Let’s Chill Out!

Welcome to the climate change issue of The Actuary Dorothy L. Andrews

On Sept. 9, 2016, noted economist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman wrote an article in The New York Times discussing the “Big Liar” technique, a modification of the “Big Lie” technique. The Big Lie technique is a propaganda tool founded in the belief that if a big lie is repeated often enough, people will eventually believe it. This is because, as Krugman reports, it is hard for people to reconcile a false statement told on such a grand scale to be false.

The Big Liar technique is similarly defined but based on a medium-sized falsehood. Our current political environment has many questioning the validity of climate change because of the many claims in the media that it does not exist, despite mountains of scientific evidence that our earth has grown warmer since the late 1880s. The rising temperature of our planet is studied and documented by many well-respected national and international organizations. And yet, despite the hard science, there are many among us who have been swayed to believe climate change is “fake news.”

Attitudes toward climate change influence government spending, and the level of spending can be correlated to measurable effects that reduce the harmful impact of climate change on human life and our planet. From 1993 to 2014, fiscal budgetary expenditures in the three categories of international assistance, technology and science increased from $2.4 billion to $11.6 billion, as reported by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).1

The line items in the federal budget allocated to climate change include:

  • Assistance with climate change initiatives in developing countries.
  • Technology to assist with the reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions.
  • Science programs to study and promote education on climate change.

The comparable numbers for 2015, 2016 and 2017 are $9.9 billion, $11.4 billion and $12.8 billion, respectively, as reported by the Institute for Policy Studies in an October 2016 report titled, “Combat vs. Climate: The Military and Climate Security Budgets Compared.” These numbers exclude spending on natural resource adaptation, energy tax provisions to reduce greenhouse gases, and energy payments in lieu of tax provisions, which amounts to many more billions of dollars. Even if included, climate change budgetary allocations are a tiny fraction of government spending on the military. The 2018 U.S. Fiscal Budget, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” proposes to cut climate change budgetary expenditures by a whopping 31 percent. The Clean Power Plan, which mandates states to transition from coal-fired power plants to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent, is defunded in this budget. This program represents a major weapon in the battle to keep the temperature of our earth to within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial temperature levels as urged by scientists around the world.

In this issue, The Actuary is honored to welcome two scientists from NOAA to reaffirm the science on climate change. Stephanie C. Herring, Ph.D., is a scientist and senior adviser with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Center for Weather and Climate. Her areas of focus are extreme events and climate services, and she is a leading expert in understanding and explaining the physical drivers of climate extremes and their temporal changes in risk exposure. Jesse E. Bell, Ph.D., is a scientist and research scholar for the NOAA-funded Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites in North Carolina. His research explores the relationships of climate change and climate variability on natural and human processes. He studies the link between climate extremes and the terrestrial water cycle, which is responsible for the maintenance of our ecosystems. Climate change is threatening to destroy our terrestrial water cycle, as is evidenced by the disappearance of lakes, rivers and other bodies of water, and the erosion of coastlines in many parts of our Earth. Identifying the physical drivers of climate change requires advanced modeling techniques on large amounts of weather data and experimental design research, among other techniques.

In her guest editorial, Caterina Lindman discusses how we all can begin eating to stop climate change by switching to a whole foods, plant-based diet. Her article changed my life. I am now transitioning to a whole foods, plant-based permanent way of eating. (I prefer not to call it a “diet,” a word that connotes for many a temporary way of eating.) Sam Gutterman talks of the harmful impacts of climate change on human mortality of the most at-risk populations—the poor, the frail, the young and elderly, minority populations, those closest to the equator and those with inferior access to health care. He identifies how changes in temperature and precipitation are linked to diseases that drastically reduce human longevity. Barbara Zvan-Watson discusses the impact of climate change to the financial management of pension funds, while Yves Guerard and Kenneth Donaldson discuss the representation of the actuarial profession globally on the battlefield to fight climate change. As actuaries, we are globally united in this fight and well positioned to measure and communicate the effects of climate change on the human experience.

Welcome to the climate change issue of The Actuary. I hope our readers will enjoy this informed discussion of the impact of climate change on our health and the health of our planet, and be called to action. Collectively, starting today, we can improve the health of our planet by changing how we live on it.

Keep calm, get involved and eat plant-based, whole foods—so our planet can chill out!

Dorothy L. Andrews, ASA, MAAA, CSPA, is consulting actuary at Merlinos & Associates Inc. in Peachtree Corners, Georgia.