Category Archives: Ben Kirtman

Insurers Increasingly Focus On Climate Change Risks

I learned about my now good friend, the esteemed climate scientist Dr. Ben Kirtman here at the University of Miami, by reading his work within the IPCC Report when I was 13. In the years since he’s been someone that I’ve greatly admired and look up to but he’s also just about the nicest person you can imagine.

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So nice, in fact, that he was kind enough to meet with me all of those years ago as I was just starting The Sink or Swim Project and boy was my time with him that day impactful. I don’t know if he knows this or not but Ben was the first person I ever interviewed about climate change (talk about starting in the deep end of the pool with one of the world’s top scientific minds!). And, true to form, upon hearing that I’d never been on campus at the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences, the place where I will soon graduate, he insisted he give me a tour of the place. For a little girl who was in love with marine science and already dreaming of attending the very school he worked at it was pretty tall cotton as they say, and all these years later I am as appreciative today to him as I was that first afternoon we met.

Now I will also share with you that during our time together that day we covered a lot of important topics. Ben’s insights certainly confirmed my interest in working on our climate crisis much less the plight places like South Florida face as rising seas threaten their very existence. When, for example, we talked about the threat that rising seas present to animals Ben responded by saying “Although I am not a biologist I am pretty sure that the polar bears are in trouble”. His answer sparked an idea that I then turned into a comic book, Where Will All The Polar Bears Go?, that I  wrote, illustrated, and have shared with tens of thousands of children during my public lectures in the years since.

Ben and I also talked about the challenges those who are so deeply concerned about our warming climate often face by others who are either unaware of the issue or somehow dismiss it. In explaining what could be done about folks who overlook or deny the issue and how we go about changing that before places people love, say the Everglades or Florida Keys, are lost forever, Ben said something I’ve never forgotten. When I asked him what he felt it would take to be or become the tipping point that would lead to widespread and aggressive action he explained that he felt that insurance companies and lenders would one day force solutions or would simply no longer offer some consumers coverage on their homes and businesses or, for that matter, a mortgage loan.

Of course, that made total sense. Insurers typically write a policy that’s six or 12 months in duration but when the time comes, and without serious action on our part that time will certainly come, they will stop writing coverage on a risk that’s sure to present them a claim. Mortgage lenders likely have an even greater risk since most home loans last 15 to 30 years. The lender today that is not paying close attention to the risk from flooding in a place like South Florida is the lender that will hold a mortgage on a home or business that’s under water in the decades to come.

And so with Ben’s insight all of those years ago in mind the article that follows caught my attention. The following is from an industry trade periodical called the Insurance Journal and as you will see it outlines a recent publication, the Climate Change Risk Assessment Report by the Geneva Association Task Force. The report considers a variety of risks related to climate change including the need to formally factor those risks into their predictive modeling, underwriting and strategic business decisions.

Ben was, of course, right. The day will soon come when insurers (and lenders too, you can be certain) take our climate change crisis into consideration when it comes to offering insurance or the price they charge.

In fact, based on the group of insurers on the task force, a who’s who of giant global insurers, I’d say the day, just as Ben so correctly predicted would happen, has already arrived. Now the question is what will our society do to not only mitigate the problem but actually address it’s foundational cause,fossil fuel production and use?

Insurance climate change task force warns of short, long-term risks: report

By Rebecca Gainsburg, Advisen

The insurance industry has taken promising first steps to understand climate change risk through decades of natural catastrophe modeling, analysis and pricing, but uncertainty surrounding future changes to public policy, litigation, technology and human behavior calls for a more holistic approach.

Insurance experts from 17 of the world’s largest property/casualty and life insurers joined forces to launch the Geneva Association Task Force and proactively publish a climate change risk assessment report in February.

“Insurers are obvious, strong leaders on global climate action, given their core functions – managing risk and investing – and our industry-led initiative demonstrates that they are proactively rising to the occasion,” said Jad Ariss, managing director for the Geneva Association.

