It’s no wonder Governor Kristi Noem doesn’t want to do anything about climate change. She’s gambling that burning up the planet will make living in other places too dangerous and expensive while somehow leaving South Dakota habitable and affordable.
Consider that climate change just helped drive State Farm to join Allstate in refusing home insurance applications from Californians:
Insuring property in California has been a dicey proposition in recent years. Torrential rainfall this past winter caused as much as $1.5 billion in insured losses this year. The state has also suffered the costliest wildfires in US history, including the 2018 Camp Fire, which led to more than $10 billion in losses.
Human action is driving many of these risks. Real estate prices have been rising in California for decades, and populations are growing in the places most vulnerable to burning and flooding. Decades of suppressing natural fires have allowed fuel for wildfires to accumulate to dangerously high levels. Humans are also heating up the planet, lifting sea levels, amplifying downpours, and exacerbating the conditions for massive blazes.
So when disasters do occur, they cause extraordinary damage to lives, livelihoods, and property. These threats have led insurance companies to drop existing policies or stop issuing new coverage. “It’s not just the risk of loss but the magnitude of loss when a California house burns down,” said Dave Jones, who served as California’s insurance commissioner from 2011 until 2018. “That trend has only gotten worse over time.”
State Farm isn’t the first insurance company to cut back in California, and states like Louisiana and Florida have also seen insurers decline coverage due to mounting catastrophic losses. “We’re steadily marching toward an uninsurable future, not just in California but throughout the United States,” said Jones, who now leads the Climate Risk Initiative at the University of California Berkeley School of Law [Umair Irfan, “Climate Change Is Already Making Parts of America Uninsurable,” Vox, 2023.06.05].
Maybe the lack of home insurance will reverse California’s proportional popularity with migrants and draw more coastal refugees to South Dakota. But the cheaper houses they’ll find here will still be subject to the heavier downpours and harder derechos. And letting climate change wreck major portions of the planet just to improve the chances of drawing migrants smells like a dangerous metastasis of the “What, us change?” thinking that led South Dakota to advertise itself eight years ago as a better place to live than Mars.