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Scientists decry insurer's extreme weather claims

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Scientists decry insurer's extreme weather claims
Photo: DPA
06:26 CEST+02:00
German insurance companies stand accused of putting the wind up American policy holders and profiteering from climate change scare stories based on their own quasi-scientific reports Der Spiegel reported on Thursday.

Insurance companies have long been sending letters out warning of the growing likelihood of extreme weather, storms and resulting natural disasters.

German insurance company Allianz for example writes to potential clients to explain the advantages of its "offers which reduce the risks associated with climate change."

But one Munich-based insurer has gone one step too far, infuriating climate change scientists by claiming to have found the first proof of a link between man-made climate change and an increase in extreme weather in the USA.

Münchener Rück (MR) recently claimed that their database - "the largest on natural disasters in the world" - demonstrated the first clear proof of man-made climate change creating weather disasters.

Their study uses data on weather catastrophes in the USA over the past 30 years to argue that they have been becoming more frequent and dangerous – and that this is a direct result of man-made climate change.

"There has never been such a strong chain of evidence for the influence of climate change," head of MR's Geo Research department, Peter Höppe, told the magazine on Thursday.

According to MR, material damage in the USA due to weather disasters is five times as high as it was in 1980. This, argues the insurance company is due to rising sea temperatures which in turn has led to an increase in the number of hurricanes.

But scientists are furious, saying the insurance company has no proof to support the claim. "Most [of the study] doesn't make sense, and it contradicts observations," atmosphere researcher Clifford Mass from University of Washington in Seattle told the magazine.

Although the UNO Climate Change Committee (IPCC) has been warning of a potential increase in heat waves, torrential rain and floods, no serious scientist has been able to prove a direct link between man-made climate change and extreme weather, according to the article.

And there is no evidence that it will get worse - IPCC reports have even suggested that cold-snap-related catastrophes and storms could be less frequent in future.

Although it has been proven that the earth is getting warmer due to greenhouse gas effect, a link between this and extreme weather is less certain, scientists told the magazine.

More data needs to be collected over a longer period of time before anyone can say with any certainty whether the greenhouse gas effect has influenced extreme weather.

Der Spiegel said a recent study showed that with the exception of Hurricane Katrina which devastated New Orleans in 2005, all of America's most dangerous hurricanes of the last century occurred before 1930.

The author of this study, Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado dismissed the MR insurance report as bad science.

"If MR thinks they have discovered the first footprint, they should submit their study to a scientific journal for evaluation," Pielke told the magazine. Releasing scientific findings in the form of a press release, on the other hand, looks "suspicious."

"Climate change is serious, but the trend of hyping it up and distorting it is irresponsible," agreed Mass.

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