Insurance Co. Warns on Global Warming
March 3, 2004 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Yet another extremist environmental group blows hot air on "global warming" (PDF).
posted by fold_and_mutilate (37 comments total)
In a report revealing how climate change is rising on the corporate agenda, Swiss Re said the economic costs of such disasters threatened to double to $150 billion (82 billion pounds) a year in 10 years, hitting insurers with $30-40 billion in claims, or the equivalent of one World Trade Centre attack annually.

"There is a danger that human intervention will accelerate and intensify natural climate changes to such a point that it will become impossible to adapt our socio-economic systems in time," Swiss Re said in the report.

"The human race can lead itself into this climatic catastrophe -- or it can avert it."

The report comes as a growing number of policy experts warn that the environment is emerging as the security threat of the 21st century, eclipsing terrorism.

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 3:54 PM on March 3, 2004

You do like that ~wink~ thing whenever you make a point or a post and I think like, and I'm just guessing here, that it makes a lot of people like want to e-punch you in the e-nose.

But otherwise, yes, this global warming thing is probably no sort of picnic at all.
posted by xmutex at 4:02 PM on March 3, 2004

It's the End Times and there's nothing we can do about it.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:02 PM on March 3, 2004

Is it just me, or does this sound like just another insurance company finding a way to say, "It's was your fault, so now we don't have to pay you."

Not to dispute the core problem (fucking up the envioroment = bad,) foldy, but this ain't the best source. Although the PDF was interesting in weird, "I can imagine 300,000 people dying in a natural disaster" sorta way
posted by Cyrano at 4:23 PM on March 3, 2004

Although the PDF was interesting in a weird, "I can't imagine 300,000 people dying in a natural disaster" sorta way.

posted by Cyrano at 4:24 PM on March 3, 2004

Slightly off-topic,

I've been going to the website World Changing for the past couple of weeks and I've been absolutely stunned by the quality of commentary and issues that arise there. Their assessment of the leaked Pentagon report "Responding to Imminent Climate Dangers" is a must read, as well as "WorldChanging Scenarios", a explanation for why and how such scenarios help us plan for the future.
posted by velacroix at 4:25 PM on March 3, 2004

Hey, I'm a fatass beer drinkin' smoker whose colon is probably well clogged with all the dolphin, wolf, spotted owl and baby harp seal meat that I devour, and I'd love to go a round or three with foldy in the ring (e-punch, p-KOW!! ~wink~), but you gotta' admit, the boy has a point here.

If we're not willing to admit that climatic change is man-made, perhaps we could at least plan for the financial impact of what mother nature is fixin' to send up our butts.
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:27 PM on March 3, 2004

Isn't the situation more: "Global warming is coming about, and we can't stop it. We know some of the things that influence it, but far too little about the system to tweak it. Some people will experience bad things, and some people will profit from it. A lot of people will just adapt to it."

The best thing to do is to project what changes are coming about and take steps to alleviate them. This isn't fatalism, it's being practical.
posted by kablam at 4:30 PM on March 3, 2004

mmmmmmm........ baby harp seal meat.... </homer>
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 4:32 PM on March 3, 2004

I can't guarantee it's validity (even slightly), but this solar energy proposal almost made me shit the bed. It espouses that the entire U.S. could be run off an energy grid 2918 square miles, or 54x54 miles. It would be the size of this black dot in west Texas:

posted by velacroix at 5:09 PM on March 3, 2004

But you just know, even if it could work (and do the rest of you really want to inflate Texan's egos that much?) there'd be some damn species of endangered lizard living out there and people would bitch about it.

And, velacroix, I can't see it from the link, but do the calculations take into effect vehicles? Because, I think most Americans would be behind something like this if they could still drive their SUV's.

(It would also be interesting to see the effects on world politics RE: the Middle East.)
posted by Cyrano at 5:29 PM on March 3, 2004

"I can't imagine 300,000 people dying in a natural disaster" sorta way."

