Economic Trends panelists say it’s time to adapt to climate change

Comments made Friday at annual BizTimes Media event

Panel discussion at the 2020 Economic Trends event. From left, BizTimes Milwaukee editor Andrew Weiland, GRAEF CEO John Kissinger, UW Foundation president and CEO Michael Knetter, Husco CEO Austin Ramirez, and American Family Insurance CEO Jack Salzwedel.
The panel from the BizTimes Media 2020 Economic Trends conference will return for the 2020 Economic Trends 2.0 webinar.

Last updated on January 27th, 2020 at 05:25 pm

Climate change was an unavoidable topic of discussion during BizTimes Media’s annual Economic Trends event, held on Friday.

The speakers: economist and University of Wisconsin Foundation president and chief executive officer Michael Knetter, American Family Insurance chairman and CEO Jack Salzwedel, Husco International president and CEO Austin Ramirez and GRAEF-USA president and CEO John Kissinger, each addressed the issue as they shared thoughts on what the year has in store for their industry and for the overall economy.

Their outlooks on the future of the planet were not optimistic.

“I think the battle on climate change is over. I think we’ve lost,” said Ramirez.

He said politically-led efforts to curb emissions as a way of preventing climate change are too late.

“I think we need to focus our efforts on the adaptation and mitigation of climate change as opposed to faking that we’re actually going to solve it,” he said.

Kissinger agreed that the world has reached the “mitigation phase” of climate change, and the next step is finding ways to deal with it.

But he said it’s still beneficial to design environmentally sustainable structures, increase energy efficiency and reduce waste.

“I think waste reduction is an area where a lot of us can still do good things, particularly with plastics,” Kissinger said.

A major area of growth he sees for his company is in fields such as coastal engineering, where clients are looking to build facilities and infrastructure in a way that better withstands rising water levels and more frequent storms.

Calling climate change “a today issue, not a future issue,” Salzwedel noted the direct impacts on business as a property and casualty insurance firm.

“In the insurance industry, we don’t have the luxury of looking at this and thinking it’s emotional or political because for us it’s economic and financial, because we’re paying these dollars right away,” he said.

American Family estimated that 60% of its total losses in the property sector this year will result from catastrophes such as flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, wild fires and earthquakes. In 2000, by comparison, catastrophes accounted for about 35% of all of its total losses, Salzwedel said.

He predicted that more frequent and severe natural disasters will impact the company’s pricing and change the way it does business.

Climate change’s impact on the global economy emerged as the main talking point during the recent World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which convened CEOs, activists, politicians and government leaders from President Donald Trump to Greta Thunberg.

According to the WEF’s annual global risk report, which ranks the top five global risks in terms of impact, three of the top five risks since 2017 have been environmental issues. In 2009, none of the top five included environmental issues.

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Maredithe Meyer
Maredithe Meyer covers restaurants, retail, tourism, and sports and entertainment. She joined BizTimes in 2015, previously as an intern reporter. She earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University in 2017. When she's not on the job, Maredithe coaches field hockey and loves exploring her favorite city on earth, Milwaukee.

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