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Lawsuit Warns Politicians That Climate Change Can Cost Them

May 23, 2014 04:52 PM EDT
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Insurance companies are suing Chicago-area municipal governments claiming that warning signs of climate change should have been enough to prompt better preparation for a 2013 deluge that led to significant flooding and damages.

The class-action lawsuit is being filed by Farmers Insurance Co. on behalf of itself, a host of smaller insurance companies, and a great many property owners whose homes were severely damaged by the flooding.

A two-day-long deluge, which happened mid-April of last year, led to the flooding of Chicago's old and degrading sewage system - a system utterly unprepared to hold the amount of rainfall the region saw, according to the Washington Post.

The lawsuit claims that local policy-makers should have seen this coming and should have been better prepared, citing dozens of scientific observations that showed that rainfall patterns had been becoming increasingly intense over the last few decades. Even a "Chicago Climate Action Plan" launched in 2008 linked increased rainfall to a warming climate, one lawsuit says.

"I think what the insurers are saying is: 'We're in the business of covering unforeseen risks. Things that are basically accidents,'" Ceres insurance industry analyst Andrew Logan told NPR's Marketplace. "'But we're now at a point with the science where climate change is now a foreseeable risk.'"

Beyond predicting the adverse effects of climate change, the companies are arguing that local municipalities also simply failed to take expected temporary measures after weather radar systems identified the oncoming storm days before it hit. When the storm struck, the insurance companies were left to pay for the damages.

This may reflect an increasing trend among private parties to find the government responsible for climate change. Evangelists in Florida recently called on Governor Rick Scott to help the state prepare for the effects of climate change.

Last April, a group of California teens also launched a series of lawsuits against government agencies, claiming that failing to address climate change adequately led to significant and irreversible damage to the country.

However, the National Association of Manufacturers, said that if a lawsuit of that kind were to win in court, it "would have profound consequences for the Nation's economic development and productivity, social policies, security interests, and international standing."

In other words, if lawsuits of this kind were to win, the courts could see a lot more of them, causing new problems for the country - where a fear of lawsuit could cause local movements to be hesitant about taking any action at all, Alice Kaswan from the University of San Francisco School of Law, told Reuters.

Still, some politicians believe the best course of action is to make an earnest and obvious effort to mitigate climate change. Governor Jerry Brown of California recently called for other state officials to join him in taking steps to slow climate change, while acknowledging that in some ways, communities are going to have to adapt.

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