Revolt of the Insurance Giants

Waking up to the threat of global climate change, the giant insurance companies are re-thinking their potential exposure to storm damage along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts — even as far north as New York and New England, where hurricanes haven’t hit for a half century. They’re jacking up rates and raising deducations for houses vulnerable to storm surges and floods. Insurance has gotten so expensive in places that it’s putting a crimp in coastal real estate development. Joel Garreau has the story, “A Dream Blown Away,” in the Sunday Washington Post.

You don’t have to be a believer in the more hysterical scenarios regarding global warming to appreciate the risks that insurance companies are appraising. Almost everyone, even global warming skeptics, agree that the northern Atlantic Ocean is probably entering a lengthy upswing in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. Coastal development, often underwritten by state and federal schemes to keep insurance affordable, now adds up to trillions of dollars. A string of Katrina-size disasters could prove crippling to the economy.

Coastal real estate developers won’t like it, but any sane person will recognize that we need to begin controlling our risks — now. The issue is especially urgent in a low-lying areas like Hampton Roads, which is incredibly vulnerable to flooding — my elderly parents were delayed leaving downtown for hours on the day before Thanksgiving because a rainstorm had flooded the streets — and lacks the means to evacuate the population in a timely manner.

Higher insurance premiums will provide people the incentive to storm-proof their properties or, better yet, not to develop in areas vulnerable to storms and floods at all. State policy needs to reinforce the marketplace signals sent by the insurance companies.

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3 responses to “Revolt of the Insurance Giants”

  1. Global warming. Time to paint some projected sea levels on some telephone poles.

  2. E M Risse Avatar

    Time to start shrinking humans ecological footprint and fairly allocating the cost of location-variable decisions.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    This has been a long time coming. I have said for decades that we should establish a floodplain national park. Get flooded once, you are insured. Get flooded twice, you are on your own. Get flooded three times, and you become part of the park, with compensation to move to higher ground.

    Presumably the money would come from urban dwellers who would drive to see the beauty.

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