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Young’s stuff volume 6.07 for distribution in the summer of 2017

Posted By Thom. C. Young (Full first name: Thomas Clifford John), August 7, 2017

Young’s stuff volume 6.07 for distribution in the summer of 2017


Tropical storms, Tornados, Forest Fires and Floods, Real Global Warming


When I started writing this just over a month ago there were over 30 million people in North America under severe weather watches with standby notices for evacuation as a result of the potential for serious flooding from severe weather. The first tropical storm of the summer season was tripping its way inland from the Gulf of Mexico. Serious tropical storms aren’t supposed to happen until later in July so we were just a few weeks early. While so far as we can tell it’s not terribly unusual for these storms to happen a few weeks early it seems that they are happening earlier each year and more often and with larger and stronger storms than normal. Still hard to say if that’s a trend or not, hard to say if the statistical analysis of the frequency and strength of these storms extrapolates to an empirically provable conclusion. That really doesn’t matter to the millions of people who are affected more frequently by these events.


There are only about 50 years of modern comparable data in storm analysis to look to, before that local records of temperature, rain fall, barometric pressure and wind speed were pretty much all you had to go by and the accuracy of these records was often dubious. At a time when even just agreeing on what time it was at a location was determined by the designated civic authority through the observation of the highest point the sun reached at that location and the setting of a clock to 12 noon and adjusted every day to ensure accuracy. Well maybe every day if some other task of more importance didn’t occur at the appointed hour. We become accustomed to the perceptions of accuracy that our modern technology allows us and don’t even think about the challenges our ancestors faced without even comprehending them as a challenge. As with the never-ending debate on the benefits of daylight savings, any farmer will tell you that the cows need to be milked when they’re ready, not on any construct of time agreed upon by those doing the milking.


Satellite imagery of atmospheric phenomenon only started in the early 1970’s and the collation of that information to prepare models of weather patterns didn’t really get going until the 1980’s. So when you’re reviewing data for patterns and looking for predictive indicators from the data, the more data you have the better the conclusions you will draw. The simplest conclusion to understand is one of cycles and to make predictions of probable events in cycles you need time lines that are provable. Geological time lines run in hundreds of thousands or even millions of years so convincing people that there are trends evident with just 50 years of good data and 2 or 3 hundred years of anecdotal data is a serious challenge. Conceptually the validity of information gathered is often challenged from the perspective of the observers. One way to reference this is with the analogy of 3 blind men describing their encounter with an elephant. One approaches from the rear, one from the front and one from the side. The summary of their three observations might be descriptive enough to get some idea of what they encountered but individually the data would be quite contradictory. The challenges of analyzing climate data is similar but tempered by the amount of time each observer is able to spend accumulating the data and the conclusions drawn from the conclusions drawn in assembling the data leaves the research wide open to challenges of the validity. This is why good writers and speakers (is there a difference) are often able to raise enough doubt about the conclusions made about climate change to  cast doubt upon them. This happens even though the majority of climatologists and weather experts have reached the conclusion that our climate is changing and that the cause of it is our behaviour.


As I mentioned in my last essay, I attended a couple of conferences in Toronto in June. One was focused on the changes taking place in our industry and the inevitable effect it will have on all of us. Much was made of advances underway in technology and data management and how it will make things better faster and cheaper for brokers, companies and their customers. The ongoing discussion of the challenges in keeping the current delivery mechanisms working along with the usual predictions of the eminent demise of the broker channel were debated. As I’ve often said, the rumors of our eminent demise have been greatly exaggerated. We can cut back on the paperwork or make the access to the process easier with technology but insurance is a complicated product, there will always be the need for competent counsellors who can help people understand what they are buying and how to access the relief it provides them after a loss. They may change the name of these people and they may change the way we’re compensated but our future as advisors is in my opinion well assured. The other conference I attended was focused on weather related losses, particularly flood.


When you listen to a climatologist present a message on climate change it soon becomes apparent to you that something of note is going on. I’m not easily swayed when facts are laid out supporting a new change in thinking. I tend to have a very close and thorough review of “facts” and will challenge them to the nth degree. When you toss words around about 1,000 year events and evaluate the impact of weather related events based on the probability of them happening once in a thousand years, I want to know with some degree of certainty what you are basing your certainty on, particularly when there’s absolutely no records around for comparison to for over the last 500 years in North America let alone a thousand. In a thousand year period rivers can (and have) change direction, forests can (and have) become grasslands and grasslands can (and have) become forests. I’m always tempered by discussions about North American climate by the realization that the geological evidence indicates that most of the places we call home in Canada were covered by several kilometers of ice and cold water dammed behind it only 12,000 years ago, so when you’re trying to figure out the scale of things its helpful to get some time lines in front of you when determining cycles isn’t it? Think about that when you hear a news report about a one in a thousand year flood event, if the analysis shows four or five one in a thousand events in a ten year period the mathematical conclusion might be accurate based on the data, but in my opinion the data needs to be challenged for verification.


