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The Rising Costs of Natural Catastrophes

On insurance and extreme weather, Nissan’s new business plan, and paint that cools

The Rising Costs of Natural Catastrophes
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: A cloud of Saharan dust is sweeping toward southern Europe • Malaysia’s oppressive heat wave could last through mid-April • The water temperature is about 48 degrees Fahrenheit in Baltimore Harbor, where rescuers are searching for survivors after the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.


1. Soaring losses from natural disasters ‘a new norm,’ says insurance giant

Extremely costly natural disasters have become “a new norm,” and insured losses will double in 10 years due to climate change, according to one of the world’s largest reinsurers. In a report published today, Swiss Re, a firm that provides insurance for insurers, calculated that natural disasters resulted in insured losses of $108 billion in 2023, marking the fourth consecutive year of losses exceeding $100 billion. As Bloombergnoted, “only about 40% of economic losses globally are insured, meaning the total economic losses are much higher.”

The main reason losses were so high was the sheer frequency with which “medium severity” disasters occurred. These are events that cost between $1 billion and $5 billion, and they’re on the rise. Severe thunderstorms (also called severe convective storms, or SCS) have become “the second largest loss-making peril” behind tropical cyclones. The Midwest accounted for the highest percentage of insured losses from severe thunderstorms in the U.S. last year:

Swiss Re

The report calls for adaptation measures, but concludes that “in the face of climate change, adaptation and insurance can only go so far. Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions is also essential to counter the build-up of physical risks.”

2. Nissan outlines plan to slash EV manufacturing costs

Nissan yesterday announced a new business plan it hopes will “ensure sustainable growth and profitability” as it faces competition from Chinese rivals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strategy leans heavily on electric vehicles. The Japanese carmaker will launch 16 new EV models over the next three years and slash EV manufacturing costs by 30% in an effort to reach cost parity with internal combustion engine vehicles by 2030. It’ll bring down costs by incorporating battery innovations and new manufacturing processes. And the company will make EVs in “families,” starting with a “main vehicle” and then building on that design with new variations that can be significantly cheaper and faster to produce.

3. EV startup Fisker faces bankruptcy

The New York Stock Exchange yesterday halted trading of electric vehicle startup Fisker Inc.’s shares and said it planned to delist the stock due to “abnormally low” share prices. The company had been in talks with a major automaker about a potential investment, but the deal fell through, which means its financials are in bad shape and bankruptcy may be looming. If the cash-strapped company fails, it would join the ranks of other embattled EV startups including Aptera and Detroit Automotive. Last week Fisker paused its EV production.

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  • 4. Trader Joe’s raises banana prices

    Trader Joe’s is hiking the price of bananas for the first time in two decades. The grocery chain has long sold individual bananas for just 19 cents, but has raised the price to 23 cents. A spokesperson told CNN the change was due to cost increases. Earlier this month, industry experts gathering at the World Banana Forum warned that climate change was hurting banana production and supply chains and that this would soon result in higher banana prices for consumers.

    5. Study shows how ‘cooling’ paints can reduce urban temperatures

    Special “cooling” paint can significantly reduce the temperatures of surfaces in cities and help pedestrians feel cooler, according to a new study published in the journal Sustainable Cities and Society. The research is the first demonstration of how paints made to reflect the sun’s heat actually perform in the real world. For the study, researchers at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University covered surfaces such as walls, rooftops, and pavements in an industrial neighborhood in Singapore. They found those surfaces were up to 2 degrees Celsius cooler than uncoated areas during the hottest time of the day, and that this helped pedestrians feel 1.5 degrees cooler. “This is a minimally intrusive solution for urban cooling that has an immediate effect,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. E V S Kiran Kumar Donthu. “By reducing the amount of heat absorbed in urban structures, we also reduce heat load in buildings, consequently reducing indoor air-conditioning energy consumption.” Below you can see some of the coated test surfaces:

    Nanyang Technological University


    Ohio has approved the Oak Run Solar Project, a 6,000-acre solar farm in Madison County that will also graze 1,000 sheep and grow crops. The farm will be the nation’s largest “agrivoltaics” project.


    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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    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.


    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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    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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