Some one could, Flood -1,000,000, 1939, Henan, China
posted by Elim at 5:35 PM on March 3, 2004

I get the feeling that, even tho' s/he wouldn't stoop to violence, f&m could quite easily take out most MeFites. Watch yer step weenies...
posted by i_cola at 5:54 PM on March 3, 2004


As of 2003, the total power consumption in the U.S. in 2003 was 3.39 Terawatts. That figure includes everything - planes, trains, vehicles, houses, factories, and industry.

The plan is meant to cover all the energy usage in the U.S.
posted by velacroix at 5:57 PM on March 3, 2004

". . . species of endangered lizard living out there and people would bitch about it."

Maybe, but people usually bitch when about stuff like that for proposals/projects that damage the environment, not help to save it. I think the majority of people, environmentalist or not, would throw their weight behind something like this. Politically it just needs support and a pitch (like saving us from terrorism by no longer funding it!)
posted by velacroix at 6:01 PM on March 3, 2004

Foldy's a "he." I know because we have the same first name.

But let's not make this another thread about him, shall we? I agree with 95% of his views but can't stand 99% of the ways he presents them. But this can be an interesting enough topic on it's own without starting in with the ad hominem derails.
posted by Cyrano at 6:03 PM on March 3, 2004

50 sq-miles of solar cells means each state gets 1 sq-mile. Of course not all states are equal so some states get even less so Delaware might get 1/8th of a sq mile. Of course, I can not believe that is true somthing seems very wrong with this analysis.
posted by stbalbach at 6:06 PM on March 3, 2004

velacroix, oops. My bad.

But there'd still be a substantial cost to convert all the fossil fuel burning vehicles (we've all heard about electric cars...but how about electric 747's?)
posted by Cyrano at 6:07 PM on March 3, 2004

There's a response (2.18) on that blog to some of the questions the proposal received after being posted. Here's the response to electric airplanes:

Not necessary. Large power requirements like airplanes would run on hydrogen, which would come either from traditional electrolysis using this global solar infrastructure, or perhaps using altogether more efficient means of hydrogen extraction.

Also, fossil fuels could be phased out in certain areas where technology has yet to catch up. Regardless I think the consensus here is that we need to something and now before we're up to our ears in ocean, frozen or thawed.
posted by velacroix at 6:20 PM on March 3, 2004

just another insurance company [...] this ain't the best source

I'd argue that until people like insurers, investors, and their ilk start to 'get it' there's no chance whatsoever of meaningful change in the road we're on. I don't care if someone wants to stop global warming to protect their investments rather than for moral reasons - I just want them to get on board.
posted by freebird at 6:29 PM on March 3, 2004

50 sq-miles of solar cells means each state gets 1 sq-mile

Not 50 square miles, 50 miles square = 2500 square miles.

Every state gets a strip 1 mile wide and 50 long.

(assuming it's correct. and neglecting the energy you'd need to make 2500 square miles of photovoltaic collectors. but west texas is a landscape that deserves to be paved with something. though you'd need the occasional hole in the photovoltaics to allow wind-turbines to poke through.)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:35 PM on March 3, 2004

Heres the thing about weather, its heat driven. The average global temperature has been increasing. This causes more energy in the closed system. The energy has to go some where. Its really that simple. Strong storms get stronger, weather phenomena get more acute. This isnt a hard concept.
posted by MrLint at 6:45 PM on March 3, 2004

posted by angry modem at 6:49 PM on March 3, 2004

stop farting! you're killing us, angry!

