Another Perspective on Regulation

Sometimes, It Takes a Miracle

Another Perspective on Regulation

Do the recent storm-related floods make you think that you need to build something fast to cope with a changing climate? Noah did it once, a long time ago, but today he’d find it a lot tougher.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the Coast Guard, and the local planning and zoning board would all be obstacles. Even NOAA might be against Noah. And environmentalist activists are certain to object, to say nothing of PETA and the homeowner’s association.

In fact, the HOA might be first in line. HOAs typically have rules about building things in your driveway, especially structures more than a few cubits high. But forget the nosy neighbors and the small-time bureaucrats at the town hall. The plan is to build the ark of cedar. Environmentalists are going to want to know whether the cedar is sustainably sourced. Can the supply chain handle all that wood? And the forests that will be cut down for this project, are they home to endangered 𓅢 and 𓅱 (as Egyptian hieroglyphs suggest)? Noah says he’s been commanded to use tar to caulk the ark, inside and out, but how many harmful chemicals will leach into the floodwaters? With construction like that, Greenpeace might even drag out the Rainbow Warrior to try to ram the ship and stop the expedition.

Then there’s the matter of what and who are aboard the ship. Noah is 600 years old; is his pilot’s license still current? Along with him will be Mrs. Noah (no first name given) and three sons plus three daughters-in-law. Do they have travel documents? Will they have enough light and fresh air? Means of egress and safety boats?

And the animals! Some aren’t going for the whole trip. They will be offered as sacrifices to God. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals isn’t going to like that. To feed the rest, surely the crew will need to fish. But NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, will require permits.

For the animals that survive, where will they be released? If it’s distant from where the trip started, they will be invasive species in their new habitats. Their potential harm to the local habitat will have to be considered. At the very least, Noah will have to obtain export permits, which will only be granted after extended hearings.

Let’s say all this can be solved (which is most certainly could not be). Then, financing would become a problem. Without government loan guarantees, lenders will be reluctant to finance an asset that is designed to float away. (The more perspicacious of the lenders will also wonder if they’ll live to collect repayment.) And the receiving government might not want to accept climate refugees especially those purporting to follow any particular religion. If the journey was not doomed before, it would be by this point.

In short, Genesis describes Noah (somewhat ambiguously) as “a good man in his generation,” presumably meaning he followed the rules better than his neighbors did. But it doesn’t sound like he’d be able to follow his calling in our generation and claim the same.

Fortunately, we have been able to coast along on the infrastructure that was built when rules were somewhat less restrictive. Nobody bothered with hearings and environmental impact statements when the railroads knit the continent together 150 years ago. A construction program on the scale of the interstate highway system is unthinkable today. Ditto the power grid, undersized though it may be for our electrification and decarbonization goals, is an artifact of the era when power companies used to build transmission lines as needed; today they commonly take many years to get approval.

Those projects met imperatives that were recognized in their time as national priorities. We do not today have any sense of balancing regulatory procedures with broader environmental or social needs.

In short, if Noah could pull off this ark project today, it would be a miracle.