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Climate

Health Insurers Fret About Climate Change

On ice-free summers, health insurance premiums, and ESG investing

Health Insurers Fret About Climate Change
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Much of the U.S. will see calmer weather over the next few days • A tornado caused “biblical damage” in Cyprus • Mexico is experiencing its worst drought in 12 years.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Study: Polar bears head ashore for food as sea ice melts

A new study sheds light on how polar bears are changing their diets and behaviors in a warming world. Climate change is shrinking the sea ice on which the bears rely for hunting seals. As the ice melts, the bears are forced onto land, where they can either reduce their physical activity in order to save energy and calories, or forage for berries and small prey. The research, which involved strapping cameras to 20 bears in Canada’s Manitoba province, found that neither option is enough to prevent the animals from going hungry. All of them lost weight and two of them were on track to starve before the sea ice was expected to return. “Polar bears are not grizzly bears wearing white coats,” said Charles Robbins, director of the Washington State University Bear Center and co-author of the study in the journal Nature Communications. “They’re very, very different.” The study found some bears are spending more time in the water, which is “new and unexpected,” one polar bear expert toldVox. “These are possibly acts of desperation. Hungry and skinny bears take more risks than fat bears.”

2. Health insurers fret about climate change impact

Health insurance may be the next sector to hike premiums due to climate change, The Wall Street Journal reported. The rise in extreme weather events has already roiled the home insurance market, making it more expensive – or even impossible – for homeowners in some high-risk areas to take out a policy. Now health insurers are “building new models to reassess premiums, estimate risk, and meet incoming climate reporting standards,” the Journal said. Recent research has linked extreme heat and wildfire smoke to a variety of health problems including heart attacks and cancer, and insurers want to know what this all means for their bottom lines. But the Journal reports that for now, insurers aren’t worried about their profits, “because the groups most likely to be affected by climate change aren’t covered by insurance.”

3. Redfin adds air quality tracker to home listings

In a sign of the times, Redfin has become the first real estate brokerage to include air quality data alongside home listings. The feature allows house hunters to see the air quality in their prospective new neighborhoods, and tells them whether it is expected to get better or worse in years to come. One home listed in Washington, D.C., for example, came with this warning: “Over the next 30 years, this area will experience a 20.0% increase in the number of poor air quality days, i.e. where the Air Quality Index (AQI) exceeds 100.”

Air quality information on a home listing in Washington, D.C. Redfin

Redfin already lists other risk factors like flood, fire, heat, and wind. “Redfin wants to ensure that every single person searching for a home has the information they need to understand climate risks,” said Redfin Senior Vice President of Product and Design Ariel Dos Santos. The company also published data this week showing that more people are moving into than out of metro areas that have bad air quality, not necessarily because of health concerns, but because they’ve been priced out.

4. BlackRock’s ESG funds are ‘soaring’

BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset manager, has seen more cash flow into its ESG funds than out every quarter for the last two years, “a period that marks one of the toughest ever in the two-decade history of environmental, social and governance investing,” Bloombergreported. Most people might associate ESG with renewables, but it also encompasses some of the biggest tech giants: BlackRock’s three top-performing ESG funds include Microsoft and Apple as their biggest holdings.

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  • 5. UK Royal Navy reportedly considering climate change course for sailors

    The United Kingdom’s Royal Navy is considering making all its sailors take a course about climate change, The Telegraphreported, citing a leaked document. The course would focus specifically on how climate change threatens peace and defense efforts. The document also said rising sea levels could damage maritime infrastructure. Other initiatives under consideration include paying for sailors to study climate change, and inviting climate scientists to conduct research on Britain’s warships. One former head of the Royal Navy told the paper he supported the plans, but added: “Climate change is not more important than fighting the King’s enemies, so it has to be done with a balance.”

    THE KICKER

    At a North Carolina aquarium, a round stingray named Charlotte is pregnant despite not having contact with a male of her species in at least eight years.

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    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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    Politics

    Are Pollsters Getting Climate Change Wrong?

    Why climate might be a more powerful election issue than it seems.

    A pollster on an ice floe.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Climate change either is or isn’t the biggest issue of our time. It all depends on who you ask — and, especially, how.

    In March, as it has since 1939, Gallup asked Americans what they thought was the most important problem facing the country. Just 2% of respondents said “environment/pollution/climate change” — fewer than those who said “poor leadership” or “unifying the country” (although more than those who said “the media.”) Pew, meanwhile, asked Americans in January what the top priority for the president and Congress ought to be for this year, and “dealing with climate change” ranked third-to-last out of 20 issues — well behind “defending against terrorism,” “reducing availability of illegal drugs,” and “improving the way the political system works.”

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    AM Briefing: Earth Day Edition

    On expanding solar access, the American Climate Corps, and union news

    Biden’s Big Earth Day Agenda
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Torrential rains forced Mauritius to shut down its stock exchange • “Once in a century” flooding hit southern China • In the Northern Hemisphere, the Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Biden kicks off Earth Day with $7 billion for expanding solar access

    Today is Earth Day, but President Biden and his cabinet are celebrating all week long. Senior members of the administration have scheduled a national tour of events and announcements related to the president’s climate and environmental record. It starts with Biden’s visit to Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia, today, where he will announce $7 billion is being awarded to 60 state and local governments, tribes, and national and regional nonprofits through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Solar for All initiative, which aims to support solar in low- to moderate-income communities. The average grant size will be more than $80 million, and the funding will be used to design new programs and bolster existing ones that subsidize the cost of rooftop solar installations, community solar projects, and battery storage.

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    Sparks

    Biden’s $7 Billion Solar Bonanza

    The Solar For All program is the final piece of the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

    Solar panel installation.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    The great promise of solar panels — in addition to their being carbon-free — is the democratization of energy. Anyone can produce their own power, typically for less than the going utility rate. The problem is that those who stand to benefit the most from this opportunity haven’t been able to access it.

    That pattern could change, however, with Solar for All, a $7 billion program under the Environmental Protection Agency to support solar in low- to moderate-income communities. On Monday, the Biden administration announced it was awarding the funds to 60 state and local governments, tribes, and national and regional nonprofits, at an average grant size of more than $80 million.

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