Climate Adaptation, but Only for the Rich

March 21, 2019


New Statesman:

In November, as wildfires ripped through California, Kim Kardashian hired a squad of private firefighters to protect her $50m estate in Calabasas. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Blackwater security guards defended the houses of the hyper rich against feared hordes of looters while their occupants were quietly helicoptered to safety.

Elsewhere, the hyper rich make plans to flee the planet altogether. From Elon Musk’s SpaceX programme to the would-be citizens of space-based micro nation Asgardia, venture capitalist space exploration is being packaged as humanity’s pioneering attempt to save itself from destruction.

These are not anomalies. Private insurance companies like AIG and Chubb have boasted about their increased provisions against the rapidly increasing numbers of natural disasters like wildfires. Others are scrambling to offset their exposure to the gathering effects of climate chaos. As the waters rise, the rich are readying their arks – quietly preparing themselves for climate chaos. If history teaches us anything, it’s that elites build their castles high above the filth.

A small handful of companies are responsible for the overwhelming majority of fossil fuel emissions. Their effects are visited worst upon the poor. Repeated studies have shown that the global poor – left without stockpiles, without armies of private firefighters – are the most exposed to the immediate effects of climate change. If capitalism’s accumulated wealth does not successfully trickle down, its climate miseries certainly do.


Insurers have warned that climate change could make cover for ordinary people unaffordable after the world’s largest reinsurance firm blamed global warming for $24bn (£18bn) of losses in the Californian wildfires.

Ernst Rauch, Munich Re’s chief climatologist, told the Guardian that the costs could soon be widely felt, with premium rises already under discussion with clients holding asset concentrations in vulnerable parts of the state.

“If the risk from wildfires, flooding, storms or hail is increasing then the only sustainable option we have is to adjust our risk prices accordingly. In the long run it might become a social issue,” he said after Munich Re published a report into climate change’s impact on wildfires. “Affordability is so critical [because] some people on low and average incomes in some regions will no longer be able to buy insurance.”

The lion’s share of California’s 20 worst forest blazes since the 1930s have occurred this millennium, in years characterised by abnormally high summer temperatures and “exceptional dryness” between May and October, according to a new analysis by Munich Re.

Wetter and more humid winters spurred new forest growth which became tinder dry in heatwave conditions that preceded the wildfires, the report’s authors said.

After comparing observational data spanning several decades with climate models, the report concluded that the wildfires, which killed 85 people, were “broadly consistent with climate change”.

Nicolas Jeanmart, the head of personal insurance, general insurance and macroeconomics at Insurance Europe, which speaks for 34 national insurance associations, said the knock-on effects from rising premiums could pose a threat to social order.

“The sector is concerned that continuing global increases in temperature could make it increasingly difficult to offer the affordable financial protection that people deserve, and that modern society requires to function properly,” he said.

Munich Re’s insurance cover in hurricane-prone regions such as Florida is already higher than in northern Europe, by an order of magnitude.

Premiums are also being adjusted in regions facing an increased threat from severe convective storms which hold an energy and severity primed by global warming. These include parts of Germany, Austria, France, south-west Italy and the US midwest.

Increases in the intensity and frequency of California’s wildfire season are predicted by climate models, and the Munich Re analysis combines monthly meteorological data with financial losses to graph the trend’s rise since 2001.

Munich Re has divested its large thermal coal holdings. However, it maintains some gas and oil investments.

New York Times:

Vast areas of the United States are at risk of flooding this spring, even as Nebraska and other Midwestern states are already reeling from record-breaking late-winter floods, federal scientists said on Thursday.

Nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states will have an elevated risk of some flooding from now until May, and 25 states could experience “major or moderate flooding,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The flooding this year could be worse than anything we’ve seen in recent years, even worse than the historic floods of 1993 and 2011,” said Mary C. Erickson, deputy director of the National Weather Service, in a conference call with reporters. The major flooding this month in Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and elsewhere is “a preview of what we expect throughout the rest of the spring,” she said.

Some 13 million people could be exposed to major flooding, making this a “potentially unprecedented” flood season, said Edward Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center.

