In a changing climate, with swirling temperatures in rising oceans, extreme weather is the new norm. This is of great concern to the insurance industry, which recently told US Senators that a surge in weather-related catastrophes has forced billions of dollars in payouts.
That's why insurers (and reinsurers, who insure the insurers) are looking to new ways to predict climate-related risk. Typically, insurers have predicted the future by studying the past. But climate change means that the past can no longer reliably predict the future. So insurers are turning to climate scientists--who are generally focused on the future--to help.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is Boing Boing's science editor and the author of "Before the Lights Go Out”. She points to a new method of statistical analysis called “event attribution," which examines recent severe weather events and assesses how much of their probability can be attributed to climate change:
These impacts are so complex that isolating them would be like taking the sugar out of a chocolate-chip cookie — nearly impossible, everything is so intertwined. Event attribution tries to break through this ambiguity using brute force.
Using sophisticated software and plenty of computer power, scientists at Oxford University create two virtual worlds: one where the climate looks like ours does today, and one that looks more like the preindustrial world, before we started spewing greenhouse gases from factories, cars and buildings. Then they alter the weather in both environments to see how natural disasters play out. After tens of thousands of simulations, they produce an estimate about how much climate change affected the outcome.
"It doesn’t fit well on a protest placard," writes Koerth-Baker, "but this information may one day help build better actuarial tables, translating complicated data into real-world impacts."
Photo: A house damaged by superstorm Sandy in Rockaway Beach, New York. (Scott Eells/Bloomberg)