Maybe this SwissRe thing will start to make businesses do something? Will they stop insuring businesses that contribute to global warming? (which is what they should do--or raise those company's rates or something)
posted by amberglow at 7:03 PM on March 3, 2004

The story was actually somewhat interesting, but foldy, please develop another tic. ~wink~ is getting old. How about ~twitch~ or ~nod~ or ~seizure~. Just for a change of pace to brighten up this sad sack's day, hah?

posted by jonmc at 7:25 PM on March 3, 2004

Extreme weather of climate change gives insurers a costly headache : "...Economic losses in Europe because of the summer drought exceeded £7bn in the agriculture sector alone because of loss of crops and livestock, the insurance industry announced at the climate talks in Milan.

Premiums are having to be increased across Europe to cope with the number and frequency of extreme weather events, and some parts were becoming uninsurable because of repeated flooding.

Thomas Loster, of Munich Re, one of the world's largest reinsurance companies, said householders in lower risk areas might soon be faced with having to pay a €500 (£350) excess to get insurance for extreme weather events.

"We used to talk in terms of floods and heatwaves being one in 100 year events, but in the south of France this year we have had a one in 100 year heatwave, and last month one in 100 year floods - all in the same year. This is climate change happening now and a big headache for the insurance industry."

Mr Loster, a geographer and expert in weather-related losses, said this year's German heatwave, where record temperatures were reached over several days, was a one in 450 year event, according to modern measuring methods. Climate scientists had told him that it had probably not happened in the past 10,000 years, since the last ice age.

"Everywhere records are being broken. In Dresden the highest rainfall recorded in one day had been 47mm (just under 2in), and then in one day - August 12 2002 - there was 158mm (6in), more than three times as much. Naturally, the drains could not cope. This is unprecedented." "

posted by troutfishing at 7:56 PM on March 3, 2004

"NO SERIOUS THREAT FROM CLIMATE CHANGE, INSURANCE EXPERT SAYS." (H. Mollin, "Will global warming cool off weather underwriting," Risk Management, p. 28-35, March 1993).

"Writing in the journal Risk Management, Harold Mollin, President of Customized Worldwide Weather Insurance Agency, observes that "....risk managers and their companies do not currently face a serious and looming threat from global warming."

Ho ho ho.
posted by troutfishing at 8:01 PM on March 3, 2004


Writing in the journal Risk Management, Harold Mollin, President of Customized Worldwide Weather Insurance Agency, observes that

"the weather underwriting industry does not boast of having any great prognosticators or world-renowned scientists in its ranks. Instead, the industry carefully examines weather patterns in five-, 10- and 20-year increments. Through these analyses, many in the weather underwriting industry believe that there is insufficient data in regard to global warming to warrant altering current underwriting policies. In light of this situation, it seems that risk managers and their companies do not currently face a serious and looming threat from global warming."

(H. Mollin, "Will global warming cool off weather underwriting," Risk Management, p. 28-35, March 1993).


"Reality check from Swiss Re and UNEP "The increasing frequency of severe climatic events...has the potential to stress insurers, reinsurers and banks to the point of impaired viability or even insolvency." " - Metafilter, October 9, 2002
posted by troutfishing at 8:09 PM on March 3, 2004

There is an old town Ellicott City Maryland it is in a valley and sometimes floods and the 19th C merchants who built factories along the riverbanks got flooded so many times they eventually stopped building and to this day the old stone walls still stand as corpses along the riverbank in mute testimony to the power of weather to drive man away. History is a window into the future we should expect more areas to turn into desolate temporary outposts of habitation but man will adapt to the changing conditions so long as they are not too sudden.
posted by stbalbach at 9:07 PM on March 3, 2004

stbalbach - I agree. Humans are in some ways akin to cockroaches or rats. We tend to forget our short generational intervals. But they are a strength.

Even if we have to adapt to sudden climate shifts of the extreme sort - like the Younger Dryas shifts - I am not especially worried about our species' survival. But I'd be sad to see the edifice of our culture wiped out.
posted by troutfishing at 9:41 PM on March 3, 2004

Is it just me, or does this sound like just another insurance company finding a way to say, "It's was your fault, so now we don't have to pay you."

