Scientists, Insurance Industry Experts Focus on Climate Change Fall Out

Climate change brings more fires, experts say in Pasadena summit

Published : Saturday, June 29, 2013 | 4:52 AM

The time to act is now. Obama said it in his speech on Tuesday, Senator Carol Lui said it at a public forum in Pasadena on Friday, and scientists say they have all the facts to back it up.

The question about whether climate change exists in no longer relevant. In fact time has run out to even talk about it. Action must start immediately according to the conversation on Friday held at the Pasadena Central Public Library called “Insurance in an Era of Climate Change.”

“Unfortunately we have reached that point this year where we can no longer stop planning change, all we can do now is adapt to climate change,” State Senator Carol Lui said, “It is important that people understand what it is, what it’s about, and what their role is in it.”

This particular discussion presented by the Union of Concerned Scientists and hosted by California State Senator Carol Liu with a keynote address by California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones examined how climate change is fueling wildfires in California and threatening the insurability of California homeowners.

This topic is all the more relevant being at the start of predicted record-setting heat wave scorching the western states this weekend. Pasadena is predicted to reach 104 °F on Sunday according to forecast.weather.gov.

“Wildfires cost California hundreds of millions of dollars each year in firefighting efforts and property damage,” Adrienne Alvord, UCS California and western states director told the Union of Concerned Scientists. “With climate change fueling the frequency of wildfires, Californians who live in high-risk areas are facing an additional threat to the availability and affordability of their homeowners insurance.”

Since January 2013, Cal Fire has responded to more than 2,000 wildfires across California that have charred over 50,000 acres, doubling the 1,100 fire responses with 8,000 burned acreage by this time last year. This year’s season started a full month earlier than past seasons. The average length of fire season across the west since 1970 has increased by 78 days according to the research done by Dr. Anthony Westerling.

“As we are looking at wildfires across Southern California, as we are looking at floods all over the country, as we are looking at the increase frequency and severity of hailstorms and tornados and hurricanes we have no idea what that cost and risk is going to be so it puts us in a difficult position,” Senior Director at Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company Steve Bushnell said.

Keynote Speaker California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said it is tremendously important that the insurance industries acknowledge, understand, and take steps to adapt to the climate change because their business is to help individuals and business to mitigate risks and recover from losses caused by the climate change.

“Mitigation is an area where both regulators and insurers have some responsibility We, along with other policy leaders, should seek more affective ways to train businesses and families how to reduce this loss for mitigation so coverage is more available,” Jones said.

A few areas that Jones advises the insurance industry to look at include creating new products that increase incentives for behavioral change with a less significant carbon footprint, lobbying for change to reduce risk, caring about building codes and land use decisions, and remaining accountable to the public.

“Unfortunately there are many local land use decisions being made that put families and businesses at higher risk because of the areas that are being developed. In high-risk fire areas of California we’ve seen increasing development in rural and less than rural areas where new homes and new businesses are being placed in these locations,” Jones said.

These new homes create a high stress and demand for the public sector to defend these hard to reach areas. Jones said the better approach would be to make wiser decisions on the front end about where we locate new homes and business. We need to actually have plans that take into account this changing climate and build smarter, stronger, and fairer.

“We have to recognize were already standing in the flood, were already standing in the middle of the fire, right now, it just could get a lot hotter, the flood could rise a lot higher, we need to just get moving and not recreate the past,” Dr. Susanne Moser said.

Living with and adapting to the climate change was the theme of the forum. We must learn to live in places that are less hazardous to prevent extremes turning into disasters or else willingly be subject to the consequences. Dr. Susanne Moser says we can no longer hope to go back to normal.

“We do not have enough fire engines and firefighters in California to respond to the fires and protect the structures and deal with the issues that are going to happen. We have to learn to be resilient and live with fire,” Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

What can you do to protect your home and family in the event of a wildfire? Start with some of these questions that insurers like Steve Bushnell ask:

Learn how to fire proof your roof. Keep a defensible clear space around your home. Your home may have fire resistant qualities, but what about eaves and gutters, are they fire resistant? What about your glass? Is it built to resist fire, or will it break and shatter when the fire gets into your house. What about vents you have in your crawl space and up in your attic where burning embers can get in even though you have done everything else? Put screens on your vents to prevent those embers from getting in. What about planning and preparation, how do you think about the event beforehand and how do you start preparing and how do you protect your family? Visit www.readyforwildfire.org for tips and advice.

“People start 94% of the fires in California. We feel 94% of the fires can be prevented if everyone takes their part,” Pimlott said.

First responders might not be the first to come running when a real disaster occurs.

“It really comes down to a whole community approach to disaster preparedness, you as a member of a neighborhood have to be prepared, it’s about neighbors being neighbors,” Disaster Management Coordinator Brenda Hunemiller said.

But even before the fires come, lessening the carbon footprint we leave behind must become a priority. According to Dr. Susanne Moser, we are on the highest emissions scenario that scientists have looked at and it is not looking very good in terms of us stabilizing anytime soon.

“We have such a complicated Earth system so exactly how it is all going to exactly unfold we do not know, but that we are going to see a lot more extremes I am fairly certain of. I would say we have not seen the worst of it yet,” Dr. Susanne Moser said.

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