By factoring climate change risk into underwriting decisions and choosing investment strategies that support climate change mitigation, insurers and reinsurers already contribute to the low-carbon economy transition. However, many difficult decisions still lie ahead regarding physical and transition risk in both the short- and long-term.

Physical risks from wildfires, droughts, and other extreme weather events will likely be similar in the next 10 years to what they are today. In the longer term (2030 to 2050), the Geneva Association said it anticipates an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events and more significant consequences from rising sea levels, including prolonged heat waves and droughts, increased flooding of coastal areas, the spread of disease, and other geopolitical consequences.

Transition risks include societal and public policy efforts to mitigate climate change. They may result in increased climate change litigation, changes to the transportation and energy sectors, and an increasingly volatile valuation of assets in carbon-intensive sectors in the short-term. Long-term transition risks will largely depend on how much action is taken in the short-term, and the interconnection between transition and physical risks shouldn’t be ignored. 

“If society is able to accelerate the transition by taking actions to reduce carbon emissions and thereby global warming, it may reduce the extent to which acute and chronic physical risks materialize. Conversely, an absence of action by society is likely to lead to more severe global warming and physical risks,” the Geneva Association said in its report.

Developing the proper methodologies and tools to properly understand, mitigate, and underwrite climate change risk takes time and reaching a consensus is often difficult, but collaboration between insurers, scientific communities and other experts could speed the process.

Currently, the goal is to boost “awareness of the risk, the importance of investing in developing assessment capabilities and experimenting with different approaches and engaging in dialogue to promote cross-learning,” according to the report.

“This initiative is taking the insurance industry’s climate action and collaboration to the next level. Building on lessons learned from previous pilots and initiatives, our task force is focused on advancing climate risk assessment and scenario analysis anchored in companies’ decision-making,” said Maryam Golnaraghi, the association’s director of climate change and emerging environmental topics.

Members of the task force include Achmea, Aegon, AIG, Allianz, Aviva, AXA, Chubb, Daichi Life, Hannover Re, Intact Financial, Manulife, MetLife, Munich Re, Prudential Financial, SCOR, Swiss Re, and Tokio Marine.

There Will Be Riots & Blood In The Streets

Welcome to The Sink or Swim Project’s first “vlog” (video blog). You can watch the video below or you can read my old-school post like I’ve been publishing for years. Let me know what you think about the vlog or the post, or anything else. 

The recent holidays reminded me how much I love my family traditions.

Whether it’s how we decorate our home for Halloween, traveling to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee to have Thanksgiving dinner with 90 or so members of my mom’s side of our family, singing Silent Night during Candle Light Service at Church on Christmas Eve here in Miami or spending New Years’ Eve under a pitch black sky painted with millions of stars on the remote island of No Name Key. If given a choice, or a vote, I’d not change a single one of those traditions or many others that I treasure.

And I don’t think I am much different than most people. Most folks don’t seem to like change whether in their own holiday traditions or their day to day lives. I get it.

In order for us to fix our climate change crisis we will, however, need to conceive and embrace the word change on a massive, likely often uncomfortable scale, global scale and that starts right here in the USA. But it will be hard. Very hard is my guess. Perhaps approaching going to war hard in some ways in terms of the short term sacrifices, pain and change that’s needed to save our planet much less mitigate the economic and social impact on society.

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” 
– George Orwell, 1984

As 2019 begins there are examples around us of just how difficult these changes will be, especially the early or voluntary pioneering ones that are popping up all over planet earth. To some people these changes and the resulting response will seem are straight out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange but they will not be some view of dystopian fiction but our reality.

Autonomous electric cars?

Imagine what people in most of the last century would have thought about news of self-driving vehicles yet all of a sudden they are coming true all over our planet as I type these words. And while we are not (yet) at the point of the Jetson’s promise of flying cars it’s clear that industries and governments are embracing the promise of more efficient, less costly, and safer transportation. General Motors has announced that it is shifting its entire line-up towards electric cars. Ford has done just the same thing, announcing some layoffs and a shift to electric cars.