No, no, they are trying to warn people. They have their own self interest at heart, but they also can no longer operate on a hundred year extreme event risk rating. It's going to get to the stage where people who live in high risk areas will be un-insurable, and governments will not be able to afford to be insurer of last resort.

All of the small insurance companies are disappearing and eventually the efficiency gains that the large companies have had in recent years will no longer be enough to buffer the consumer against massive increases in premiums and re-insurance costs.

The dollar value of property damage claims is heading in the same direction as personal injury and medical negligence claims - upward, ever upward.
posted by lucien at 1:15 AM on March 4, 2004

That proposal about converting vast sections of Texas is a really cool idea. Some quick Googling reveals that it takes 100 square feet of solar panels to generate 1,600 kWh a year. To generate the United States needs of 3.8 trillion kWh would require... ah... carry the 1... 8500 square miles of solar panels, meaning almost 90 square miles on each side. Presuming 20% efficiency you would get to the 50, so the proposal is not totally off (although it costs about 7 cents per kWh of solar, so the entire proposal would cost about 300 billion dollars. Presumably you would get economies of scale.) Huh.
posted by brool at 1:41 AM on March 4, 2004

So how much has the US spent so far in the invasion and occupation of Iraq? 150 billion? More?

Further, a certain percentage of energy efficiency retrofits and improvements are competitive with the cheapest cost energy sources - at around 3 to 4 cents per kWh.

Wind power by way of electricity generating turbines is already nudging the kWh cost of coal.

Further - solar aside - we could probably generate the needed 3.8 trillion kWh with lower tech solutions than solar cells. For example, "solar chimneys" (discussed on Metafilter) which power turbines that both generate electricity and also used that electricity to generate hydrogen through electrolysis. The hydrogen can then be used to power the existing American transportation fleet with simple, cheap modifications costing less than $1,000 per car.

So - this scheme requires mainly 1) glass, 2) metal for the solar chimney frames, 3) Turbines, 4) seawater. : that's dirt cheap, though I'm not really sure how to do a kWh price calculation for the project.

Further, stbalbach's link to the wind/wave motion electricity generators of Ocean Wave Technologies demonstrates another cheap, effective, benign energy technology.

The short of this is that there already exists a good range of proven energy technologies which could be deployed to wean the US from it's oil habit - if only US politicians would choose to care about this enough to raise the issue in a national discussion before we get crunched in a looming energy crisis as world oil production peaks.

There's still plenty of time for the US political culture to pull it's head out of it's collective ass and address this. And why not? Whatever happened to the US as the shining beacon of inventive, "can-do" attitude self reliance to the world? The inevitable transition to a post petroleum future needn't be costly ot traumatic - and it would be prudent to begin that transition today.

Too bad that the White House is high from huffing petroleum fumes. Sooner or later, even these paleolithic fossil fuel industry connected American politicians will be dragged kicking and screaming into the future - but they seem intent on making all Americans suffer needlessly from their pigheadedness.

Let's hope the American people decided to send this selfish gang packing, so the tens of billions of direct and indirect federal subsidies given each year (not to mention the cost of US operations in Iraq) to the oil, coal, and nuclear industries can be redirected to renewable energy sources. The Bush Administration clearly believes in energy socialism for the giant financial interests industries behind oil, coal, and nuclear power - meanwhile, it sanctimoniously preaches tough love for new energy technologies.

So we have to ask - do we want to play the Bush Administration's losing game, or do we want to grow up, prepare for the obvious, and invest in the future?
posted by troutfishing at 4:51 AM on March 4, 2004

* steps down from soapbox pulpit atop a used washing machine *
posted by troutfishing at 5:35 AM on March 4, 2004

I'm wondering about the solarbuzz figure of 5.5 hours of sunlight for "suinny locations" like Los Angeles; is that assuming that the cells remain stationary? If there were a simple, low-energy way of tilting the cells so that they would not fall in shadow in the course of the day, that sunlight figure, and thus the solar array's power output/surface area ratio, would increase greatly. I'm thinking of a nice, slow, constant movement that would oscillate once every solar day. Maybe something involving pulleys and pendulums. The key is not to involve motors or anything that would increase power demands. Is this possible?

