The 2018 NFIP catastrophe bond as a bridge between social constructivist and historical materialist critique of disaster risk finance, using critical physical geography

Authors: Troy Brundidge*, Northeastern Illinois University
Topics: Economic Geography, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Physical Geography
Keywords: critical physical geography, critical political economy, finance, catastrophe bond, NFIP, hazard geography, flood risk governance,
Session Type: Paper
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Between 1989 and 2003, the ten costliest hurricanes in the U.S totaled $120.7 billion. Yet, between 2004 and 2018, losses from the ten worst storms soared to $605 billion (NOAA National Hurricane Center 2018, adjusted for 2017 USD). Consequently, insurance companies, municipalities, and recently the federal government via the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) increasingly turn to private finance mechanisms to help cover severe losses. The catastrophe bond is one such mechanism; a product of risk modelling epistemology and investment logic. A handful of reputable risk modelling companies compete with one another for the clientship of large reinsurers, revealing a profitable market for scientific knowledge that is laden with subjectivity. Although the methods of finance and climate modelling practitioners alike are perceived as complex and inaccessible, this is an illusion-- if not a technology of governmentality (Foucault 1975; Behrant 2010)-- strategically perpetuated within the catastrophe risk institution. Yet, geographers often reproduce this illusion, and thus preclude meaningful investigation of that world (Christophers 2009). The 2018 NFIP catastrophe bond transaction involves the social production of risk narrative, the material ramifications of the built environment, and the politicization of floodplain homeowner values. Therefore, an opportunity exists for geographers to explicate catastrophe risk finance as an assemblage of actors and processes amidst power relations in “topological flow” (Donovan 2017), while lessons from critical physical geography in concert with critical political economy can illustrate links between risk governance, capital accumulation, and the potential formation of uneven material landscapes (Johnson 2014; Lave et al. 2016).

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