Insurers all over the planet know that 94% of all accidents are tied to human error and realize that the need for auto insurance in the future will greatly diminish as self-driving cars become prevalent and are, therefore, planning to focus their businesses in other areas of risk over the next five to ten years.

Wielding rocks and knives, Arizonans attack self-driving cars

And yet, people are fighting back against their fears that machines are taking over just as would be the case in a science fiction novel. The recent article entitled Wielding rocks and knives, Arizonans attack self-driving cars sure caught my attention and is just one example of our near term future filled with change and transition. Waymo, a part of Google, makes self-driving cars and vans and since 2017 has been piloting them in places like Chandler Arizona.

Just a few months ago the New York Times ran a story about how there have been almost two dozen attacks on these vehicles by people with concerns over the use of the artificial intelligence technology they use, their safety or the possibility that some people could lose jobs. Some have thrown rocks. Some have slashed their tires. Others have tried to run the vans off of the road.

Yellow Jacket Riot

Yellow Vests, Tear Gas, Water Cannons & Guns

On Christmas Eve the picture above caught my attention and is, I fear, a precursor to the decades ahead and what many will face in transitioning towards a sustainable future. A future that will not be achieved, it seems, without established industry and many good people all over the world fighting back. Along the way people will be jailed, beaten and perhaps killed. If people are already attacking cars, for gosh sake, when the stakes really start to increase I think we are in for some dark, warlike times.

This picture is of a policeman in Paris who had pulled his gun out on French citizens, protesters who had taken to the streets for the sixth weekend in a row to riot against a proposed carbon tax, a device designed to nudge consumers away from fossil fuels such as gasoline and towards sustainable solutions such as electric cars, public transit, walking and so forth. In November and December those riots evolved into protests over a wide range of frustrations including wage stagnation and the French government including President Macron but it started with news of the new carbon tax.

The good news is that the police officer in this picture did not fire his gun and understandably was responding to threat of the large crowd that approached him. That situation was diffused but others will not, I fear, be so lucky in the future as the need for such taxes and other changes in our ways of life increase as global temperatures rise.  The so called Yellow Vest riots, led by people wearing yellow vests in solidarity over their concerns, have continued thus far in 2019 and what is happening should alarm all of us but also should serve notice of just how hard the changes we will need will be. Yellow Vest riots in France thus far in 2019 have seen:

A river boat that houses a restaurant on the Seine River set on fire.

Motorcycles and cars all over Paris burnt by protesters.

Smoke and tear gas covering the Orsay Museum and famous gold dome of the French Academy.

A government building, the Ministry for Parliamentary Relations, attacked and officials in that building evacuated.

Police and their equipment all over France attacked and destroyed.

Vandalism, looting and chaos filling French streets by as many as 50,000 protesters a night.

“In the scientific community the urgency has always been clear—if we want to substantially slow the warming of the climate, then dramatic reductions in CO2 are required.”

– Dr. Ben Kirtman, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

No, these revolts and riots are not out of some science fiction movie but real life. Real people faced with changes that they perceive will hurt their wallets and ways of life. And yet, without starting to truly solve our climate change crisis at this time the cost will only rise and rise until the time comes that it’s too late.

As 2019 begins all of us must consider how we can leave this place we live in, earth, in better shape by the ends of our lives than we found it when we were born. And that starts with eliminating carbon pollution from our atmosphere and oceans.

“It will take dramatic and immediate reductions in CO2 emissions, both for the U.S. and globally, to achieve that goal.”

– Dr. Brian Soden, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Consider a report just out by an independent economic research firm, the Rhodium Group, that uses data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and estimates that carbon emissions increased 3.4% in 2018, the largest increase in eight years. An increased fueled, pun intended, all over our economy from Buildings and Industry to Transportation and Electrical Power. The scientific data shows us that carbon dioxide levels are higher today than they have been in the past 800,000 years.  And the science shows us that it will not be sufficient to stabilize our climate, it will require that in the decades ahead that we cool it. Experts estimate that to stop more warming, more damage, that 2020 (NEXT YEAR) needs to be the peak of man’s global greenhouse gas production and that over the 50 years that follows we will need to reduce emissions to zero and then beyond that produce negative emissions.

