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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.


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.”


    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.


    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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    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.


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