Insurance and Climate Change column

Poll: Majority of Americans Say Global Warming is Affecting U.S. Weather

By | June 27, 2019

The majority of Americans say global warming is important to them, and that it’s affecting the weather in the U.S.

A national survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication finds that a majority of Americans are worried that extreme heat, drought, flooding, or water shortages might harm their local area.

Fewer are worried about the impacts of wildfires, hurricanes, or reduced snowpack, although these are likely influenced by geographic location, the survey shows.

Survey highlights include:

  • Sixty percent think global warming is affecting weather in the U.S., and 28 percent believe weather is being affected “a lot.”
  • A majority of Americans are worried about harm from extreme events in their local area including extreme heat (69 percent), droughts (64 percent), flooding (60 percent), and/or water shortages (59 percent).
  • Nearly seven-in-ten Americans believe global warming is happening, while only 16 percent think global warming is not happening.
  • Fifty-five percent understand that global warming is mostly human-caused, while 32 percent think it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.
  • Sixty-two percent say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming, and 23 percent are “very worried” about it.
  • Nearly six-in ten say they “rarely” or “never” discuss global warming with family and friends, while 37 percent say they do so “occasionally” or “often.”
  • Fifty-one percent say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month.

Liberty Mutual

Liberty Mutual has publicly confirmed that it won’t insure the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Australia, adding to a list of over a dozen large insurers and reinsurers that have declined to offer insurance for the project.

Climate change activists have been pressuring major U.S. insurers, particularly Liberty Mutual as of late, to stop insuring coal and tar sands.

The Carmichael project is a thermal coal mine that is estimated at peak capacity to be able to produce 66 million tons of coal a year. Controversy over the project sent dozens of financial backers packing, forcing Adani to self-finance the project.

A group of activists last week visited to Liberty Mutual’s Melbourne offices to ask the company if it would be insuring the Adani Mine.

Liberty Mutual then issued a statement after a spokesperson for India-based Adani told the media they have the requisite insurance in place for the project to go forward. It wasn’t revealed which carrier is providing the coverage.

A Liberty Mutual spokesperson contacted for this story didn’t agree to provide an interview, but offered the following comment via email:

“In January, Liberty Mutual informed the appropriate parties that we will not be participating in the insurance program for the anticipated operational phase of the Carmichael mining project.”

Liberty Mutual joins global insurers like AXA, Allianz, QBE and Swiss Re in refusing to insure such projects.

Activists continue to hunt for the insurer that agreed to underwrite the mine.

“Now the question is, what insurance company would even consider touching this project when so many of their peers have turned their backs on it?” Elana Sulakshana, energy finance campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, said in a statement in which the group touted the success its pressure tactics have had to make it difficult to get the project underway.

Following the Liberty announcement, activists called specifically on insurers like AIG, Berkshire Hathaway, and Chubb, to publicly confirm that they are not involved in this project.

California Poll

A new poll shows California voters are extremely concerned about catastrophic wildfires and believe that failure to change laws to better address the cost of recovery after wildfires will hurt prevention efforts and could jeopardize electric reliability and increase customer bills.

Action for Wildfire Resiliency on Wednesday released a survey of California voters showing the vast majority (73 percent) say the increasing risk of wildfires is a serious problem, and that many diverse parties should bear financial responsibility.

“California voters identify climate change, years of drought and forest mismanagement as the primary causes of the increasingly devastating wildfires in our state,” Robin Swanson, spokesperson for Action for Wildfire Resiliency, said in a statement. “And 80 percent recognize our current laws need to be updated to better reflect the realities of climate change and increased fire risk.”

Action for Wildfire Resiliency is urging lawmakers and the governor to pass a legislative package before the legislative recess commences on July 12 to help the state better prevent, prepare for, respond to and rebuild from wildfires.

Aside from a number of bills wending their way through Legislature, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is pressing lawmakers on a wildfire fund that may be financed through bonds to help utilities pay for the catastrophic blazes their power lines keep igniting. Newsom is proposing a liquidity fund that could be seeded by at least $10 billion in Department of Water Resources bonds.

There’s also Senate Bill 290, the California Disaster Insurance Act, which was authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and is co-sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and Treasurer Fiona Ma. SB 290, which passed a key committee in March, would authorize the governor, insurance commissioner, and treasurer to enter into an insurance policy that pays out when California has unexpected disaster costs.

The findings of the Action for Wildfire Resiliency survey include:

  • Most voters (73 percent) identify the increasing risk of wildfires as a very or extremely serious problem
  • Climate change and drought were cited in an open-ended question as the biggest cause of wildfires (38 percent) followed by human error (17 percent) and forest mismanagement (12 percent)
  • Eight-in-10 say California’s laws and regulations about fire prevention and accountability are outdated and need to better reflect the realities of climate change and increased fire risks.
  • Three-quarters believe paying for and recovering from catastrophic wildfires is too large and too expensive for any one company or industry to handle

The survey was conducted in June 2019 by FM3 Research.

Climate Costs

An initiative called the Center for Climate Integrity, launched in 2017 by the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, recently released a study that shows the baseline costs communities will have to pay to protect themselves from sea-level rise by 2040.

The study, High Tide Tax: The Price to Protect Coastal Communities from Rising Seas, is essentially a campaign against “big oil.”

The site enables visitors to the webpage to enter their location – state, city, Congressional district or county – and “find out what it will cost to keep rising seas from flooding your hometown.”

Type in San Francisco and it shows that protecting the city will require 26 miles of seawalls at cost of $256 million. Boston will require 39 miles of seawalls at a cost of $266.7 million, and Houston will require 17 miles of seawalls at a cost of $92 million, the website shows.

The site also invites visitors to “go deeper.” Type in New York, for example, and it shows that 171 miles of seawalls at a cost of $2 billion will be required. Choosing a button labeled “go deeper” provides one with a per capita cost (New York’s is $231). The site is designed to prompt visitors to continue clicking for information, until they are finally prompted to “Make Big Oil Pay Their Fair Share.”

“Big oil and gas companies like Exxon knew since the 1970s that burning fossil fuels would warm the planet with devastating consequences,” the website states. “Instead of working to curb the risk, they spent millions to create and promote climate denial and obstruct action when it mattered most. Now they want taxpayers to foot the entire bill for all the damages.”

It continues:

“Communities cannot afford the massive costs of climate adaptation on their own. These costs weren’t always inevitable. Now that they are, polluters should pay their fair share.”

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