OPINION: Your insurance policy’s fine print, and fracking

The other day, I got one of those thick envelopes from my insurance company stuffed with many pages of very small print. “Important information about your policy” said the envelope, and usually those go straight into the recycling bin.

But for whatever reason I opened this one and read it. Turned out to be pretty interesting. Mostly, it detailed all the things my homeowner’s insurance will no longer cover. For example, my house is not covered by damage done by any of the animals that live in the Miami Valley. If, however, my living room is trashed by a rhino, then I’m good. Also, if my house blows up because I’m running a crystal-meth lab in the basement, that isn’t covered either. Fair enough.

Then I read this: damage resulting from “earth movement” has been excluded from my policy and “earth movement includes movement resulting from natural resource extraction activities, excavation, or pressure by surface or subsurface earth or fill.” Translation: My insurance doesn’t cover damage from fracking.

But wait! Haven’t we all been assured by the industry that fracking is environmentally harmless and pure as the driven snow? Haven’t they denied that injecting fluids of unrevealed toxicity at high pressure into the ground causes earthquakes, er, “earth movements?”

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Yes, they have. And it is also true that the fracking industry’s handmaidens in Columbus (and elsewhere) have protected them from much regulation by citing these same reassurances. But apparently the insurance companies didn’t get the memo. Insurance companies calculate risk, and they stay in business because they’re good at it. They aren’t much interested in “alternative facts” in the face of real scientific evidence.

And you know what else insurance companies are paying attention to? Climate change. But wait! Didn’t we just elect a man who thinks climate change is a “Chinese conspiracy”? Isn’t Congress controlled by a party that denies that climate change is a problem?

Yes, and yes. But insurance companies didn’t get that memo either. Instead, insurance companies are tracking climate data like hawks, because the costs of cleaning up after weather-related disasters associated with the warming planet are rising fast and furious. As a result, more and more insurers figure in climate change when setting rates and premiums and deciding what they will cover and what they won’t. Frank Nutter of the Reinsurance Association of America stated the problem bluntly: “It is clear that global warming could bankrupt the industry.”

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Insurance companies aren’t alone in planning for the consequences of climate change. In 2015, the Department of Defense released a big report on the security implications of a warming planet. The Pentagon concluded that the effects of climate change pose a real “security risk” for the United States because they “threaten the stability in a number of countries.” This means, according to Pentagon officials, that “combatant commands are integrating climate-related impacts into their planning cycles.”

So we find ourselves at a curious crossroads. The serious people, whether they are wearing green eyeshades and crunching data or military uniforms planning for our national security, recognize the here-and-now present dangers of climate change. But the right-hand side of the political aisle refuses to acknowledge that there is any problem at all. Donald Trump rolls back greenhouse gas regulations on coal. Meanwhile Allianz SE, one of the world’s largest asset managers, is divesting from coal stocks altogether because they’ve determined that climate change is bad for business.

So here’s my suggestion. If you find your house damaged by “earth movements,” or should your crops fail because of climate change, demand some compensation from your Congressman. Just don’t go crying to your insurance company – you’re probably not covered for that.

Miami University history professor Steve Conn is one of our regular community contributors.

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