🌎 #295: Insurance, for when climate change comes at you fast

Quinn Emmett
October 7, 2022
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Guy counting coins

Time to pay up

The news: It's a hell of a time to be involved in buying, having, or providing insurance.

Both sides of actual insurance markets are undergoing the process involved in one of my top 5 favorite questions: "What are you exposed to?"

In Florida, the answer is "a lot".

Hurricane Ian has made starkly clear what years of exposure risk, provider liquidations and departures, rate increases, non-renewals, and fraud should have done in the first place.

Tack on what will be tens of billions in losses from Ian, and you understand how Florida and California are so similar:

We have been letting — no, encouraging, and often even forcing, at times, people to build, own, rent, and live in areas threatened by climate impacts.

It's complicated, and emotional, but knowing everything we know, insurance SHOULD be drastically more expensive in these places, a powerful signal that "we shouldn't live here."

But it hasn't historically been that way, and state insurers of last resort (Citizens Property Insurance Corp in Florida and the FAIR Plan in Cali) and underpriced FEMA flood insurance have provided peace of mind when honestly there shouldn't be.

We have to ask hard questions, and make hard choices -- especially when it comes to water (too much, or too little).

I'll write more about insurance in an essay soon, but understand: Wildfires, drought, and hurricanes like Ian are the costs we pay when we refuse to pay the real costs of a century of carbon emissions.

⚡️What We Can Do: Understand your flood risk with Flood Factor, a free tool to learn if your property has flooded in the past, is currently at risk, and how that risk changes over time.


Yawning baby
Vaccine equity update 10-7
Our World in Data

God, I love babies

The news: As the months get colder, two truths remain:

  1. It's COVID time
  2. It's baby-making time!

(Editor's note: I'm not kidding, no one loves babies more than I do)

Three years into COVID and a few hundred thousand years into walking upright, seasonality is a thing for both our favorite virus and conceiving humans.

And that's why I'm here to share a meta-analysis of almost 82,000 people who were pregnant and received a COVID vaccine.

TLDR; they lowered their chance of stillbirth by 27% and lowered the odds of adorable little babies ending up in the NICU by 12%, compared to pregnant people who did not receive the vaccine.

From the study:

"COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy was not associated with increased risks of peripartum adverse outcomes, including preterm birth, small size for gestational age, low Apgar score at 5 minutes, cesarean delivery, postpartum hemorrhage, and chorioamnionitis.

Furthermore, COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy was associated with lower risks of neonatal intensive care unit admission, intrauterine fetal death, and maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection."

And this is all important, because pregnant people were excluded from mRNA vaccine trials, vaccine rates among pregnant people are too low, and "even asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection was associated with higher risks of maternal outcomes, including preeclampsia and preterm labor."

The timing couldn't be better:

While there's almost no way our next COVID winter is as bad as the previous two, "bad" is relative:

Anti-vaccine legislation is on the rise, and there's still so much we can do (read: get boosters, wear masks, improve ventilation, and expand paid leave) to protect each other — about 90,000 of us, to wager a guess.

Behind door #2? More Long COVID and missed work, swamped health care systems, and a flu that might kick our ass  three years after going MIA thanks to masks (so weird!).

As always, all we can do is all we can do, and how we respond in this moment is all we can do (please do think of me when making your babies).

⚡️What We Can Do: Stock up on masks, get your boosters, and bring your parents, your kids, and your friends with you. 


Food bank

Eat this, not that, if you can

The news: I want to provide some more context behind the White House's recent and historic nutrition conference.

53 years after the last conference, when (checks notes) Richard Nixon (the same guy who started the EPA, I know) spun up -- among others -- the invaluable Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, we're entering our third pandemic winter, with lots to answer for, and lots of mouths to feed.

I've spent hundreds of words arguing for the FDA to be broken up, and that's because they do a shitty job administering 80% of the foods we eat, but also regulating the entire pharmaceutical industry, the same industry that now pays most of their bills.

It's untenable.

It's easy to focus on food insecurity — a situation that is fucking ridiculous and yet entirely inevitable in a country as wealthy and inequitable as this one — but as horrific as it is, the truth is more Americans die of diet-related diseases from the food we do have than they food we don't. That's how big our food problems are.

And yet -- lots of American kids and adults simply don't have enough food.

