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Climate denialism is not insurable.
July 14, 2023
Climate denialism creates risks that are not insurable. Why? Insurance companies are in the business of making money by estimating their financial exposure to risk. When those risks materialize with a frequency or size that exceeds the insurers’ financial reserves, the insurance companies stop writing insurance—leaving Americans exposed to risks without benefit of insurance. To say the least, that is bad for uninsured Americans.
That scenario is playing out in Florida today. Farmers Insurance Co. is the latest in a line of insurers who have decided that writing insurance in Florida is not worth the risk. Per CNN,
Over the past 18 months in Florida, 15 home insurers have placed moratoriums on writing new business, four carriers have announced plans to voluntarily withdraw from the market and seven companies have been declared insolvent,” Mark Friedlander, a spokesperson for Insurance Information Institute, told CNN. “Currently, there are 18 Florida residential insurers on the state regulator’s watch list due to concerns over their financial health.
If new homes can’t be insured, construction stops. If existing homes can’t be insured when sold to a new buyer, lenders will not offer financing and existing home sales stop. If businesses cannot insure new facilities, business investment stops.
Insurers believe climate change is real. As one representative of the world’s largest re-insurer said,
We don’t discuss the question anymore of, ‘Is there climate change?” . . . . For us, it’s a question now for our own underwriting.
See WSJ, Climate Change Is Forcing the Insurance Industry to Recalculate (10/2/18).
So, how does climate denialism contribute to uninsurable risk? Answer: If governments refuse to acknowledge the reality of climate change because of culture war ideologies, they will not take steps to mitigate the effects of climate change. That is the situation in Florida.
As Florida is being buffeted by historic extremes of land and sea temperatures, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida legislature are doing everything in their power to thwart efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. As reader Pat Duncan (a Floridian and member of Citizens Climate Lobby) wrote in the Comments section yesterday,
The state's elected leaders are fighting measures to help mitigate climate change and to help Floridians deal with it.
Governor DeSantis just turned down $377 million in free federal energy-efficiency money despite Florida suffering ever-hotter temperatures.
Households would have received hundreds of dollars in rebates for purchasing energy-efficient appliances, resulting in reduced greenhouse gas emissions AND reduced energy bills. The funding earmarked for Florida came from both the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
DeSantis also recently signed a law forbidding makers of electric vehicles to sell directly to consumers - with the exception of Elon Musk's Tesla and a few other companies who were already selling directly.
Politicians here call themselves environmentalists by addressing flooding, because that causes immediate economic damage, but they regard climate change as a "woke" issue.
As Time Magazine noted yesterday, DeSantis bristles at the notion that he can do anything about climate change—which he dismisses as “the weather.” Instead, he has ruled out any efforts to fight climate change. See Time, Florida’s Environmental Failure Is a Warning for Rest of U.S.
“Asked about hurricanes and climate change during a FOX News interview on May 24, DeSantis said he “rejects the politicization of the weather,” echoing his 2022 statement that “I can’t control the climate. I’m not doing mandates on any of that.””
That same day, the Sierra Club gave DeSantis an F for his environmental record, citing, in part, his attitude toward climate change and general “mismanagement.” Florida lags behind many states with decades-old energy efficiency guidelines while a recent DeSantis line-item budget veto disqualified Florida from receiving $346 million in federal funds from a program meant to improve energy efficiency across the country.
DeSantis also signed legislation taking clean energy decisions away from local government; has yet to ban certain kinds of fracking; allowed exploratory oil drilling in the ecological sensitive Apalachicola River Basin; and, despite 2018 campaign promises, failed to lodge an objection to recent federal permits allowing drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Of course, climate change does not begin or end in Florida, and Florida alone cannot stop human-caused climate change. But DeSantis’s refusal to do anything to mitigate the effects of climate change will make it more difficult to live, build homes, and invest in Florida. Ron DeSantis may not believe in climate change. Insurers who make it possible to live and work in Florida do. In that clash of beliefs, the insurers will win because they can simply stop insuring risks in Florida.
Moreover, extreme heat threatens Florida’s tourist industry. Sea temperatures off the coast of Florida reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday. Visits to Disneyworld in Orlando are down in part because of searing temperatures. Coral reefs are being bleached. Beaches are experiencing unprecedented erosion. Unless Floridians rid themselves of the meddlesome DeSantis and his acolytes, it will be a rough economic road for Florida in the coming decades.
