Episode 345: Insurance

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 31st of July 2023.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

An anecdote to start the episode. A colleague at work asked to have a chat. Their story is instructive of what’s coming.

They’d received a letter from their home insurance provider of 16 years informing them that at the end of the current policy period they will no longer be able offer insurance for the property. Their reason being the property is a few metres above sea level and 100 odd metres from the coast and will become an unacceptable flooding risk in the next three years.

My colleague was distraught. He’d had the same insurer for as I said, 16 years, they’d made over $25,000 in current values from my colleague without being subjected to a claim. He was going to check with other insurers to see if he had options and with the local council to see if his area had been rezoned for flooding.

The thing is without insurance, he’d be in breach of his mortgage agreement which requires the property to be covered. If the property is uninsurable he will be forced to sell but only to someone prepared to live without insurance and not requiring a mortgage. That’s to say the pool of available buyers will be very small and the value of his home will collapse to functionally zero.

I suspect this story will be repeated around this country and many others too.

The reason for the change in the flood risk is the rather obvious one to listeners of this podcast: climate change. In much the same way the marine species mentioned last episode are heading away from the tropical/sub-tropical north of the mainland and finding themselves in the waters off Tasmania, so too the warming waters are continuing to expand, heat having that effect. Add in the melting of glaciers, think Greenland and Antarctica, and the situation becomes more serious than an inability to negotiate insurance cover. 

This should be seen as the canary in mine for the real world effects of climate change. This has been one of many such canaries to have dropped off the perch over the last decade or two. To someone like my colleague who is not a political animal nor particularly engaged in the latest science, this has come as real shock.

It’s been awhile since I looked but 98 metres above sea level was considered the minimum altitude to be safe from both rising sea levels and, more importantly, tidal surges on top of the rising seas. 

This number, let’s call it 100 metres for the sake of simplicity, means quite a large number of humans and their supporting ecosystems are at risk of inundation. This is something that’s been exercising the minds of low lying Pacific Nations for at least three decades. They are feeling the effects already: Food gardens salted from seawater during tidal surges, rising water tables, ancient and still used, cemeteries throwing up body parts as the water level rises beneath them.

In Bangladesh 46% of the population lives under ten metres above sea level. And Bangladesh sits on the head of the shallow, in oceanic terms, Bay of Bengal which is subject to cyclones and their associated storm surges. 

Most of Eurasian history prior to the modern period, say 1600, was disrupted by the incursion into settled areas by excess populations spilling out of the steppe. The Helvita attempts to cross Cisapline Gaul to avoid “nomadic” raiders is but one example. It gave Caesar his excuse to attack Transalpine Gaul, roughly modern France, and eventually to recross the Rubicon and trigger the Civil War that ened the Roman Republic. Attila, the Mongols, the Hungarians and so on represented a constant threat to the civilisations of settled peoples.

Climate change is already driving people into movement. Many of us in Tasmania have moved from the heat waves, fires and floods of the mainland for that reason. If the heat waves of the current northern summer become a feature not a bug of European life then the Sarharafication of mediterranean Europe is not outside the scope of possibilities. Then we’ll see some migrations of climate change refugees. Add in the effects upon Africa, Asia and South America and we have the makings of a truly momentous reordering of human societies and nations.

This is unlikely to be a peaceful process given the history of humanity.

Listening to The Briefing Room podcast from the BBC this week: Can We Meet the Nett Zero Challenge, link in the show notes, the future looks…. Problematic, to say the least.

If every country met the stated aims around GHG reductions by 2050 then the temperature would still rise to 1.8 degrees above the pre industrial levels. If only those countries that have legislated for this reduction meet their targets we’re looking at a 2.8 degree rise in global temps. Clearly this is not ideal under either scenario. Even these usually sober experts were starting to make noises re: geoengineering.

As I mentioned the term last episode as well as this I should probably delve a little deeper.

Rather than remove the excess CO2, to be fair some ideas are designed for that but the majority aren’t, so rather than remove the excess CO2, geoengineering approaches the problem from a “reduce the amount of heat entering the system” approach. From the idea of giant sunshades in space which could be disabled fairly quickly if some unintended consequence of these occurs to the more difficult to reverse, adding sulphur to the atmosphere approach, we have options that are less than optimal. 

There was an idea, still discussed, of adding iron filings to the ocean, so called iron fertilisation. From the Wikipedia page:


Iron fertilization is the intentional introduction of iron to iron-poor areas of the ocean surface to stimulate phytoplankton production. This is intended to enhance biological productivity and/or accelerate carbon dioxide (CO 2) sequestration from the atmosphere.

End Quote

One possible downside is that of algal blooms and increasing toxicity in those regions where this is deployed. I’m not sure we need to go down this route.

The sun shades though might have potential. Way back in the 1980s I used to subscribe to Scientific American. A wonderful magazine the arrival of which triggered a few days of reading in my spare time. Absolutely wonderful. Anyway, there was an article way back then suggesting geostationary pv panels in space send power down to the surface using microwaves. The costs at the time were prohibitive but maybe not now and they could double as sunscreens. 

The point is we have options. The more extreme are not on the table yet but they might be in the next five to ten years.

In the meantime we could go a long way to not needing these by shifting to a regenerative agricultural model, so lets “Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil”!

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back, all things being equal, next week.



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Can We Meet the Nett Zero Challenge


Iron fertilization


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