The projections were part of NOAA’s annual “Spring Outlook,” though the language of the 2019 report carried greater urgency than usual. That is not surprising, since the basins of the Upper Mississippi and the Red River of the North have already been hit with rain and snow this spring of up to twice normal levels.

The agency’s scientists also predicted that the chemical runoff from the rains would cause above-average hypoxia conditions — “dead zones” of water with low oxygen caused by nutrient pollution that can kill fish and other marine life — in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay.

More rainfall in the Midwest is a predictable consequence of climate change, according to the most recent National Climate Assessment, which was produced last year by 13 federal agencies. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which comes down as precipitation.

The current flooding in the Missouri River basin and beyond has been caused in part by heavy rains, but has been further complicated by other factors, like frozen ground that kept water from being absorbed.

…heavier rainfall events are among the most common conditions associated with climate change. Humans have loaded so much planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that “the starting assumption has to be that climate change is affecting everything” to some extent, he said.

“The real question isn’t, ‘Is climate change playing a role?’” Dr. Dessler said. “It’s, ‘How big a role is climate change playing, and what is the role?’”

7 Responses to “Climate Adaptation, but Only for the Rich”

  1. cushngtree Says:

    I was reading an article abt Brexit, and how it’s just an example of the current craziness all over. It’s as if the people know subliminally things are NOT all right, as the TPTB try to tell them they are. The supposed grown-ups in charge are obviously lying, so they’re choosing the class clowns (Trump, Brexit) because face it— the majority of people are simply aware it’s all falling apart, not WHY, so they’re scared and acting like toddlers, and electing toddlers. And those of us who have a clue are too few and too overwhelmed to even make a difference in our own families, let alone nations. Sigh…

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    quod erat expectandum

    • greenman3610 Says:

      had to look that up.

      “Q.E.D.” (sometimes written “QED”) is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase “quod erat demonstrandum” (“that which was to be demonstrated”), a notation which is often placed at the end of a mathematical proof to indicate its completion.”

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    “Trickle down” was the idea of clever businessmen to fool the public and the politicians. It has never materialised.

  4. rabiddoomsayer Says:

    Ten years in the bunker and something is sure to go wrong. Some part you don’t have yet another replacement for will break. Then you will emerge to a world far more hostile than this one.

    Would have been so much easier to save the existing. But no; you had to have it all.

  5. redskylite Says:

    I’m struggling with this one, the blog features a picture of a flooded magnificent property, mentions the Kardashians and injustices of rich vs. poor.

    I’ve paid house/home insurance for many a year without need to claim – my country has experienced major Earthquakes in other regions and many claims have been realized.

    There is risk of volcanic and earthquake occurrences in my region so I feel I need to remain covered. Whether I agree with capitalism or not I do not want to remain without means of shelter for me and my family.

    Climate change risks are increasingly evolving on top of other day to day risks.

    We need to change, our buildings need to withstand or be easily replaceable with the evolving threats from climate change.We need to adapt to the challenges modern living has wrought upon us.

    We’re hopefully pretty smart and can accomplish that before risking highly dubious methods of Geo-enginering to save our planet.

    So good luck to all those insurance risk assessors – hope the new generation of architects and town planners are comming forward in my region and yours.

  6. redskylite Says:

    Just read this well written article; very apt to the topic.

    Insurance premium increases have been substantial, which is scariest for those on fixed or meager incomes. In the longer run, however, it is young and middle-aged adults who will feel the greatest negative impacts from climate change. Insurance rates will continue to climb because sea levels will continue to climb. Parts of southeast Florida already have regular high astronomical tidal flooding that seldom occurred 20 years ago.

    Ironically, atmospheric warming over Florida is actually lessened by the marine layer and water vapor in the air. The warming of air temperatures in this already very warm and humid place will be smaller than in many regions away from the ocean and farther north. Besides the local coastal land subsidence, a great deal of the negative climate change-driven impacts in Florida and the southeast U.S. are tied to mean global changes, including the warming arctic. Migration is a tough call to make, for any demographic. Waterfront property in Florida is an especially risky business, in the short term and even more so in the long term. So if you’re planning on a Florida retirement, give that some thought.

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