The last ice age sort of eliminated the need for North Americans (if there were any) to worry much about weather patterns or flooding in the river valleys for a few millenia. Our species hadn’t really established itself in North America until after the Ice bridge formed by that ice age showed them the way from Asia and once they arrived they were too busy altering their environment by killing off the Woolly Mammoths and hunting other animals for food to concern themselves much about the weather. Somewhere along the way the emphasis on hunting and gathering turned to farming as a more reliable way to feed people and again the evidence for their altering of the environment through irrigation works and the clearing of forest is readily available in the archaeological records. Finding archaeologists and anthropologists who agree on what those records mean is often as difficult as getting climate scientists to agree but what cannot be denied though is the success of these people had in creating large advanced cultures supporting millions of people by taming their environment and cultivating enough food to support the dietary needs of large communities. Irrigation and selective breeding of plants and animals was underway in North America long before Francis Bacon started mapping the genealogy of bean plants in Europe.


Just the same though, in our day and age our business runs on statistical analysis. Actuarial sciences is all about making predictions of losses based on the records of the kinds of losses that have happened in the past with allowances for mitigating factors that may limit or increase the potential claims. Figuring these out while making investment decisions to increase your pools to pay the claims is the essence of the insurance business. The first actuaries saw a 100 ships go out and only about 70 return with good enough cargos to make a profit on. Doing the math on the costs of losses and the returns on ventures is how the premiums were determined in that old coffee shop called Lloyds of London. The method hasn’t changed much even though the data is much more complex these days. Analysis of the available statistics leads us to the undeniable conclusion that severe weather events affecting people are becoming more frequent and more severe than the historical and archaeological records indicate. This might be happening because there are so many more of us in more places, it might be happening because our impact on the environment is causing climate change, it might be happening because in the normal cycle of these things it is time for them to happen. No matter how you question the issue, there is no denying the common part of each question is that it is happening. The logical response is that we need to mitigate the process regardless of why.


Perhaps we can’t stop it but we can limit the effects by doing simple things. We can choose to conduct our activities in such a way as to limit the impact on the environment. We can plan and build in such a way as limit the environments impact on us. It is for certain though that we cannot continue to do nothing about it.


So here you might ask the question often heard at presentations made about climate change and our reaction to it, “What if we make this huge investment in changing the way we do things and it turns out that climate change wasn’t caused by us?” Of course the answer to that is we’ll all be living in a cleaner and healthier environment and what would be wrong with that.


Since I began this essay with 30 million people under flood evacuation watch, that event has passed but record heat is causing the Northern forests of North America to once again burn. Evening campfires are impossible with fire bans in effect just about everywhere. Back country excursions on ATV’s and even hiking and horseback trips are prohibited or ill advised with the potential for forest fires reading severely high on every ranger board. A boating trip in the BC valleys finds you unable to navigate in the thick pall of smoke descending on the lakes. The roads are closed because of fire and smoke and over 40,000 British Columbians are evacuated from areas under threat. Health advisories are in effect through out nearly all of Western North America. Meanwhile in Europe the southern Mediterranean is baking under record temperatures and forest fires burst into fury spontaneously nearly everywhere. Southern Alberta hasn’t seen any rain for nearly 3 months, but 250 ml of rain falls in a small town outside of Montreal in an hour, a never before seen event. New Orleans is flooding once again receiving record amounts of rainfall in micro bursts rarely seen at this time of the year. A very rare nearly unheard of late night Tornado occurs in Tulsa Oklahoma tearing through the town. Phoenix is dealing with record rainfalls and serious flooding followed by record heat? With deference to Robert Zimmerman, “The Times they are a Changing!”


In conclusion it is my decided opinion that there is something to this climate change story. The facts are there to see with your own eyes. Many of my peers may take issue with me on this and that’s fine with me, their perspective is rapidly being countered by the growing body of evidence showing things aren’t the same as they used to be. The longer we wait before we do things different the harder and more expensive it will be for our species to adapt to this change and that is why we need to act now! Our industry has determined that climate change is a factor that needs to be allowed for in the pricing and availability of our products. Everyone is paying for the past catastrophes like Fort MacMurray and Slave Lake, but we’ll all soon be paying for the predicted losses assumed on this account. Time to get off the side lines and take a stand.


I hope you are enjoying your summer and that the smoke isn’t keeping you in doors.


Normal disclaimers apply



Tags:  Forest Fires and Floods  Real Global Warming  Tornados  Tropical storms 

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