Guest: Thomas Frank of E&E News; Also: Globe continues to swelter; GOP's climate change 'solution'; Trump loses again in federal court...
By Brad Friedman on 7/19/2023, 6:46pm PT  

Just last week, amid record temperatures, massive flooding and the choking smoke across a dozen states from hundreds of wildfires, U.S. House "Freedom Caucus" Chair Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), partying like it's 1999, declared during a Congressional hearing that climate change is "a problem that doesn't exist." Today's BradCast, demonstrable scientific facts, and the insurance industry running for the exits from Ron DeSantis' Florida, all beg to differ. [Audio link to full show follows below this summary.]

First up, it was another humiliating loss for the disgraced former President in court today, as a federal judge soundly rejected Donald Trump's effort to move Alvin Bragg's 34 felony count indictment in New York from state to federal court. The judge found in his order that, "Hush money paid to an adult film star is not related to a President’s official acts. It does not reflect in any way the color of the President’s official duties." Thus, the criminal case against Trump will remain in state court and Trump will not be allowed to have the Dept. of Justice substituted as defendant instead of him. He will have to answer for his own acts of fraud in paying out nearly half a million dollars --- while serving in the White House --- in hopes of covering up his payoffs to a porn star to help him win the 2016 election.

Beyond that, no more Trump news for today! (You're welcome!) Though we've got a lot of consequences from our worsening climate crisis which may or may not be more welcome.

A few House Republicans, of late, are pretending they are not climate crisis deniers anymore. Their plan: Hugely increase the production of the fossil fuels that are responsible for global heating, but plant a whole bunch of trees --- a trillion of them, in fact (which would require a space as large as the continental U.S.) --- to make balance it all out. Or something. The ridiculous plan, of course, wouldn't even come close to working. We discuss.

Then, after a quick spin around the nation and globe today, through hundreds of shattered heat records and sweltering cities and tourist attractions throughout Europe and the U.S. over the past several weeks (with no end in sight), we land back in Florida, where the insurance industry continues to head for the doors. Last week it was Farmers. This week, AAA. There are no climate denialists, as it turns out, in the insurance actuarial business.

Premiums for homeowners insurance have risen about 7% over the past year nationwide, on average. But they have spiked some 40% in Ron DeSantis' Florida as ocean temps in the south of the state reach bathwater temps of over 90 degrees. All a recipe for hurricane disaster as this year's storm season is barely underway.

We're joined today by Pulitzer Prize finalist THOMAS FRANK, climate impacts reporter for E&E News, where he focuses on disasters, disaster recovery and federal efforts by FEMA and other federal agencies to serve as a backstop to the growing number of billion dollar disasters across the nation.

We spoke with Frank last year, just after Hurricane Ian devastated parts of Florida, including parts inland where few even bother to buy flood insurance. Even if they want to now, it's nearly impossible for many to afford it.

"The recent news involving Farmers, one of the nation's largest insurance companies, and AAA, is the opposite of what the Governor and the State Legislature envisioned happening when they had a special session back in December and enacted a couple of laws aimed at bringing insurers back. Those are very bad signals," Frank explains, detailing why the state's insurance market continues to collapse, along with fears that the housing market itself may not be far behind.

But the DeSantis denial continues. Last week, the Florida Governor and 2024 GOP hopeful invoked what one media wag describes as his "wish upon a star" strategy. DeSantis claimed insurance companies would soon return to the state. "I think they're gonna wait through this hurricane season," he told rightwing radio host Howie Carr, before adding, "Knock on wood we won't have a big storm this summer."

It's not only Florida, of course, though it is a canary in the national coal mine. The climate crisis --- created by the burning of fossil fuels --- is flashing bright red warning signs everywhere at this point, even as the fossil fuel industry and mostly Republican politicians they have bought off, continue to shamefully ignore, obfuscate and lie about it as long as they can.

"The phrase you use, 'canary in the coal mine' is completely appropriate," Frank tells me. Florida, he says, is "a canary in the coal mine for hurricane-prone states. California is the canary in the coal mine for wildfire-prone states. People in Colorado, Oregon and Washington should be watching California. It's a similar scenario unfolding there."

"What you're starting to see happen is the insurance industry is becoming aware of climate risks, and they're starting to incorporate that into their prices. If someone has to pay $7,000 for their home on the coast of Florida, maybe that is what they should pay," he argues. "The reality is that the insurance industry --- I know a lot of people hate it --- but one thing it does very well is it prices risk. That's all it does. When the insurance industry starts increasing your premiums, they're not doing it because they just want to scam you, they're doing it because that's what their actuaries and algorithms think the risk is to your home."

"You see that happening in a lot of states," says Frank, recent adjustments to premium pricing in parts of Colorado. "You are building in a wildfire zone. Colorado had a couple of very bad wildfires in the past year. So insurers start raising their rates, they start leaving the state, cancelling policies, non-renewing policies. It's happening in more and more states. It's a trend that is not going to be reversed."

Sounds like a very real problem. Then again, we could just start planting a lot of trees, knock on wood, and hope for the best...


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