Insurance Policies and Climate Change


We’ve had a great summer here in the Boston area. But the relentless fires, storms and weather extremes across the rest of the country should have us taking stock of our own vulnerabilities. The insurance industry has already come to its own conclusions: the future is looking expensive.

If you think about it, the insurance industry was always going to be the starting point for confronting widespread climate change. The conservative appearance of your agent along with the sheer, mind-numbing boredom of that binder she left you hides the fact that insurance is all about calculated gambling. Insurance was born from early factory workers who pooled their money to pay for their own funerals. It grew amongst the pirates, storms and shipwrecks of 18th-century merchant trading into the marble floors of Lloyds of London. From relatively small groups of people pooling their money to cover the next possible disaster, insurance has grown into a worldwide network of actuaries relying on complex computer analysis. Still, the basics are the same. The amount of money each of us puts into the pool depends upon our best guess as to how likely (and expensive) the next year’s disasters will be.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the insurance companies were already betting their money on climate change by the end of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. The 2005 season alone cost our country nearly 4,000 lives and almost $160 billion in damage. Since then, insurers have adjusted their calculations to assume that not just hurricanes, but also flooding, and wildfires will occur more frequently than in the past.

If you want an early glimpse of how vulnerable your home, business and belongings are, look at what is happening with your insurance premiums—and whether the private insurers have decided that your case is not worth betting on.

For a panoramic look at insurance and climate change around the world, check out Reuters’ updated piece on the topic.