What the Insurance Industry Already Knows About Climate Change

By:  Richard Shiffman

When they woke up in the morning, my mom used to ask my dad what the weather was going to be like that day. "Stick your fool head out the window," he would reply. I say the same thing to the Republican presidential candidates. If you want to know if climate change is for real, stick your fool heads out the window. You might notice -- what the rest of us already have -- that the weather has been changing. A lot.

Take New York City, where I live. Nobody remembers a winter this warm. Daffodils are already coming up in a community garden on my block -- over a month early. In January, a cherry tree was in full bloom, fooled perhaps by the "spring rains" we've been having all winter. In the fall, a freak October storm took down thousands of still leafing trees in Central Park with the weight of wet snow. And a year earlier, the five boroughs were raked by several tornadoes, an almost unprecedented event.

New York is hardly alone. Last year over a thousand tornadoes ripped across the Midwest killing 500 people, the Mississippi river flooded inundating millions of acres, Texas had its driest summer in memory, an estimated 15,000 people died in a Russian heat wave, there was a major drought in China and famine in Somalia. 2010 was the hottest year on earth since record keeping began, with 2011 not far behind. Last year saw 14 separate billion dollar weather disasters, almost double any other year to date. And there was far more extreme weather -- over half the country experienced either flood or drought.

So what's going on? No single storm or spell of unseasonable weather can be laid categorically at the feet of climate change. But the growing consensus amongst scientists is that the rise we've been seeing in catastrophic weather events worldwide is no coincidence, but the inevitable result of a warming trend which produces more water vapor in the atmosphere and an increase in severe wind events like hurricanes, monster thunderstorms and tornadoes.

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