Climate change in good hands?

“The Current Status of Climate Change—A Non-Partisan Analysis,” a lecture by UC Berkeley professor Rich Muller, is available as an online video: lectures.

If you don’t think climate change is real, ask an insurance agent. The folks who have you “in good hands” when someone rear-ends you in Midtown or dings your door in the Arden Fair mall parking lot have one agenda: to make money. It’s the American capitalist way.

And early this year, National Public Radio reported that insurance rates for homeowners were rising across the board for one very specific reason: recent weather-related catastrophes—“Snowmageddon,” hurricanes, tornadoes and even wildfires—which caused $35 billion in insurance losses. That’s in addition to the roughly $70 billion in economic losses.

The thing about insurance agents is that they’re not the nervous type. The people who go into the business tend to be pretty calm. Instead, they’re all about measuring risk and betting against it. They want to take your premiums for 40 years and never have to pay out for much of anything—maybe a broken window or a new fence from a terrible storm.

That’s how insurance agents make their money. They pay attention to risk—and they know that climate change, with its associated extreme-weather events, is real. They know it’s going to cost money, a lot of it, and they don’t want it to be their money.

You know who else knows climate change is real? The people who live on the archipelago nation of the Maldives. Located in the Indian Ocean, the Republic of Maldives is the world’s lowest-lying country, with an elevation of less than 5 feet. Its first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, has been speaking out about climate change and its threat to his country right up until February, when he was ousted in a coup by the nation’s former dictatorship.

You see, in addition to costing money, climate change tends to have a politically destabilizing effect. If you doubt that, ask the Pentagon. The Department of Defense first identified climate change as a possible national-security issue in a 2003 report, but starting in 2010, climate change has been included in the Quadrennial Defense Review. The threat to our national security—and to world stability, given the way that climate change causes migration—is of great concern to both the Pentagon and the CIA, according to its own news releases.

So as we celebrate yet another Earth Day—the 42nd—let’s think about the consequences of climate change. It’s real. It’s here. It’s already changing our lives in ways both big and small. The question is: What are we willing to do about it?

Because the planet—Earth itself—will go on, at least until it’s struck by an asteroid and shattered or swallowed up in the sun’s death. But in the near future, life on this little blue marble can easily become impossible for us, our children and our grandchildren.

So park your car and walk or bike to work. Plant a garden. Clean up your street. Talk to your neighbors about gardening a food co-op, or neighborhood work days. Use the time we’ve got to make the Earth a little healthier and plan for what’s to come. And make sure your insurance is paid up.