Toops Scoops: The Elephant in the Room Now Has a Name -- Sandy

Before we can try to mitigate climate change, we have to see the elephant in the room.

In the movie "Ghostbusters," when New York City was threatened with paranormal destruction, Bill Murray's character tries to explain the gravity of the situation by saying things will become so extreme that there will be "dogs and cats living together...mass hysteria."

In the wake of Sandy, New York City and its environs have already seen the human equivalent of this prediction, with the disaster making very strange bedfellows of Barack Obama, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

But we need a lot more than political posturing to solve the problem of "100-year storms" that are now coming along every year or so.

Yes, it's the big, wet (or dry, hot or cold) elephant in the room: climate change.

Back in September, Ceres released a study examining how extreme weather events are affecting the property-casualty business. The main takeaway is that the type of extreme weather the U.S. has experienced in recent years--racking up $44 billion in insured losses in 2011 alone--is having a devastating impact on the property-casualty industry and, in turn, the economy as a whole.

Ceres isn't alone in its findings. An October study by Munich Re found that North America is especially vulnerable to extreme weather events: weather-related insured losses from 1980 to 2011 totaled more than $510 billion and around 30,000 deaths. Over the past 30 years, weather-related loss events in North America nearly quintupled, compared with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America.

In the U.S., no region is safe. Tornoados in the Midwest, wildfires in Texas, mudslides in California and a widespread drought over much of the country preceded Superstorm Sandy, and who knows what's waiting in the wings?

And while you can certainly argue ad nauseum about whether climate change is natural or man-made, that distinction is probably lost on the people still without power in lower Manhattan.

However, the Munich Re study found that "anthropogenic [that is, human impact] climate change is believed to contribute to this trend...The view that weather extremes are becoming more frequent and intense in various regions due to global warming is in keeping with current scientific findings, as set out in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as well as in the special report on weather extremes and disasters (SREX)."

Keep in mind that this is Munich Re talking, folks, not Greenpeace.

The Ceres report maintains that because it has so much at stake, the insurance industry can be a leader "in helping governments and private markets to further understand and develop solutions to better predict and prevent losses from extreme weather events."

This includes:

• Pricing risk exposure of exposed property in the context of emerging extreme weather patterns.

• Undertaking research on regional forecasting of catastrophe patterns.

• Developing reliable forecasts for non-modeled events like thunderstorms and wildfires.

• Informing land use and infrastructure design to assure the insurability of highly-exposed markets.

• Promoting reduction of carbon emission to soften its future blow to the climate.

Of course, to do this, you'd have to first acknowledge that there's an elephant in the room.

And maybe giving it a name -- Sandy -- will make it easier to spot.

 

About the Author
Laura Mazzuca Toops, PropertyCasualty360.com

Laura Mazzuca Toops, PropertyCasualty360.com

Laura Mazzuca Toops, National Underwriter Property & Casualty executive managing editor, is responsible for the Agent & Broker channel for PropertyCasualty360.com. Her more than 20 years of property & casualty insurance experience includes associate editor at Business Insurance, Midwest managing editor with Insurance Journal, and freelance work for insurers, brokers and trade associations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Columbia College Chicago. She may be reached at ltoops@SummitProNets.com

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