The planet is warming, this much we know. In fact, the enlightened among us, who themselves appear to be headed for extinction along with some species of freshwater dolphins, have known this for at least 40 years.
But here's another fact worth shedding some light on: the rate of warming is taking place at warp speed. For hundreds of thousands of years the planet has remained within a narrow temperature range. Then, in the space of two or thee hundred years, carbon emissions skyrocket, thanks to the industrial revolution. Temperatures begin to rise.
The speed with which this is happening, using a geological time scale, is in a blink of an eye. The planet's gone through warming and cooling periods before, true. But these changes never happened this fast. Nor were they taking place with 6 billion people crawling all over it belching fumes and releasing millions of tons of effluent into the air, land and sea.
We've disrupted the delicate balance in which our planet hangs, and the risk of doing so may soon become too great to bear. Not for our generations, not even for that of our children, but for our grandchildren and their descendants. We may not feel the worst of it here in the United States. But abroad, where population growth far exceeds that of the United States, you can be sure that people will be feeling the effects of a planet out of kilter.
For the first time, this is a risk to which every man, woman and child can and should respond. It affects us all, so let's stay focused on the big picture. We're not talking here about the parochial rivalries that consume thousands of hours and millions of dollars in insurance industry resources.
This isn't some game pitting state insurance regulators against supporters of an optional federal charter. Nor is it a debate between the CPCU Society and the National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research about which certification program carries more heft. It's not even risk managers against brokers.
A Category-5 hurricane doesn't give a hoot whether you've got an ARM or a CRM, or an ARe, or an FMLI. What it really cares about is a warmer Atlantic basin, even if it's just a couple of degrees, to feed its winds.
A warming planet, in case you hadn't noticed, is far more consequential than whether control over an insurance carrier's data should reside with the carrier's IT department or its executive management team, or whether that data should be kept on databases developed by IBM or Oracle.
So, where does this all leave risk management?
Right where it matters: with every one of us. Here's an opportunity for honorable citizens who care about stewardship to become their own risk manager. Don't wait to be told what to do by a corporate risk management department. There's no need to wade through overwrought techniques about managing risk throughout the enterprise.
And, heaven forbid, there's certainly no reason to wait for the federal government to act.
Local efforts are heartening: New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to line nearly every city street with trees. By 2012, the city's taxi fleet of 13,000 vehicles will consist of hybrids getting no less than 30 miles per gallon, up from 14 miles per gallon delivered by today's Ford Crown Victoria models.
It's time to play up the risks of a warming planet, and to respond. Planet Earth is ill and her temperature is rising, her infection spreading. Were she to die, and we as well, there'd be nobody left to ponder the irony that the greatest risk threatening our survival was ourselves.
CYRIL TUOHY is managing editor of Risk & Insurance®.
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July 1, 2007
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