As Climate Costs Grow, Some See A Moneymaking Opportunity : The Two-Way Extreme weather cost Americans over $300 billion last year. Scientists say climate change will bring more of that. Entrepreneurs and businesses see a new market in gauging risk.

As Climate Costs Grow, Some See A Moneymaking Opportunity

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A rash of hurricanes, floods and wildfires made 2017 the costliest year ever for natural disasters. Businesses are increasingly worried about their risk from extreme weather. And as NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, some want to avoid costly damages while others are seeking profit from a changing climate.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: Hurricane Harvey caused the biggest flood ever in South Texas.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: And the water has come up here just in the last three hours quite dramatically.

JOYCE: In California last December, the Thomas fire was one of the worst that the state has ever seen.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: This massive inferno now raging up the Southern California coast, and still growing tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Look at how big that is. Look at how dangerous it is.

JOYCE: Sixteen major weather disasters last year cost the nation over $300 billion. The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Brock Long recently told a congressional committee the agency is swamped by the number of people affected.


BROCK LONG: We estimate that roughly 47 million people were impacted by these events. That's 15 percent, 16 percent the United States population.

JOYCE: Scientists say a changing climate will bring more big storms, fires and droughts. Stephanie Herring is one of those scientists, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She says what's coming will affect everyone.

STEPHANIE HERRING: We've designed our lives to be resilient to the weather we think we're going to get. And so if that's going to change then we need to know that, (laughter), because we need to be able to prepare for it.

JOYCE: It's not the job of government researchers to tell people how to prepare. Who will? Well, Rich Sorkin, CEO of a new company called Jupiter.

RICH SORKIN: Our approach is, look, we're in the risk business.

JOYCE: Jupiter sells advice on how to dodge the climate bullet. Their climate pitch...

SORKIN: Hugely important, globally significant, gigantic economic problem not currently being addressed.

JOYCE: Jupiter has hired top scientists away from the federal government, and it vacuums up government data, much of it free. Then they advise paying customers where to build warehouses out of harm's way from bigger hurricanes or floods. Or, they tell city governments how to strengthen sewer systems for heavier rainfall or sea level rise. Sorkin says people want help.

SORKIN: Most of the private sector already had the view even prior to this administration that they were on their own in terms of understanding these risks.

JOYCE: Other businesses want to know how to save money in a climate-changed world - insurance companies, for example. Rebecca Owen is an actuary who advises insurers and health care providers about climate change, hospitals worrying about things like more intense heat waves.

REBECCA OWEN: If those heat waves come and we have people with upper respiratory disease or heart disease, their condition may become more severe so they have to go to the emergency room.

JOYCE: How about more droughts? That means more dust in people's lungs. Longer pollen seasons mean more allergy medicine, heavier rainfall more traffic accidents to pay for. And weather history isn't much of a guide to a changing future.

OWEN: It's just a complex, swirling mess. We all worry, will we have enough assets to cover the expected costs? And then we'll argue about what the expected costs are because we don't know.

JOYCE: But they're learning. The Society of Actuaries has created a climate index that tracks weather patterns. Over the past decade, it shows that the frequency of extreme events is steadily going up. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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