On preview: that solar chimney idea sounds even better, if we're talking large-scale. Of course, solar cells don't all have to be in one place, and distributed energy generation is more secure than concentrating generation in a few point sources. So both could be useful, and other technologies have something to contribute as well.
posted by skoosh at 5:59 AM on March 4, 2004

troutfishing: there really isn't much of a conspiracy to keep good tech off the market, at least as far as energy goes. The biggest obstacle is not conservatism, but a combination of cost efficiency, government interference and the big one: "And then what happens?"

Cost efficiency is the obvious one: petro gives $2/KW, say, and solar has dropped to $3.5/KW--you go for petro if you can. If petro goes up or solar goes down, you increase the *region* where solar is cost-effective. (No size fits all, and flexibility also factors in. "How fast/cheaply can we switch over, or switch back? Can we use both?")

Government interference is frustrating: they actually care more about their little kingdom and taxes than energy efficiency. That is, a centralized private-public partnership of energy production is something that can be *controlled* by government. They like this far more than something which is decentralized and *uncontrolled*.

It's also far easier to tax. If taxes were eliminated on petro, *everything* would run on petro. It would be down to around $1/KW! Nothing could compete. Government is two-faced about this, saying they are "helping alternative energy" by keeping prices artificially high. In truth, they want the money.

But this is what was: petro can no longer keep up, so the dynamic changes. Either use petro more efficiently, or add other energy sources for *marginal* (peak) need, to pick up the slack.

"But then what happens?"

Every other tech has some problems, problems including rapid development: who wants to invest in something that is rapidly improving? In a year, your investment could be worthless, because someone has invented a better mousetrap.

Petro is on the decline, but *only* for the first world's *marginal* (increased) future needs. The rest of the world will be totally reliant on it, until the value of petro to the first world has declined, for lots of reasons, to the point where they can reduce imports. Only *years* after that will they begin to export alternative generation.

So the petro problem isn't solved, it's only shifted to other countries.

Lots of "ins and outs" to this, isn't there? I'm sure I missed a bunch.
posted by kablam at 9:56 AM on March 4, 2004

kablam - conspiracy? I didn't say anything about such a thing - I think the Bush Administration has been open enough about it's loyalties to the old-line energy industries.

I generally agree with your other points, but I would note this : in the realm of the "public good" - roads, say, and safety (police) as well as defense and so on - as far as you want to extend it - there is extensive government underwriting if not direct control. Government can collect and direct capital investment in ways which the Free Market can not ( or will not for the reasons you cited) .

US government spending kick started the computer revolution, the Internet, and so on. Where would the US economy, all of it's problems notwithstanding, be had not these revolutions taken place? They are were a mixed blessing sure, but on the balance these were very likely beneficial.

Energy supplies are a public good. They are indispensable for the economy and even basic life-support systems - food production, heating, and so on. Historically the federal government has not been especially generous in funding the development of alternative energy technologies, BUT.......

The Federal government has long subsidized oil, coal, and nuclear power (currently somewhere between 10 and 20 billion dollars a year in direct subsidies - and far more in indirect subsidies, depending on how one defines these) :

These sums - if redirected towards subsidizing alternative energy technologies - would likely tip the balance and quickly lead to an energy production revolution which would have dramatic benefits for the US economy - by cutting the US balance of payments deficit with the rest of the world. US demand on world oil production would decline and that money otherwise spent on oil would stay in the US and be invested in the US economy.

Still, simply cutting those regressive subsidies to - oil, coal, and nuclear power - and so leveling the playing competitive field would be a dramatically positive start.
posted by troutfishing at 10:47 AM on March 4, 2004

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