In climate-change politics, remember the little things

In climate-change politics, remember the little things
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When it comes to climate change, the things getting our attention are often the big things, like hurricanes barreling through Florida or wildfires blazing through Maui. But the little things should get our attention, because they, perhaps as much as the big things, create the conditions for political action.

I’m thinking, for instance, about last week. Here in Connecticut, where I live, it was hot! So hot in fact that many of the public school districts in the state were forced to close their facilities hours earlier than usual. Air conditioning systems could not keep pace with elevating temperatures.

This was hugely disruptive. Local news reported parents being forced to pick up more than one kid at more than one school before making arrangements for childcare that’s usually not needed, so they can work. Imagine this scenario repeated thousands of times over. Finding childcare is hard enough. Keeping a job that pays enough to pay for childcare is hard enough. Add schools closing early due to heat and, well, all that’s worse.

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And there’s potential for this to get worse. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the earth experienced the hottest three months ever in June, July and August. The group said that, “August as a whole saw the highest global monthly average sea surface temperatures on record across all months, at 20.98°C. [That’s nearly 70 degrees Fahrenheit] Temperatures exceeded the previous record every single day in August.”

Another little thing is insurance. The more the planet experiences the consequences of climate change – more frequent and more intense hurricanes, more frequent and more intense wildfires – the more insurance companies are pulling back from covering for damages caused by them.

The Postreported recently that major home insurers, including Allstate, Nationwide and Berkshire Hathaway, have told federal regulators “that extreme weather patterns caused by climate change have led them to stop writing coverages in some regions, exclude protections from various weather events and raise monthly premiums and deductibles.”

We’re not only talking about regions where hurricanes occur frequently. We’re also talking about regions where hurricanes did not occur frequently but do now thanks to climate change. Nationwide, for instance, told regulators that it wouldn’t cover for “properties within a certain distance to the coastline” – any coastline – due to hurricane risk. The Post: “That means individuals and families in places once considered safe from natural catastrophes could lose crucial insurance protections while their natural disaster exposure expands or intensifies as global temperatures rise.”

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My house is about five miles from New Haven Harbor, which is off the Long Island Sound. I don’t know if I’d meet Nationwide’s rising threshold. (I don’t buy its product.) But given the direction we are going, and given how fast we are going there, it stands to reason that my modest house, located atop a hill overlooking a flood plain, might not be insurable in time. It’s my greatest source of wealth. If that goes, well, I don’t want to think about it.

Speaking of flood plains, they’re getting bigger, faster. Considering climate change alone, one team of researchers found that damage from flooding is on pace to increase by more than a quarter over the next 30 years. Then they factored in population growth. (Despite the risk, people are still building on flood plains, knowing they will flood.) The team “found the increase in US flood losses will be four times higher than the climate-only effect.”

Flood plains are uninsurable. As they get bigger, faster, more land will become uninsurable, faster. That’s going to put immense stress on the National Flood Insurance Program, which is already under immense stress. According to Ben Winck, “floods and storms have already cost the United States $38 billion this year, nearly tripling the historical yearly average.” Its “payouts have ballooned as well,” he said. “The program’s flood fund lost nearly $1.9 billion in fiscal 2022, up from a $236 million loss the year prior.” It’s also subject to renewal, which the House Republicans won’t promise.

As the air gets hotter, it gets wetter, and wetter air means more rain. A late-summer shower in New England used to be soft and gentle. Now, because the air is sopping, they’re often torrential downpours. (Just this morning, the skies dropped 10 inches of water in six hours.) The housing stock of this region, some of it very old, going back to Puritan times, was not built to endure the impact of subtropical weather. Yet here we are.

Hurricanes and wildfires are the big things. They get a lot of attention because they are the most dramatic demonstration of the environmental perils that we face. They may be the best means of building a mass climate-change movement. But it’s the little things that accumulate, slowly and nearly invisibly, to become a decent life. If things like childcare and homeowners insurance become impossible, a decent life is, too.

That’s another basis for raising hell.

READ MORE: San Francisco Bay Area scientist says he ‘left out the full truth’ to get climate change wildfire study published in prestigious journal

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