Prosperous New Fear

Before we get stuck into 2009, we missed a spillage from the festive period that needs mopping up…

In a remarkably gullible news item, the BBC covered a new report revealing that 2008 was a ‘Huge year for natural disasters’:

The past year has been one of the most devastating ever in terms of natural disasters … climate change [is] boosting the destructive power of disasters like hurricanes and flooding

The report finds that:

Although there were fewer “loss-producing events” in 2008 than in the previous year, the impact of natural disasters was higher […]

More than 220,000 people died in events like cyclones, earthquakes and flooding, the most since 2004, the year of the Asian tsunami.

Meanwhile, overall global losses totalled about $200bn (£137bn), with uninsured losses totalling $45bn, about 50% more than in 2007.

This makes 2008 the third most expensive year on record, after 1995, when the Kobe earthquake struck Japan, and 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina in the US.

The BBC article quotes expert Torsten Jeworrek:

“Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes,”

Thing is, Torsten Jeworrek is an expert in insurance, not climate. He is on the board of insurance giants Munich Re. And Munich Re are the authors of the new report. It goes without saying that insurance companies need to keep abreast of developments in risk if they are to provide a service for their clients. But it also goes without saying that generating alarm about those same risks is also to their advantage. To paraphrase what we have said before, fear of risk is to Munich Re what oil is to Exxon. Indeed, Munich Re says as much on its website:

Risk is our business: Among other things, we reinsure the risks connected with oil rigs, satellites and natural catastrophes, and those arising from the use of genetic engineering and information technology or from the management of companies.

Climate change is not the only issue Munich Re is whipping up alarm about. It also desires that we flap over other scares du jour, such as piracy…

Piracy reaches new dimensions: The frequency and severity of piracy attacks have reached alarming levels

terrorism…

Megacities extremely vulnerable to natural perils, technological risks, terrorism and environmental hazards / More risk awareness and greater transparency urgently needed with regard to hazard exposure / Munich Re presents its views at the UN’s World Conference on Disaster Reduction

and obesity…

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are spreading at an alarming rate around the world

But, mostly, it’s climate change…

10 April 2008
India: Increase in losses due to climate change / Board member Torsten Jeworrek: “In coming decades, the effects of climate change will make themselves felt particularly in emerging countries like India.”

climate change…

29 September 2008
Munich Re exhibition in Tokyo highlights risks and opportunities of global warming

climate change..

27 December 2007
Natural catastrophe figures for 2007: Higher losses despite absence of megacatastrophes, very many loss events / Overall economic losses of US$ 75bn / Board member Dr. Torsten Jeworrek: Loss figures in line with the rising trend in natural catastrophes, Munich Re is prepared

climate change…

July 2008
High death toll marks the 2008 half-year natural catastrophes figures

and climate change…

5 June 2007
Munich Re signs the “Declaration on Climate Change” of the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative. / Munich Re Board member Torsten Jeworrek: “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. What we do today is crucial for future generations. Therefore, swift international action is urgently needed.” / Munich Re forecasts long-term increase in demand for risk protection as a result of climate change and growing concentrations of values.

And there’s plenty more climate change where those came from.

Munich Re is certainly not the first insurance company to try to cash in on climate alarm by generating more of it. Back in April 2007 we reported on the efforts of risk assessment giants Risk Management Solutions (RMS) to do the same. Bob Ward, RMS’s Director of Global Science Networks, was continuing a crusade against the dirty denialist industry – namely, Exxon and Martin Durkin – that he started while in his previous employment as Senior Manager for Policy Communication for Exxon-slayers the Royal Society.

What is surprising is that the BBC have deemed the witterings of an insurance company worthy of a news story, and moreover, that they have chosen to take those witterings entirely at face value. At the very least they could have wondered why earthquakes were lumped into the analysis or how much the figures were skewed by one devastating cyclone in Myanmar.

Torsten Jeworrek’s quotes – like the whole BBC story, in fact – are lifted directly from Munich Re’s press release. But then, perhaps the BBC didn’t have much choice (other than to ignore the story completely) because Munich Re haven’t actually made their report available. When we emailed them for a copy, media relations officer Alexander Mohanty replied that:

there is no additional report or publication.
Munich re’s annual report on natural catastrophes is a press relase only traditionally.
But we will publish a more in-depth report in march called ‘topics’.

