and are hurt there. We are not the first Americans to pay attention to that. The good people of Minnesota and Wisconsin created National forests and State forests after the great fires of the 1870s right up to 1910 after more people died in Great Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin in 1871 then died in Chicago in the great fire of that year in Chicago. We simply took out of a junk of Wisconsin we Wisconsin people are good chunk of the State and said no more home steading here and we are not going to supply services to these areas, they should not be inhabited they should be kept forests sustainable use for agriculture or at least for lumbering. We created a National Park System in those states in the northern portions of it the more readily because we had removed some places from settlement and cultivation. About six million acres of Texas and New Mexico are have been essentially out of cultivation since their first cultivation because of the dustbowl, because we recognize there was a dustbowl, because we recognize if there were places where cultivation it doesn't work. We have withdrawn and we will again with the new agriculture bill withdrawn more price supports and farm subsidies for products grown there because they are not safe. They are not safe for the land they are not safe for the people. If you ever seen a dust storm it looks like a firestorm, its pretty ugly and Ma and Pa Joad survived it, a lot of other people did not. The Grapes of Wrath are being sown again, but less so that will be the case that we now withdrawn. Let me just keep you throw you a few instances of how we can learn, because everything in the green mountains and the white mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire that we love so well and we think our wonderful natural areas are the result of some legislation passed in 1910 and '11 despite the speaker of the house of representative saying not $0.1 for scenery. Well $0.1 for the Weeks Act was a means by which previously burnt, eroded and overgrazed areas were withdrawn from settlement and cultivation deliberately in those states by joint Federal and State action. That's why there is a Green Mountain and a White Mountain National Forest. Those were places that were abused. The Weeks Act observed what happened to downstream woolen mills when they got gummed up by streams that were full of silt and the reason there were full of silt is because the cows and the sheep had followed the fires beaten up the land so that it eroded terribly and the rivers were no longer usable for downstream textile milling. That's why the Weeks Act was passed. But that's why we have old man at the mountain in New Hampshire smiling proudly these days and why the tourism works so well. Well, it has been our habit as a people to wait for terrible disaster to instruct us as to how we did change our behavior in Wisconsin and Minnesota to a lesser extent certainly in Michigan. Since the 1860s there has been constitutional provision for the withdrawal of places from cultivation and use that are unsafe. In the 1990s the (bioeroder) bloom on hour bill simply made made it unlikely that when you had had the Feds pay for your flood insurance that we built your place more than twice. The Feds will buy you out in interior flooding that that would have been a healthy thing to do on the Gulf Coast where 85 percent of Federal reinsurance is used to pay for the rebuilding of places that have been paid for once or twice before by all of us pay for federal flood insurance. Some houses have been built so many times at their final that the final cost of the taxpayers exceeds by a multiple of 10 but their initial cost of construction was okay. No time here for repeated losses, I simply want to suggests that we are capable of learning and finally the president said some very, very distinguished managers public lands are here and for which I am grateful and I want to say this. One of the smartest things this is not what Wallace Stegner called the best idea America ever had that was the National Park System. But maybe it was what he had in mind. I don't think it is this part of it though. What the National Park System does is to create urban growth boundaries beyond which it is not going to be necessary to rescue people and where you can actually do a fairly decent job of managing the propensity to burn or flood so that so that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and all of its adjacent properties essentially at this places that you and I don't have to bail people out. The Everglades are the most effective urban growth boundary for the great sprawl of East Florida that could be imagined. They are much more effective than legislated urban growth boundaries in the State of Oregon. Or for that matter the heroic success of the Legislature and Governor of the State of Maryland in cutting off Magic Fund to highway construction in the places that are dangerous or will produce other ugly consequences. (Indiscernible) National Park is an urban growth boundary for the Megalopolis of the East of the Front Range. The Front Range is the perfect instance of danger that's attractive. Those counties that are the most burnable are the most rapidly acquiring a population except of course where they edge into National Park. Now, do we have National Parks because they are such wonderful urban growth boundaries, no, we don't. Might we? We might. I'm suggesting that there are many, many other places in which in fact we might apply the same principles which is to say enough already enough already. Let us apply some rationale humane management of the way we use our tax dollars to subsidize building through keeping interest rates down through reinsuring mortgages. Let's apply some rationale and humane policy as to where we use our tax dollars to match other dollars in constructing highways and feeder roads into firetraps at least let us withhold our dollars from places in which we know there will be no practices that protect neighbor from neighbor, neighbor from accumulating fire load where they shouldn't. I am ready to offer the the really radical suggestion which nobody likes, but we will get to I think within a generation and that is this. Once we have a national flame zone atlas which tells us where it's dangerous and where it isn't. In those if one chooses to build where its dangerous and where somebody else is going to have to come out and rescue you where somebody else is going to put their live on the line to rescue you, then at least the Treasury Department is not going to grant you any income tax deduction for the mortgage interests that you pay there. And there is a really radical notion try that on your elected representatives sometimes. But you might just lay against that suggestion little postcard which is made up of widow of a firefighter laying a wreath at the cross marking that firefighter's grave. Let's get real about disaster disaster is like the falls humans in dangerous places. Disaster is not a natural event, it's an unnatural consequence of stupid policy.