How big-name companies insuring coal could crash the economy and the planet – a new interview with Carly Fabian of Public Citizen. After Biden’s approval of massive new “natural” gas expansion, we review the risks with a replay interview – Harvard’s Dr. Scot Miller. UK photographer Robert Leslie covered lasting damage in the American South, years after Hurricane Katrina (replay).
“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.”
– Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle
A horrendous new war in the Middle East fills TV screens. Or you can tune into the long soap opera “The Trials of Donald Trump”. It is the “Society of the Spectacle” as French philosopher Guy Debord predicted. Toss in people around us getting COVID again – it is all hard to take. Wouldn’t it be great to just get back to normal times, business as usual? Except “normal” and “business as usual” is killing the ecosphere that supports all.
Are we stuck on the event horizon? Is reality too slow to see through our digital eyes?
Can you help independent eco-journalism stay on the air? Radio Ecoshock relies totally on listener donations. If you find these program helpful, you can make a one time donation or a monthly gift easily right here. That keeps the show free for everyone – on 106 non-profit radio stations in 4 countries and on the Net.
INSURING CLIMATE DISASTER
CARLY FABIAN, PUBLIC CITIZEN
As heat, floods and wildfires smash all records this year, at least coal production is on the way out, thanks to greener energy like wind and solar. Except that isn’t true. New solar and wind are only helping to cover increasing demand for power in all sectors. The dirtiest most polluting fossil fuel in the world, old “King Coal” reached it’s highest production EVER in 2022 (Source IEA)
In capitalism, coal mining is not possible without insurance. Big insurance companies have policies supposedly leading them out of coal coverage. Except they violate even those weak published promises on coal. That is true in the United States, now the world’s fourth largest coal producer. The American Non-profit group “Public Citizen” just issued a report “COVERING COAL: The Top Insurers of U.S. Coal Mining.” We reached Public Citizen researcher and spokesperson Carly Fabian.
Listen to or download this 21 minute interview with Carly Fabian in CD Quality
In a press release, Carly says:
“We expected some companies to be underwriting coal projects, but the data underscore the loopholes in their policies and disregard for public commitments across the insurance industry. Over the past year, insurance providers have stopped selling policies to homeowners vulnerable to climate disasters. As insurers offer coal mines new contracts while walking away from homeowners, the choices of these companies reflect a clear double standard in who is expected to pay the price for climate change. The insurance industry needs to muster the courage to cut their coverage for fossil fuels before it becomes too risky to insure the rest of us.”
From the Executive Summary of the new report:
“Global insurers AIG, Liberty Mutual, Lloyd’s of London, Swiss Re, and Zurich are among the top insurers of U.S. coal mining. In 2022, these five insurers covered the production of at least 245,139,030 short tons of coal, or 41% of U.S. coal production, from just the top 25 U.S. mines…Four of these five companies have adopted coal underwriting restrictions, and yet they are still among the top insurers of thermal coal mines. ”
I’m particularly disappointed that giant insurance company Swiss Re violates it’s own policy in the United States. Swiss Re was among the first and bravest corporations to warn about the dangers of climate change. They started early in the 1990’s. They attend conferences, and make presentations and statements demonstrating their real awareness and concern about climate change. But hidden in the backroom, they are making money to produce more climate damaging coal?
It is interesting to see in this report: Berkshire Hathaway among the coal mine insurers, covering 1 mine producing 8,313,644 short tons of coal. Warren Buffett’s companies include one of the the largest single railways shipping American coal, especially going from mines in Wyoming to ports like Vancouver Canada for export to Asia. Coal is shipped on the BNSF Railway, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.
People who dump on mega-billionaires like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, often give Warren Buffett a pass. Actually Buffett is sourcing more damage to the planet than tech billionaires. Buffett rarely mentions climate change, and certainly is not an activist. Isn’t Warren Buffett a climate disaster profiteer?
In an article in The Hill, based on this new Public Citizen report, Saul Elbein suggests lack of flood, fire, and storm insurance may be hiding the next financial crisis. Big banks sell all kinds of financial instruments and investments based on mortgages – with the assumption the home is insured against losses. Rising prices for insurance – if it is available – add up to more uninsured homes in America. No one knows how many they are. When many homes are wiped out by extreme weather, without insurance, banks eat the losses. If the banks lose too much, all the finance instruments they offered could tumble – as happened during the crisis in 2008. So coal insurance and climate coverage withdrawal could turn out to be really big!
