Political Denial

While it appears that 74% of the Republicans in Congress publicly deny global warming, the insurance industry does not. The insurance industry trusts scientific research; many in Congress reject it. A recent story in the Bloomberg News is worth quoting at length.

Hurricane Irene’s residue is likely to include a confusing debate over whether insurers or property owners are responsible for storm-caused water damage. There’s no lack of clarity, however, over whether the insurance industry believes in climate change and its ties to lethal weather: It does.

As Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Sept. 5 issue, the industry has absorbed many lessons from Sept. 11 about anticipating risk. One is that the recent spate of weather extremes is likely to continue — and the insurance market must reflect that.

Interestingly, this puts the industry at odds with a number of Republican candidates who have made questioning climate change a not-insignificant part of their campaign strategy. Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann dispute whether global warming is man-made. Perry suggests that climate is affected by many variables, which scientists can manipulate “so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” Mitt Romney is on the fence. Only Jon Huntsman Jr. has declared definitively that he trusts scientists on global warming.

Politicians have been known to dissemble about risk because voters generally don’t like to hear bad news. The insurance industry makes its money telling it to you straight — how long you’ll probably live, what price your home will fetch, whether to repair or trade in your car.

For this reason, it’s worth noting that insurers already factor climate change into their models for measuring, pricing and distributing risk. Insurers have no incentive to lie. If they are more scared than they should be in pricing risk, shareholders will punish them. If they aren’t scared enough, nature will do the job.

No one can say for certain that any single weather event flows from the warmer air caused by carbon emissions, which in turn lead to more rainfall, floods and snowfall over some parts of the planet, and more drought in other parts. But last year was the hottest on record. Arctic ice is at record low levels. Regardless of what politicians say, insurers must factor all this into premiums.

[Rick Perry’s comment is especially interesting. Apparently he thinks scientists doctor the facts so they can increase funding for their pet projects. The man has a lively imagination. I always wondered what motive reactionary politicians attributed to scientists for their dire predictions.  I know what motives to attribute to the corporations and politicians for denying the obvious — it’s all about votes and ultimately profits. This helps clarify things for me.]

But in the end, as Diane Keaton said, “Climate change, like gravity, doesn’t give a damn whether you ‘believe’ in it or not. It’s happening regardless. While we sit around and debate its existence, it’s taking full advantage of the situation and using the time we’re giving it to make life miserable.” Indeed so.

Lacking Perspective

Andy Roddick is retiring from professional tennis at the age of 30. This is big news on the tennis scene, though it has been apparent for some time that he cannot compete with the three or four top players in the world. His game is one-dimensional: it’s all about power. In any event he is reportedly going to build a tennis center and that will be his focus in the years to come. This is what the world needs: another tennis center. Andre Agassi and John McEnroe have tennis centers as does Vic Braden and heaven only knows who else. One notes that it has almost become a cliché for the retired athlete to build an athletic center — in his own name, of course — to teach the skills (and “life lessons”) to younger players.

The bothersome thing is that the world really does not need more tennis centers! It needs people with excess money to think about real human needs and attempt to address some of them. Think of the good that Roddick, for example, could do with the money that will go to another tennis center to teach kids how to play tennis. 45 million people in this country go to bed hungry; the number of homeless people who live with their kids in a cheap motel or sleep in their cars grows daily; the planet itself demands our attention since, as Diane Keaton (of all people) has noted “climate change, like gravity, doesn’t give a damn whether you ‘believe’ in it or not. It’s happening regardless.” Now there’s a woman with perspective.

I have commented in a previous blog about the apparent lack of perspective of so many wealthy professional athletes, specifically Billie Jean King who did remarkable things to help give women a foot up in women’s tennis but also seems to be unaware that there are things besides tennis that really matter. As I noted in writing about Billie Jean’s appearance before a Congressional Committee to promote tennis: “Billie Jean King is on my rather short list of sports heroes, along with Phil Mickelson and Magic Johnson — folks who are keen to do the right thing, not just their own thing. But I have always thought Billie Jean stands too close to the trees to see the forest. Like so many professional athletes, she lives in a small world, though she is admittedly an exception in exhibiting any social awareness whatever. She has repeatedly spoken out for tennis and for women’s rights — important issues, to be sure, especially the latter. But despite her “platform” she has also been silent throughout her life on the larger issues that affect us all, issues that take priority over even women’s rights and especially the success of this country’s tennis programs. One must applaud her for wanting to “give back” and promote worthy causes. But one must also question her perspective and lack of a sense of priorities.”

It might be asked: this is their money why shouldn’t they do whatever they want with it? This is true, of course. But the question is whether there is something they should do with their money. There’s a moral principle involved here: when we know there is a wrong being committed and we are in a position to ameliorate that wrong we have an obligation to intercede. The wealthy — athletes included — are in a position to do great good given their wealth and their position in this culture. They cannot claim ignorance of the wrongs that are being done on a daily basis all around them. Therefore they have an obligation, as do we all, to intercede and try to rectify that wrong. These people travel the world but they don’t seem to see what is going on around them. Their world is the size of a tennis court or a golf course or a football field — with a few exceptions, as mentioned. The world could be such a better place if all of us could see the wider canvass — but especially those with tons of money they apparently don’t know what to do with!