Climate Now Episode 128

November 28, 2023

When insurers can no longer afford the risk


Featured Experts

Spencer Glendon
Founder, Probable Futures


Spencer Glendon

Founder, Probable Futures

Spencer earned a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, where he focused on the history of urbanization and industrialization. He has extensive training and experience in finance, history, and languages and has worked and lived in Michigan, Chicago, Germany, Russia, China, and Boston.

For 18 years, Spencer was a Macroanalyst, Partner, and Director of Investment Research at Wellington Management, a firm with more than $1 trillion in client assets.

In 2017, Spencer began collaborating with scientists, business leaders, designers, technologists, and educators to research the effects of climate change and to share those findings publicly. This work helped underpin initiatives such as a first-of-its-kind partnership between Wellington Management and the Woodwell Climate Research Center, as well as McKinsey & Co.’s 2020 Climate Risk and Response report. Inspired by these collaborations, he founded Probable Futures in 2020 to help democratize climate science and build bridges between climate science and many other disciplines.

In this Episode

In 2023, two major insurers joined a growing list of companies that will no longer offer new home insurance policies in California. In Florida, the situation is worse, with more than a dozen large home insurance companies retreating from the state. Both states have seen devastating property losses due to extreme forest fires and hurricanes – risks that are only increasing due to the changing climate.

But why can’t the insurance companies simply adjust premiums to reflect the changing risk that climate change is bringing, rather than leaving a market entirely? Because like many economic models, insurance risk is assessed based on historical data (in some cases, by law), which is not particularly reflective of future (or even present) risk. 

Dr. Spencer Glendon, Founder of Probable Futures and former Head of Research at the investment firm Wellington Management, returns to Climate Now to examine how much our historical experiences can be used to inform how we should respond to our rapidly changing world, and how the roles of quantitative data, empirical analysis, and storytelling may need to shift for us to make the most of our collective wisdom in preparing for challenges of the future.


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