A thoughtful response to the above points could be that insurers are fleeing California because of wildfire risk, a state that is actively fighting climate change. True, but the story is different in California. For the last 125 years, it has been the policy of California (and the federal government) to suppress wildfire in the forests of California. That well-intentioned policy resulted in an over-population of trees in woodland areas. Over the last century, tree density in California forests has increased six to seven-fold—causing trees to stress and die due to competition for water, sunlight, and nutrients, and increased susceptibility to bark beetles. The resulting massive die-offs of trees made California a tinderbox primed for a once-in-a-century conflagration. Add to tree mortality unprecedented drought and heat caused by climate change and the result was inevitable.
My point is not to blame Florida or Floridians for their plight. It is to say that climate denialism by any of us is harmful to all of us. To successfully fight climate change, we need all fifty states pulling in the same direction. The longer that consensus eludes us, the harder we will have to work when we finally, inevitably, reluctantly reach that consensus. Oddly, it may be the insurance industry that serves as the canary in the mine that jolts reluctant states into action.
Lower turnout rates in 2022: Should we be concerned?
Two recent studies about turnout rates in 2022 are generating a rash of headlines warning that Democrats might be in trouble in 2024. We should learn what we can from both studies, but it is important to separate the headline hype from the complex reality presented by the data. But before I go further, let me be clear: We must achieve historic turnout in 2024 if we expect to beat Trump.
If you care to read the analyses, I refer you to NYTimes, G.O.P. Led in Midterm Turnout, a Red Flag for Democrats in 2024 (accessible to all) and Brookings, New voter turnout data from 2022 shows some surprises, including lower turnout for youth, women, and Black Americans in some states. The Times article discusses a PEW research survey, while the Brookings article discusses its own research based on Census and voting data.
The data analyzed in both studies is complicated and nuanced, but a top-line summary is this: Comparing 2018 to 2022 turnout rates on average, white non-college voters held steady for Republicans, while turnout rates for several Democratic constituencies declined (Blacks, young voters, and women).
Note the critically important qualifier, “on average.” Obviously, Democrats won where it mattered, including in swing states that tipped the balance of power in the Senate, House (almost), and in statehouses and capitol houses. As Simon Rosenberg has noted, the right way to think about 2022 is that it was “two elections”—a bluer election inside the battleground states, a redder one outside. See Simon Rosenberg, Hopium Chronicles, No, There Wasn't a Red Wave in 2022 (substack.com).
Rosenberg takes a very deep dive into the data and explains that the large states of California, New York, Texas, and Florida account for much of the “decline” in average voter turnout. I highly recommend Simon’s detailed analysis for anyone who is losing sleep over this issue. He will put you at ease.
I want to add a gloss to the analysis, not because I seek to dismiss the results. That is not my intent. Indeed, I find them puzzling given that the November 2022 election occurred after the Dobbs decisions. My intuition says that the youth vote and women’s vote should have been at historic levels across the board in 2022. They were not.
Let’s start with a basic concept of probability and statistics. The election in 2018 was the first mid-term after Trump's win in 2016. It was the “Mother of all midterms.” Comparing subsequent midterms will almost always exhibit some “regression to the mean.” An analogy will be helpful: Researchers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky were hired by the Israeli air force to address a training problem. After Israeli pilots performed exceptionally well during a training flight, their trainers heaped praise on the pilots. The next flight, the performance of the pilots invariably dipped. The Israeli air force wanted to know why praise appeared to be “demotivating” their pilots. It wasn’t. Instead, the pilots were simply regressing toward their average level of skill after turning in their best performance. Praise (or lack thereof) had nothing to do with the regression to the mean on the next training flight.
There will always be only one midterm election after Trump was first elected. Comparing subsequent midterms to 2018 must always include that caveat. Regression to the mean.
Okay, why then did Trump's base—white, non-college-educated voters, maintain their turnout rates while Black, young, and female voters decreased in some states?
One obvious answer is voter suppression. Indeed, there is a correlation between depressed turnout rates for Black voters and states that tried to suppress the vote. Per the Brookings analysis,
In 17 states, 2022 nonwhite turnout rates were lower than in 2018 or 2014. Among the latter are southern states Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina; midwestern states Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Ohio.