We can, of course, elect to not change our ways and allow the continued growth to warm our planet to catastrophic levels that leave us no time to make the dramatic changes that are needed to offset the worst possible outcomes, outcomes that threaten the very survival of places like Miami, the Everglades and the Florida Keys. Outcomes that will lead an estimated 2.5 Million people in South Florida to become climate refugees and the same thing to happen to hundreds of millions of people all over earth. The choice is ours.

And when I say ours I mean every single person’s on the planet. The climate change crisis is not strictly a problem caused by the United States, nor one that we will solve alone. That’s why what’s happening in places as different as Arizona and France are telling about just how hard all of this will be. China, for example, produces 27% of global carbon emissions and, thus, countries of every size, region and political persuasion on earth must come together for the good of humanity and this place we call home. Global diplomacy on an urgent scale is needed and the time has come to set politics aside, educate people, create a plan and begin to implement transformational solutions to the problem.

Of course, if we don’t take serious action, actions that will forever change how we travel, conduct commerce and live, then the science will only become more and more ominous.  And as temperatures and seas rise the riots, revolts, violence and madness will exponentially grow. What we see happening all over the world including here in the US will, I fear, be looked back upon as the beginning of the real upheaval and chaos unless we change. And no, none of this is or will be science fiction but the lives we have chosen because of fossil fuels.

Speaking of the recent holidays, Happy New Year to you. Here’s a new year’s wish to hoping that late in my life I can still celebrate Christmas in Miami and New Years on No Name, that those places and countless others all over earth will be accessible to my family and all of the generations in the future.

Bravo Broward! Miami-Dade’s School Children Deserve Better From Our School Board & County


It’s time that the Miami-Dade School Board and the Miami-Dade County Commission get serious about our climate change crisis and the future that Miami-Dade’s children face in a South Florida that will be increasingly impacted from sea level rise. Those children need to be informed about the facts and science behind climate change, including sea level predictions so that they can become engaged in creating sustainable solutions to mitigate and, hopefully, solve the problem. We do not have time to allow climate change to be seen as a political issue and to not educate and engage students who will be so directly impacted by this growing crisis is unacceptable.

Miami-Dade County’s public school system has about 345,000 students attending 392 schools. The children in those schools will soon inherit the climate change crisis and it will be up to today’s kids to most directly fix problems that threaten South Florida’s very future. To say that we face a significant challenge is a ridiculous understatement and for that reason I’ve been trying to get the Miami-Dade County School Board and the Miami-Dade County Commission’s attention in hopes that, together, we can create programs to educate, engage and energize children about climate change. Such work could start small with an hour a year of climate change science education.

I am not alone in my knowing that the sooner we educate our region’s children the sooner they can commence to being a powerful part of the solution. The lack of a response from the County and School Board to requests that we discuss creating a program and platform for students is a growing frustration by many here in Miami-Dade. Unfortunately, the  leaders of a number of forward thinking local institutions all over Miami-Dade have expressed their frustration to me, the same frustration I’ve had, over the lack of response or action I’ve received from the Miami-Dade School Board, its Superintendent and various people in the Miami-Dade County government, when approached about creating a such program. The time has come to re-double our efforts.

Miami-Dade’s apparent lack of interest in what will be the greatest challenge today’s children face in their lifetimes needs to change and it needs to change quickly. We have a moral obligation, I feel, to inform children about climate science and to provide them opportunities to create sustainable programs that can make our community, country and world a better, cleaner place for the rest of their lives and for generations to come. Sadly, the adults in charge of the County and School Board are letting our children down and that needs to change.


