Day Two of the World Insurance Forum 2010 in Bermuda heralded excellent news: Climate change may not mean the end of humanity. Solutions are in the offing, and the heroes of the piece are the planet's deserts, which could be very good news indeed for Africa.
This welcome revelation came from meteorologist Prof. Dr. Dr. Peter Hoeppe, head of geo risks research at the corporate climate center of Munich Re.
"Earth's deserts receive in six hours of daylight enough energy to supply all the world's needs for a year," said the Dr. Dr. "And it can be harvested in such a way that only 3 percent is lost when the energy is transmitted 1,000 kilometers. The world's population almost all live within 3,000 kilometers of a desert, which means that 90 percent of the energy we need can be trapped in the deserts and delivered."
I may have paraphrased a word or two of Hoeppe's, but the essence of his comments is very much there. We are not doomed, as I reported yesterday.
Hoeppe was a member of the panel held on the morning of the WIF's second day to discuss potential costs and opportunities for the insurance industry from climate change, following the Copenhagen Summit.
The panel was preceded by an overview of climate change from Dr. Anthony Knap, president, director and senior research scientist of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, who, being an oceanographer, had been gloomier about mankind's prospects when speaking to me the day before.
Moderated by Michael Butt, chairman of AXIS Capital Holdings, the panel was manned by Dr. David N. Bresch, head of sustainability and emerging risk management at Swiss Re; Kyle Danish, a partner in Washington, D.C. law firm Van Ness Feldman; Hoeppe; Barney Schauble, managing principal of Nephila Capital; and Rolf Tolle, the former franchise performance director at Lloyd's.
The fates of the earth and its inhabitants were considered separately. The planet, everyone agreed, will survive. Not everyone felt that every living human being would do as well, but there was general agreement that global doom is avoidable, almost regardless of what the politicians may or may not achieve.
Mankind may owe its future to the insurance industry. (Read that and weep, Eliot Spitzer.)
INSURANCE VS. GOVERNMENT
The final CEO panel of the Forum, held in the afternoon, could not match the first, on a headline-only basis. Once you've written "Mankind not doomed", from a journalistic perspective your best days are over. But, thanks to XL Capital's CEO Mike McGavick, the session caused a certain amount of kerfuffle, when he said that if asked today whether or not he would have bailed out AIG, he would have to say that he would not.
This threw my media colleagues into a frenzy, from which they will not soon recover. McGavick knows a thing or two about turning around wounded companies, having done so at Safeco, then the second-largest commercial insurance operation in the United States, and now at XL, then the ditto in Bermuda. Once a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, McGavick's views cannot be discounted, although there are those who argued that AIG has only barely been "saved"--if you count losing the great majority of one's operations, capital and staff as salvation.
The panel discussed where the boundaries should be for risk assumption between government and the insurance industry. It will come as little surprise to the reader that many were of the view that the government should stay the hell out of the private sector's business, if I may paraphrase an enthralling three-hour session in a few irreverent words.
Moderated by Constantine (Dinos) Iordanou, chairman, president and CEO of Arch Capital Group, the panel was made up of David Brown, CEO of Flagstone Re; John Degnan, COO and vice chairman of Chubb; Scott Harrington, Professor of Risk Management at the Wharton School; Dr. Ray Spudeck, chief economist at the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation; and McGavick.
We enter now the more personal--some might say deranged--view of matters that unfolded during the second day, but first, a comment on Hoeppe. The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that I referred to him earlier as Prof. Dr. Dr., and assumed that typos had crept into the otherwise flawless reporting and editing for which Risk & Insurance®
is justifiably renowned. Not so, and here one was inevitably reminded of an episode of the much-loved BBC TV program, Fawlty Towers, starring Monty Python alumnus John Cleese as hotel proprietor Basil Fawlty.
In the episode in question, Fawlty is checking into his hotel a married couple, both of whom are medical doctors. A good old-fashioned sexist, Fawlty is unable to comprehend that the wife might also be a doctor, and so he, a picture of utter confusion, says to the husband: "So you're two doctors?"
Hoeppe earned a doctorate in two separate disciplines, and so he is referred to as Prof. Dr. Dr. On meeting the man, I did not take a line from the Robert Palmer songbook, "Doctor, doctor, give me the news", although a colleague suggested that I refer to everyone else, again drawing on the world of pop music, as Mister Mister.
Yesterday, in a report on Day One of the Forum that can be read here, I wrote that there was good news--i.e., that I had become a TV star--and bad news--i.e., that the inhabitants of Planet Earth were all doomed. That may sound a little ... what would the word be? Egotistical barely scratches the surface. But you must understand that that is the way we TV people think.
As I reported yesterday, egged on by a chance encounter with Montel Williams, I was in the process of becoming to TV what all the combined global CEO talent present at the forum is to insurance. On the WIF's second day, I completed that metamorphosis. That may be best evidenced by my comment when the event organizer asked if there was anything I needed and I barked, "Lunch!" My insensitivity is not the point I'm making here: it's the fact that, within a couple of minutes, lunch had been provided.
Day Two of my staggeringly successful two-day TV career, in fact, saw me work harder than the lead dog in an Iditarod race. Into my Library studio at the extraordinarily luxurious Tucker's Point resort was marched more than a dozen of the world's finest, starting with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's representative in Bermuda, H.E. Sir Richard Gozney, and thence to Lord Levene, chairman of Lloyd's, and a panoply of the world's great scientific and insurancetific minds.
It would be wrong to describe most of my guests as volunteers. Just about all were press-ganged into it by WIF organizers, but my easy-going style seemed to put many of them at ease. In TV, we superstars make our own rules. A slight correction to my comment yesterday that the most powerful men in the industry (no women were marched into my lair, probably wisely) were dancing to my tune: it might be fairer to suggest that they were accompanying my tune.
THE BIGGEST BRAIN OF THEM ALL
Now that the WIF is over, a summary might be in order. As so many conferences advertise themselves to be, but are not, this was an unparalleled public gathering of the best and brightest the industry has. Without wanting to slight any of my, sorry, the forum's, guests, my conclusion was the brightest of some staggeringly bright people was Swiss Re's Bresch.
Speaking onstage and, later to me, in his second or third language, he revealed a mind that works on a level that I had hitherto thought mine worked on. Yet compared with him, I am a simpleton, a conclusion that many of my readers have doubtless long ago formed.
In closing, let me thank the Academy and all the little people who voted for me. While Bresch, Michael Butt and the all the other giant minds who run the finest industry in the world may outrank me in the brain box department, none of them can say, as I may, that they have become a global superstar of Dame Edna proportions.
And that's all you need to know, really, about the World Insurance Forum 2010.
Nonrelated footnote: A movie called "Greenberg" opens Friday. I was going to fly to the States for the opening, because I think Hank Greenberg is a great man and don't care who knows it. Turns out the movie has nothing to do with insurance. Talk about missed opportunities.
(Editor's note: If you can withstand further writings from
Roger, please read his "review" of Day 1 at the World Insurance Forum.)
March 17, 2010
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