The Climate Change Peril That Insurers See
By John Morrison and Alex Sink Thursday, September 27, 2007; A25
Montana is burning again. This summer, some of the nation's worst wildfires incinerated homes, barns and fences, killing livestock and forcing families to evacuate. Wildfires have increased fourfold since the 1980s, and they are bigger and harder to contain because of earlier-arriving springs and hotter, bone-dry summers. Last year's fires broke records; this year could be worse. As courageous firefighters beat back the flames, insurance companies continue to pay out billions for wildfire losses across the West.
Meanwhile, Florida is bracing for the duration of the hurricane season even as rebuilding continues from the eight hurricanes that crisscrossed the Sunshine State in 2004 and 2005. Storms grow ever more intense: Since the 1970s, the number intensifying to Category 4 or 5 hurricanes has almost doubled, costing insurers tens of billions of dollars.
Montana and Florida are not the only states suffering huge insurance losses from natural disasters. Increasingly destructive weather -- including heat waves, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, hailstorms and drought -- accounted for 88 percent of all property losses paid by insurers from 1980 through 2005. Seven of the 10 most expensive catastrophes for the U.S. property and casualty industry happened between 2001 and 2005.
The votes are beginning to come in now and they confirm my earlier forecast; the structural changes necessary to confront and alleviate global warming will not come from politicians, scientists, eager environmentalists or the evidence at hand.
They will come from whatever industries that have the most at risk financially. Insurance is surely the biggest of those, although the energy giants themselves are deeply in the game.
Humans will mourn the loss of the polar bear, no doubt, and remember with nostalgia the days when they used to ski the mountains of the American west. But they'll respond with big-time political pressure when they are no longer able to insure their property and suffer huge uninsured losses.
A home is the largest investment for the vast majority of Americans, an automobile second. Some are already being priced out of the insurance market--just ask those trying to rebuild from Katrina.
We will not tolerate a loss of insurability, as easily as the passing of the polar bear or dreams of Bing Crosby's 'White Christmas.'