Distinguishing between severe weather and climate change

0 November 17, 2014 at 4:44 pm by

On October 16, the CBC published an online article entitled ‘Severe weather increasing insurance deductibles.’ Just a few days later, a small media outlet reprinted the piece, but changed the headline to ‘Climate change increasing insurance deductibles.’

This change highlights a new problem – the synonymous use of ‘severe weather’ and ‘climate change’ as though they are one and the same. They aren’t.

First of all, it is important to distinguish the difference between climate and weather. While the adage that ‘Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get’ may do it for some, the video below uses an interesting approach to force a distinction.

Neil deGrasse Tyson appears to borrow the idea for a segment on his popular science television show ‘Cosmos’. Both are very effective at explaining the climate/weather difference.

But beyond making the crucial distinction between climate and weather, using ‘severe weather’ and ‘climate change’ interchangeably implies that prior to the latest period of warming, there was no such thing as severe weather – that somehow, severe weather is something new.

Of course, it is not.

There has always been severe weather. There always will be severe weather. But what climate change does is add an exacerbating factor. It’s what the Pentagon would call a ‘force multiplier’, which is to say that warming makes severe weather worse.

A great metaphor is the idea that climate change is severe weather on steroids. Long before the advent of steroids (i.e. climate change), there were baseball players (i.e. severe weather) that could hit the ball out of the park every x number of times at bat. But when steroids came around, those same players were hitting the ball out of the park that many more times (and further).

Hence, while there aren’t two separate neatly packaged layers of risk called ‘severe weather’ and ‘climate change’, there isn’t one neatly packaged layer either. Instead, there is severe weather, made worse by climate change.

So whenever you hear someone ask “As an insurer, what are you doing about exposure to climate change?”, perhaps a better question would be “As an insurer, what are you doing about exposure to severe weather, made worse by climate change?”

The distinction is key.

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