The Republican debate this past week was especially enlightening, showcasing, in several instances, the current state of the idiocracy. Take Rick Perry’s comments on climate change. Any trained debater will tell you that his worst stumble of the night was on that subject. Perry has previously stated that the science of climate change is not settled. Inevitably, when challenged by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and the moderator about how he came to that conclusion, Perry was adrift. He could name no scientist he had read, much less provide evidence to lend support to his position. He just repeated that we still “need to find out what the science is” and “the fact of the matter is that the science is not settled.”
It’s not unusual for politicians to dissemble about risk, often because voters don’t like to get bad news.
But whatever the hoi polloi think about climate change, the free market has already spoken on the business of climate change. And it’s in direct conflict with the naysayers.
The insurance industry, in contrast to many politicians, makes its money by giving it to you straight. How long you’re liable to live, what price you’ll get for your home and even whether you should repair and keep your car a bit longer—or get rid of it.
As a recent article in Businessweek has indicated, the insurance industry has already factored climate change into its models for measuring, pricing and distributing risk. The writer is cautious in his explanation. It’s not possible to say for certain that any single weather event is caused by carbon emissions, which leads to more rainfall, floods and snowfall over parts of the planet. But last year was the hottest on record and Arctic ice is at record low levels.
Swiss Re, the second largest reinsurer, is developing scenarios using probabilistic modeling to help government officials cope. It studied the effects of climate change in vulnerable areas such as Samoa, Mali, the Caribbean islands, and Miami. No matter which model it chose—current patterns continue, moderate changes, or extreme changes—Swiss Re concludes it’s cheaper to adapt now rather than wait. It recommends building codes that require more water- and wind-proofing; zoning laws that prevent planting trees close to buildings and power lines; redesigned beaches that absorb storm surges; and restoration of wetlands.
Damages from Hurricane Irene are estimated by insurers at between $5 and $7 billion in claims. That hurricane traveled farther north than hurricanes usually do, dropping extraordinary amounts of rain. At the same time, the tube is showing damages from fires caused by drought, high temperatures and Dust Bowl conditions. And Houston hit an all time high of 109F on the same day that Irene was roaring up the Seaboard.
It continues to astound me how much the public is anti-science and willing to swallow whatever pseudo-science comes from political opportunists. That rhetoric, as I’ve written in the past, contains some of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard. But as the Businessweek article concludes, though politicians have enjoyed enormous success calling scientists into question, the market is not proving to be such an easy target.