Commentary

What the hail: It’s time to pay attention to climate policy

August 30, 2021 8:00 am

Extreme weather has created a lot of business for roofers in Iowa. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

At my house, 2021 has been the summer of the insurance claim.

An ice dam on the roof that leaked into a spare bedroom started the ball rolling in February. We ended up replacing the roof, which was finished less than a week before a July storm pelted us with golf-ball-sized hail. The new roof was fine, but my car got a whole new look. We’re still waiting to hear whether the insurance company will total it out.

Nearly 30 years without a claim on our property policy, and now we fear we’re on a path to a premium hike.

Our neighbors are going through the same thing, judging from the number of roofers’ signs in yards on our street. It’s been a common sight since last year’s derecho storm blasted through trees, scoured off shingles and took down a section of our back-door neighbors’ wood fence.

The derecho in August 2020 caused $11 billion in damage across the Midwest. The storm also destroyed 850,000 acres of crops. The toll was especially heavy on the Cedar Rapids area, where the memories of 2008’s record floods are still painfully fresh.

Calls to our insurance claim specialist offer hints to a much larger issue. She’s been working from home in Dallas, where her own house and her city were still recovering from tornado damage that hit in November 2020 and recent flooding.

Today, the news is full of natural disasters: devastating floods in Tennessee, wildfires across the west, hurricane damage on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Internationally, the first half of 2021 has racked an estimated $40 billion in insured damage from natural disasters, Insurance Journal reported based on data from Swiss Re Group, a global reinsurance and insurance company.  The 2021 damage so far is above the 10-year average of $33 billion and second only to 2011, when earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand sent the six-month total soaring to $104 billion.

The experts at Swiss Re connect the increase in disaster costs to climate change.

“The effects of climate change are manifesting in warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, more erratic rainfall patterns and greater weather extremes,” Martin Bertogg, head of Cat Perils at Swiss Re, said in a news release. “Taken together with rapid urban development and accumulation of wealth in disaster-prone areas, secondary perils, such as winter storms, hail, floods or wildfires, lead to ever higher catastrophe losses. The experience so far in 2021 underscores the growing risks of these perils, exposing ever larger communities to extreme climate events.”

(I’m fascinated by the title “Head of Cat Perils.” I assume “cat” is short for “catastrophic,” but it makes me think of kittens stuck in trees.)

It’s hard to wrap the brain around the costs of global-scale catastrophes. It’s easier to fathom what it means to the family budget if the back fence blows down every summer, if a new roof only lasts 10 years instead of 30, if taxes, power bills and insurance premiums skyrocket to accommodate the new reality of ever-more-severe weather.

The recent United Nations report offered the strongest evidence yet that human-caused climate disruption is worsening extreme weather events. Iowa scientists said it should be a call to action for policymakers to take these and other actions:

  • Invest in the electrical grid to make better use of wind and solar power.
  • Reduce carbon in the atmosphere through regenerative agriculture, perennial and cover crops, buffer zones and prairie strips. Use a mix of incentives, cost-share programs and regulations to reduce agricultural emissions and capture carbon.
  • Create a state office and programs to assist communities, utility providers, businesses and institutions to transition away from fossil energy and toward massive energy conservation and renewable energy.

Unfortunately, over the past few years, Iowa lawmakers have been moving in the wrong direction. This year, they allowed the solar tax credit to expire, leaving about 750 Iowans who were trying to do the right thing holding the bag for about $3,200 each. Lawmakers should renew the credit at their earliest opportunity.

Lawmakers should also reverse their extremely short-sighted 2018 law that gutted utility companies’ energy efficiency programs. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy also pointed out that Iowa has not completed a baseline study of buildings’ compliance with energy efficiency standards since 2011 and has yet to update conservation codes since adopting the 2012 version.

These sorts of investments are not only better for the climate, they save money in the long run. So when your insurance goes up because your roof has blown down, don’t blame the weather forecaster. Hail your lawmakers.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.

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