I’ve made numerous references in my posts on this blog about the association between fossil fuel use, how it affects our health and how that impacts our health care costs. I have been adamant on the use of coal-fired power plants and their harmful emissions that create greater risks for lung disease and those who have allergies.
Studies show that coal dust causes pneumoconiosis, bronchitis and emphysema in exposed workers. The waste products coal production produces include uranium, thorium, and other radioactive and heavy metal by-products along with toxic metalloids like arsenic. These toxic elements make their way into the local drinking water supplies and the air we all breathe, creating long-term health issues and drive up health care costs for all Americans. SOURCE
The point I was trying to make and continue to make is that for those who feel that it’s cheaper to persist in using cheaper sources of energy like coal, oil and natural gas that emit toxic pollutants in our air, drinking water and the earth’s atmosphere are missing the bigger issue and the effects it has on each individual’s pocketbook. The costs we may be saving now by using fossil fuel energy sources will not last as this limited source of energy is diminishing rapidly as demand from China and India develop rapidly.
There is now another cost reason we need to distance ourselves from fossil fuels as fast as we can. It’s related to the increased rate of extreme weather we are experiencing – property insurance rates. The severe weather we saw last year and are seeing this year are creating property damages at extensive rates that neither the businesses, homeowners or the insurance industry themselves anticipated.
The extreme weather of 2010 exacted a huge human and economic toll. More than 380 people died and 1,700 were injured due to weather events in the United States throughout the year. And the magnitude of these events forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to declare 81 disasters last year. For nearly 60 years, the annual average has been 33. In 2010, total damages exceeded a whopping $6.7 billion. As of April 2011, FEMA had dedicated more than $2 billion in financial assistance to those harmed by extreme weather in 2010. SOURCE
This year alone we are on pace to register about 100 declared disasters with 36 on record as of May 20th. The recent southeastern storms and tornadoes took at least 297 lives across eight states and the tornado that ripped through Joplin Missouri yesterday has thus far claimed 116 lives; a combined figure that already exceeds last year’s 297 count. In Joplin, 25-30 percent of businesses and homes were destroyed and untold damage to vehicular property.
The Property Insurance Industry has been hit hard and are at a loss on how best to deal with potential future cost from extreme weather.
It’s a tough time to be in the $500 billion U.S. property insurance business. Storms are happening in places they never happened before, at intensities they have never reached before and at times of year when they didn’t used to happen.
Those bizarre weather patterns damage not just homes but also insurance companies’ financials. If seas rise and houses flood, insurers pay. If winds shift and buildings blow down, they also pay. If temperatures rise and crops fail, same thing. SOURCE
According to George Backus with the Discrete Mathematics & Complex Systems Department at Sandia National Laboratories, “the climate uncertainty as it pertains to rainfall alone [puts] the U.S. economy at risk of losing between $600 billion and $2 trillion, and between 4 million and 13 million U.S. jobs over the next 40 years.”
Thus far property insurers around the world have laid out payments to victims of extreme weather damage to the tune of $36 billion in just 2010 alone, according to Swiss Re a global reinsurer with focus on risk transfer, risk retention financing, and asset management. Another reinsurer, Munich Re stated last year that “the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”. Tom Wilson, the chairman and chief executive of Allstate, the largest publicly traded property insurer in the country agrees. “Some people believe that [these cataclysmic storms are] because weather patterns have changed. I happen to be in that camp. I just don’t think it should happen three years in a row.”
There of course is no absolute link between specific extreme weather conditions and global warming but as Kevin Trenberth, Sc.D., head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained “Given that global warming is unequivocal, the null hypothesis should be that all weather events are affected by global warming rather than the inane statements along the lines of ‘of course we cannot attribute any particular weather event to global warming. [I]t’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both.”
If the likelihood is that increased use of CO2 sources like coal, oil and natural gas are intensifying global warming, then by insisting that we should “drill baby, drill” instead of converting as quickly as possible to clean, renewable sources of energy, the argument that it’s cheaper to sustain the status quo will no longer have any merit as health and property insurance rates wipe out any temporary savings that people realize now from using dirty fossil fuels. Not only that, our children and grandchildren will be faced with the destructive forces of nature from our short-sightedness as they will ultimately be forced to make this switch themselves simply because coal, oil and natural gas supplies will be pretty much used up by the end of this century.