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Howard C. Kunreuther and Erwann O. Michel-Kerjan. At war with the weather Howard C. Kunreuther and Erwann O. Michel–Kerjan.
At war with the weather: Managing large–scale risks in an ew era of catastrophes.
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009.
cloth, 416 p., ISBN 978 0 26201 282 9, $US55.00.
MIT Press:



To paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien’s Galadriel, “The world is changing. I can smell it in the air. I can feel it in the water.” Indeed, Earth is changing on an enormous scale, thanks to the concentration of people in both urban areas and coastal regions. The authors provide the basic statistics in the first chapter, by noting about 50 percent of the world’s population — or some six billion individuals — live in urban areas. By 2025, this figure will rise to 60 percent. In the United States in 2003 “153 million people lived in 673 coastal counties.” Another 12 million will find their way to America’s coasts by 2015. If indeed hurricanes and other violent storms are on the increase, and if there is noticeable rise in sea level due to polar melting, there are some incredible risks in store for this century. What options exist for policy makers, insurance companies, and residents? This book provides some alternatives.

Logically, the current situation cannot continue. Worldiwde economic losses from natural catastrophes have risen alarmingly in the past 50 years. In the period 1950-1959, there were losses amounting to US$53.6 billion worldwide; 1960-1969, US$93.3 billion. The most current decade already has suffered losses of US$620.6 billion. So what do Kunreuther and Michel–Kerjan propose?

The last section of this book, “Proposed innovations for dealing with catastrophic risks,” essentially makes four dramatic recommendations. First, insurance premiums should be priced so that individuals and organizations understand the dangers of living and working in certain risk–prone areas. Second, a variety of options should be available to those who cannot afford proper coverage, essentially the development of insurance vouchers. Third, coastal hurricane wind zones should be established, regulated by an independent governmental board. Finally, a national fund for catastrophic events should be established to assist in the recovery from natural disasters.

Kunreuther and Michel–Kerjan bring together a great deal of evidence in 14 chapters to support their proposals, including compelling data from Florida and Texas. To many, the alternatives are not attractive — higher costs for coastal residents (in certain coastal Texas counties, residents pay nine times the cost of an average premium for the entire state) or even incentives not to build in very threatened areas (think of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, where Hurricane Katrina first made landfall after building up strength in the very warm Gulf of Mexico. This parish has also been damaged as well most recently by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and historically by many storms, notably Hurricane Camille in 1969).

This book should be required reading for legislators, insurance agents and executives, and anyone living in a high–risk areas — ranging from coast lines to fault lines as well as those enduring winter storms, tornados, and floods. If indeed this book reaches a large and vocal audience, change indeed will occur. I personally will make this book required reading for students in my Information Policy classes. — Edward J. Valauskas. End of article

Copyright © 2009, First Monday.

Book review of Howard C. Kunreuther and Erwann O. Michel–Kerjan’s At war with the weather: Managing large–scale risks in an ew era of catastrophes
by Edward J. Valauskas.
First Monday, Volume 14, Number 8 - 3 August 2009

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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