The pictures and videos coming out of New York and New Jersey are a vivid reminder that Mother Nature always bats last; human technology, civilization, and hubris crumbles in the face of her power. Reports are that 17 people are dead, and 7 million are without power on the U.S East Coast.
Arianna Huffington wrote: “Two presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, and now they are seeing the climate speak to them.”
Let’s hope the forecasts are wrong and the hurricane loses its punch, but after a summer of record drought, temperatures and destructive wildfires, Hurricane Sandy should be treated less like an anomaly and more like the new normal.
Whether or not the presidential candidates want to talk about it, climate change is driving severe weather to new extremes—with costly results. Last year, U.S. property/casualty insurers paid out more than $32 billion in losses after facing a string of pronounced droughts, wildfires, flooding and other climate-influenced weather events.
These losses hurt taxpayers too. As insurers adapt to the changing climate, they are cutting off coverage in riskier areas, leaving state governments, the federal government and the American public to pick up the slack. Since 1990, total government exposure to losses in hurricane-ravaged states has grown more than 15-fold, up to $885 billion in 2011.
Many insurers have pulled out of Florida and the Gulf Coast, but they can’t entirely escape extreme weather. Now big storms and other extreme weather are hitting northern New England, the Midwest and other supposedly safer regions. For example, some of the biggest damages caused by Hurricane Irene last year were in Vermont and New Hampshire – states accustomed to snow, not hurricanes.
Of course hurricanes are only part of the problem. In other parts of the country, the biggest losses have come from devastating drought and wildfires. This summer’s drought resulted in about $5 billion of losses for private insurers, but – through the federal crop insurance program – the government and American taxpayers will pay far more.
This shift of exposure from private insurers to governments and taxpayers is a troubling trend, and it’s all the more reason why the insurance industry, policymakers and the winner of the presidential race need to come together in tackling the enormous threat from escalating extreme weather and climate-driven risks.
For more discussion on what the cost of climate silence, and inaction is, go to National Journal’s Energy Experts page. Except for the right-wing ideologue from the George C. Marshall Institute, all of the columns on that page are worth a read.
If you want more food for thought, or ideas for action, here’s Paul Gilding discussing The Great Disruption that is coming upon us. You can also go to my Action not Apathy page for inspiration.