About 45% of all fossil fuel emissions come from burning coal. More and more lawsuits are launched against fossil fuel producers for their role in climate damage. Are these big insurance companies covering those damages, which could be billions of dollars? Could insurance companies go broke because they continued to profit from climate disasters? Will someone sue the coal insurance companies too?
MAKING METHANE: THE LEAKING UN-NATURAL GAS INDUSTRY
Recently President Biden’s Administration approved massive new natural gas extraction in the U.S. This is supposedly for international security. The U.S. wants to keep the lights on in Europe by cashing in on bans of Russian gas. There is also big money to be made.
So-called natural gas is just methane, one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases. Emily Atkins in her newsletter “Heated” says we need to relabel this fossil fuel to “methane gas”. Methane gas is responsible for at least 20 to 30%, of the record warming. Stanford’s Rob Jackson says a third of warming is caused by methane, and the gas industry plays a big part in those emissions.
Again and again we’ve been talked into the dreamworld where natural gas is the safer, cleaner way to power the world, much better than coal or oil. But early on, Cornell Professor Robert Howarth questioned this narrative. His team investigated and found fracking sites were releasing massive amounts of methane. You could see it in camera shots over the wells with specialized film. The leaks continued through old pipelines and poorly maintained storage and transfer facilities.
Cities like Baltimore or Boston, which installed natural gas in 1887, leak tons of methane all through their corroding pipes. The researchers found high volumes of methane pouring out of sidewalks and right outside a school. Since then, paper after paper showed when you really count all emissions, producing and consuming un-natural gas is at least as bad as burning coal. Biden and the broad public don’t know or conveniently forget these facts. The atmosphere does not and we are all burning for those sins.
So let’s review what we already knew in 2013, and still going on. Radio Ecoshock guest Scot Miller from Harvard was part of a group of scientists that found real methane emissions in the atmosphere are at least 50% greater than EPA calculations. They found leaking methane from fossil fuel operations everywhere. Listen in.
The US EPA estimates of dangerous methane emissions in America. Our guest explains just-released science showing humans are emitting 1 and a half times more than the government told you.
A university study shows emissions of the dangerous greenhouse gas methane are much higher than the American government reports. Have artificially low figures protected the American cattle industry, and fossil fuel producers?Joining us is Scot M. Miller. He’s from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard. Scot is the lead author of a paper just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science titled “Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States.”
Find out more about Scot Miller and this interview in my show blog.
STORM IMPACTS LAST FOR YEARS
Recent heatwaves and record fires appear in media consciousness for a short while, until displaced by other events, like the war in Israel/Gaza. You won’t hear about astounding drought and heat in the Amazon right now. Meanwhile, the consequences of seemingly singular weather events can drag on for years. All the carbon from vast Canadian forests went into the atmosphere during 2023. It will stay there for about 100,000 years.
Something is wrong with our memory and attention wiring. Perhaps we evolved to focus on today’s food and water. Past events with big damages, changes, and impacts on mental health disappear down the rabbit-hole of the latest disaster, coming ever faster.
In the last weeks of October 2023, strong storms raked the planet. Off the coast of Mexico, Hurricane Otis spun up from a Tropical Storm to the strongest Cat 5 Hurricane in 24 hours – the biggest hurricane ever recorded in the Eastern Pacific before is slammed into Acapulco. In the Middle East, Tropical Cyclone Tej dropped several years worth of rain on Yemen damaging a country already impoverished by years of war and blockades. At the very same time, Cyclone Lola smashed into South Pacific Islands, including Vanuatu still trying to recover from twin Cyclones last March. Lola is earliest category 5 cyclone on record in the southern hemisphere. The world’s storm system is destabilized.
The damage and fear after big storms goes on for years, long after the media spotlight has moved on. Let’s step back, where UK photojournalist Robert Leslie revisited the U.S. South, years after the mega-hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and demolished coastal towns.
That’s it for Radio Ecoshock this week. I’m deep into research on converging crisis against a background of a planet heating up. Next we will ask: is the Green New Deal a dangerous mirage? Lots more Ecoshock shows to come.
I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.