Groceries are 10-15% more expensive than a year ago, and with pandemic emergency funds almost depleted, the share of households experiencing food insecurity is ticking up again after dropping in 2021, mirroring the increased demand at food pantries.

Besides inflation, it's helpful to take another big step back to try and understand why more people and families are having trouble affording food.

A few potential answers:

  1. Almost 150,000 American kids have lost a parent to COVID (truly what the fuck are we doing here)
  2. Millions of older people retired and retirement isn't cheap
  3. We let the enormously successful child tax credit lapse
  4. Free school lunches that raise test scores are coming to an end

Some good news: The conference may bring some big wins, and more grocery retailers are offering shopping to SNAP recipients every month: "3 million SNAP households shopped online as of July, which (the USDA) called “a substantial increase” from March 2020, when approximately 35,000 SNAP households did so." It's a mixed bag.

The big question is: what's next?

I'm excited about some of what's been proposed, but it'll take years of hard work before anything Biden proposes truly comes to play, and as many of the proposals will require Congressional action, it's on us to put people in place who will do just that.

⚡️What We Can Do: Feed people tonight (and every month, with a recurring donation) with our friends at Feeding America.


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Wildfire smoke

Don't breathe

The news: The more we find out about wildfire smoke, the worse it gets. 

Just over a year ago (what is time?), I hosted a fantastic conversation with Dr. Mary Prunicki regarding the dangers of smoke exposure.

Dr. P knows more about the subject than just about anyone, and my takeaway was: It's bad, but we don't know how bad yet.

Here's some updates:

  • The life expectancy for firefighters is ten years less than the average person
  • Wildfire smoke has more or less erased progress on clean air
  • Researchers found a 27x increase over the past 10 years in the number of Americans experiencing an “extreme smoke day"
  • Areas with a higher percentage of Indigenous residents experienced up to 3x more frequent and severe fires
  • New research details how wildfire smoke exposure affects pregnancies
  • People of color are 61% more likely than white people to live somewhere with at least one failing air quality grade
  • Soot nanoparticles were found in the organs of fetuses in the womb, quite the accomplishment

Oh, and:

"Researchers found test scores in English language arts and math dropped significantly during school years even at low levels of smoke exposure, and that test-score impacts grew as students’ smoke exposure worsened.

The impact on test scores nearly doubled when students were exposed to heavy smoke during the school day compared to the weekend.

Underscoring previous studies suggesting that air pollution impacts are particularly harmful for younger students, the study also revealed greater impacts for third to fifth graders compared to sixth to eighth graders."

⚡️What We Can Do: Obviously numero uno is decarbonize everything everywhere all at once, but also: Know your daily risk. I use Purple Air outdoor monitors.


Iranian protest
Davide Bonaldo

Take it to the streets

The news: 13 years after Iran's "Green Revolution" -- mass protests that reached across the globe at least in part by way of early Twitter -- dissent has riled the Islamic Republic again, this time after the tragic death of Mahsa Amini.

New tools, from Jigsaw VPNs to Instagram and WhatsApp and even SpaceX's Starlink are technically available (Starlink requires special on-the-ground hardware, good luck with that) to the young women and others so bravely standing up for basic freedoms.

The Iranian government has retaliated by shutting down internet services, cutting off these vital tools and networks at the source.

In response, the US doubled down on sanctions, but simultaneously, the Treasury "authorized US technology companies to offer the Iranian people more options of secure, outside platforms and services."

⚡️What We Can Do: Follow, amplify, and donate to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a collection of journalists, researchers, lawyers, activists, writers, multimedia specialists and advocates based around the world who work to support the basic rights and freedoms of the Iranian people.

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  1. Cars are computers, so are carmakers feeling safe from cyber hacking?
  2. Greenwashing tangles with the $22 trillion debt market, I'm sure it's fine
  3. Facebook warned a million users that they installed password stealing apps
  4. Boston Dynamics pledged not to weaponize their robots and here we go
  5. What fossil fuels are in your essential oils?
  6. How to build solar out West without trashing the land
  7. How monstrous tobacco companies marketed menthol to women and Black people
  8. A genetic predictor for cancer may not work for patients with African and Asian ancestries, we can do better folks
  9. These are the new blood groups
  10. Finally: What the hell does it mean that the universe is not "locally real"? Good lord this tripped me out.

NEW: Get everything in My Notebook as I collect it by becoming a Member for just $5/month.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for giving a shit. Have a great weekend.

-- Quinn

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