The BBC has been known to argue that the existence of ‘the consensus’ on climate change means that they are not obliged to seek balancing viewpoints from anyone who doesn’t entirely sign up to it. With this story however, they seem to be going rather further than is necessary to live up to their own journalistic ideals. They back up Jeworrek’s comments with quotes from Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research, which are also lifted verbatim from the presser:

“It is now very probable that the progressive warming of the atmosphere is due to the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity,” said Prof Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research.

“The logic is clear: when temperatures increase there is more evaporation and the atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour, with the result that its energy content is higher.

“The weather machine runs into top gear, bringing more intense severe weather events with corresponding effects in terms of losses.”

The company said world leaders must put in place “effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions” to curb climate change and ensure that “future generations do not have to live with weather scenarios that are difficult to control”.

Yes, ‘the logic is clear’…

– the world has been warming up a bit
– human activity probably has something to do with that
– some models say this might influence the frequency of severe weather events
– therefore, an expensive year for civilisation (and insurance companies) means that climate change is already happening
– therefore, we need a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions

Other than pointing out that Hoppe’s clear logic is clearly not, it’s hard to comment on the accuracy and rigour of Munich Re’s analysis, because, as we said, the analysis is not available for scrutiny. But it’s hard to see how an insurance company can have had more success than ‘the world’s 2500 top climate scientists’ at isolating the effect of climate change on the occurrence of severe weather events. But then again, perhaps we can look forward to the IPCC citing Munich Re on matters of climate-change induced weather patterns in its own reports in the future. And in a world where top scientists are wont to defer to economists on scientific matters of climate change, that is not such an unlikely possibility.

It is perhaps interesting that the economist in question, Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern, has rather a close working relationship with Munich Re. Understandably, Munich Re is rather proud of the fact that its dirty insurance money funds such a high profile environmentalist:

In 2008, Munich Re launched a cooperation with Professor Lord Nicholas Stern and the London School of Economics (LSE), the aim being to advance research into the economic impact of climate change.

And Prof Lord Sir Nicholas has nothing to be embarrassed about. Because nobody – least of all the BBC – seems at all bothered by any such conflict of interests. They are all too busy worrying about who Exxon is funding. Those who shriek the loudest about climate change – whether it’s insurance companies, Stern, the Royal Society, Lord Adair Turner or the Tickell dynasty – often have the most to gain from alarmism. It seems that the greens have been right all along: an economic tail really does wag the scientific dog.

Tickelled Green

Patron of the Optimum Population Trust, neo-malthusian and miserablist to world governments, Sir Crispin Tickell went head-to-head with Austin Williams of the Future Cities Project on the question of “are there too many of us?” on Thursday. BBC Radio 4’s PM program has been featuring the question all week, leading to some interesting discussion. You can catch the program here. (It starts about 42 minutes in. And it’s only online for another week.)

The program’s blog has received a flood of comments from listeners (or just OPT activists) angered, not by Sir Crispin’s dark gloom, misanthropy, and pessimism, but by Williams’s challenge to it. It is interesting that some of the comments seem to reflect the idea that Sir Crispin’s ideas are radical, when in fact they are very much the establishment position. It is also interesting to see how challenges to environmental orthodoxy are met with expressions of outrage. It’s also interesting to note that, just a few decades ago, the one-child-per-family policy of China is something that would have been pointed at as an example of the nasty, controlling authoritarianism of the Chinese Government. Now, it’s something many aspire to.

Crispin Tickell was at York University recently, giving a lecture on “the future” – a nasty place, according to him, so we better do as he says. The lecture, hosted by the very interesting New Generation Society, who take as their inspiration JFK’s inaugural speech, was reviewed by Climate Resistance co-editor Ben for the society’s online journal.

The New Generation Society’s Kennedy Lecture aimed to embrace the kind of challenge that its namesake laid before the world nearly half a century ago.

“Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.”

President John F. Kennedy
Inaugural Address
Washington DC, 20th January 1961

In short, by pursuing humanity’s common interests, the New Generation could transcend its differences.

Enter Sir Crispin, who brings to this lecture as many years experience of dealing with the World’s problems as have passed since Kennedy’s speech. He is someone we might like to turn to for sober reflection on the issues that the next generation faces. He is an authority on many subjects, from the scientific to the political. So how do the words of the two men compare?

Read the rest here.