The good news, and it’s really great news, is that our neighbor immediately to the North, Broward County, is enthusiastically engaging children about climate change and sustainability and has already laid the groundwork for Miami-Dade to learn from and, I would hope, follow. Broward County Public Schools, in partnership with Broward County’s Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division, has created a platform for climate change inspiration that offer opportunities for its 271,500 students and 234 schools to learn about the science and become part of the sustainable solutions we so desperately need. Broward’s visionary leadership led to yesterday’s very first ever Broward Youth Climate Summit and to understand how serious Broward’s adults are about helping students engage in solving our climate crisis, to see how those amazing adults truly ‘get it’, you need only read the Broward Youth Climate Summit’s Mission Statement which begins as follows:

To convene, engage, connect and empower young people for action on climate change in South Florida through the Youth Climate Summit and other leadership opportunities, and to create a climate literate generation who: understands the essential principals of climate science, communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way.


And to those who wonder whether encouraging young kids to learn about climate change or become involved in sustainability solutions is a good idea I can tell you first hand that it works beautifully in Broward County. As the Key Note Speaker Panel’s Moderator yesterday I’ve seen what the amazing teachers from all over Broward, happily supported by the Broward County School Board and Broward County’s government itself, are doing. And most importantly, I’ve seen how it is being wildly embraced by children in Middle and High Schools from all over Broward County.

What I saw yesterday gave me tremendous hope for our future yet it also frustrated me to think that Miami-Dade, perhaps the most at risk community in North America from the threat of sea level rise, does not have a similar program or such a strong commitment.

500 children packed the Global Events Center in downtown Fort Lauderdale for the day long student Summit and for an hour and a half those children listened to esteemed experts from all over South Florida talk about our climate change crisis and sustainability. People like Dr. Ben Kirtman from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Carey Stanton from the National Wildlife Federation, Professor Jeff Huber from the School of Architecture at FAU, Jackie Ventura from The Miami Heat, Teresa Frontado from WLRN and Zalalem Adefris, the Resilience Director at Catalyst Miami.  These incredible professionals talked about sustainability, solar and, yes, they shared hard climate science facts with the children.

IMG_0857Let me repeat that.

500 Middle and High School children listened to a panel of adults discuss climate change and sustainability for an hour and a half yesterday.

And what did they do after the panel finished their session? The children came up the microphones and asked question after question. The children craved answers and engagement. Just as I see at every single climate lecture that I give at schools all over South Florida, Broward’s kids understand that we have a problem, they know carbon is killing our atmosphere and oceans and they want to be part of the solution. They simply need a platform to become involved and thankfully Broward’s School Board and County government understand that and how serious this topic truly is to our region’s very future, to their student’s future here in South Florida.

Bravo Broward!

Miami-Dade’s children deserve the same level of commitment from our School Board, Superintendent, County Government and Mayor as children in Broward have. Miami-Dade children deserve better. Our climate change crisis and the resulting sea level rise threat is the most important issue Miami-Dade’s children will face in their lifetimes here in South Florida and the time has come for the adults in charge to understand this and get serious about educating and engaging students.

Allow me to thank some of the incredible people in Broward who played a role in yesterday’s Broward Youth Climate Summit. Thanks to the amazing Dr. Jennifer Jurado, Director & Chief Resilience Officer for the Broward County Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division, Dr. Carolina Maran, Robert Rudolph, Victor Suarez, Maena Angelotti, Kim Mayo and Scott Lewis. Thanks as well to School Board Member (District 3) Heather Brinkworth, Susan Cantrick, Director of Broward County Public Schools Applied Learning Department, Dr. Lisa Milenkovic, Megan West, Rebecca Malones, Jaime Akkusu, Justin Weaver, Jill Horowitz and Sheryl Arriola. Thank you for allowing me to moderate yesterday’s panel and including me in your inaugural event but mostly thank you for what you are doing to educate and inspire the generations that will need to fully solve our climate crisis. For that, I know I speak for many when I say, I am grateful to each of you and your colleagues.

I’d also like to thank each of the panelists who participated yesterday and gave such meaningful insight to everyone in attendance. Your insights about your professional work much less your educations and all else inspired many yesterday, most certainly me, and for being with us in Broward thank you.

To learn more about the 2019 Broward Youth Climate Summit, its program and the Key Note Speakers who joined me yesterday please click here

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