Virtually every one of those states passed some form of voter suppression laws. See How Voting Laws Have Changed Since 2016 | ProPublica.
Still, why wasn’t there a “blue wave” of voter turnout because of the Dobbs decision? There was—but not everywhere. (See Simone Rosenberg’s analysis, above.) In strong “blue states,” voters may have believed (wrongly) that Dobbs would not affect their reproductive liberty and (therefore) felt safe staying home. That turned out to be a mistaken belief.
In the year since Dobbs, it has become clear that MAGA extremists are seeking to impose a federal ban on abortion. See today’s vote by House Republicans to prevent the military from allowing personnel to travel to a state that permits abortions if they are stationed in a state that makes abortion a crime. See NYTimes, House Votes to Limit Abortion Access in the Military, Bowing to the Right.
To the extent that the Dobbs decision was a main driver of Democratic success in 2022—and it was—we should expect that voters will be even more motivated in 2024.
One final observation. The two studies discuss turnout rates. Turnout rates alone do not tell the whole story. If a particular cohort of voters is shrinking in absolute numbers, a steady turnout rate means that fewer voters in that cohort are showing up at the polls. That is precisely what is happening with Trump's primary voter cohort—white non-college voters. Per Brookings,
The voter demographics in [Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, and Arizona] are broadly changing. Between 2010 and 2022, all six states displayed sharp declines in their white noncollege voters . . . .and gains in white college-educated and nonwhite voters.
Looking at demographic changes nationwide during this period, 49 states plus Washington, D.C. showed declines in their white noncollege voter shares . . . .
So, turnout rates matter, but so does the absolute number of voters who show up at the polls. Indeed, election winners are determined by the number of votes, not turnout rates.
My point is not to excuse or rationalize changes in voter turnout rates in 2022. It is to say that the true picture is vastly more complicated, nuanced, and positive (for Democrats) than the headlines suggest. If you find yourself hyperventilating over this topic, I strongly urge you to bookmark and return to Simon Rosenberg: No, There Wasn't a Red Wave in 2022 (substack.com).
Help increase turnout among young voters!
With the above discussion of turnout rate top of mind, now is a good time to promote the work of an organization focused on youth voter turnout recommended by reader JustJanice.
TurnUp | Youth Activism & Voter Turnout describes its work as follows: Strengthening democracy for generations to come. TurnUp is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and mobile app that comprises the largest youth-led voter registration and turnout initiative.
One of TurnUp’s primary initiatives is a phone-based app that integrates voter registration and turnout tools, news feeds, event management, and messaging for groups involved in civic engagement.
I was not previously aware of TurnUp’s work, so if you have experience with the organization or app, I would love to hear from you in the Comments section or by email. In the meantime, check out TurnUp’s app and homepage, above!
Five years ago, then-President Trump stood next to Vladimir Putin and publicly sided with Putin against the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Why did Trump come to that conclusion? Because Putin told him so. It was a moment of disgrace and embarrassment for America. And it left the world wondering what dirty secrets Putin was holding over Trump.
Five years later, a triumphant Joe Biden returned to Helsinki to meet with the leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. Biden made breathtaking remarks during a press conference that demonstrated how completely the world has turned on Putin—in large part because of Joe Biden’s leadership.
“At this inflection point, the world is watching to see: will we do the hard work that matters to forge a better future? Will we stand together? . . . Will we stay committed to our course?” This week, Finland and the United States and our allies and partners said a resounding, loud yes. Yes, we’ll step up. Yes, we’ll stand together. And yes, we’ll keep working toward a stronger, safer, and more secure world.”
And rather than groveling before Putin as Trump did, President Biden challenged Putin directly by declaring him the loser in Russia’s war on Ukraine:
“Putin has already lost the war. Putin has a real problem. How does he move from here? What does he do? . . . . [T]here is no possibility of him winning the war in Ukraine. He’s already lost that war.”
Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than that! Echoes of “Mr. Gorvachev . . . tear down this wall.”
As Joe Biden strides across the world stage advancing America’s interests, Trump's legal jeopardy is increasing by the hour. More on that in tomorrow’s newsletter!
Stay strong! Talk to you tomorrow!