In Letter to Shareholders, Warren Buffett Mockingly Compares Global Warming to Y2K
At the upcoming Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' meeting, the Nebraska Peace Foundation and Bold Nebraska are presenting a proposal calling for a report from Berkshire Hathaway's insurance division (which includes Geico) on the risks posed by climate change. The board, following Buffett's wishes, is opposing the proposed report.
Buffett's conglomerate is increasingly invested in the fossil-fuel industry, from his anti-community-solar NV Energy utility in Nevada to his railroad company BNSF, which profits heavily from oil-train and coal-train traffic.
Download the shareholder resolution and Buffett's opposition here.
The text of Buffett's letter is below:
It seems highly likely to me that climate change poses a major problem for the planet. I say "highly likely" rather than "certain" because I have no scientific aptitude and remember well the dire predictions of most "experts" about Y2K. It would be foolish, however, for me or anyone to demand 100% proof of huge forthcoming damage to the world, if that outcome seemed at all possible and if prompt action had even a small chance of thwarting the threat. If there is only a 1% chance the planet is heading toward a truly major disaster and delay means passing a point of no return, inaction now is foolhardy. Call this Noah's Law: If an ark may be essential for survival, begin building it today, no matter how cloudless the skies appear.
It's understandable that the sponsor of the proposal believes Berkshire is especially threatened by climate change because we are a huge insurer, covering all sorts of risks. The sponsor may worry that property losses will skyrocket because of weather changes. And such worries might, in fact, be warranted if we wrote ten- or twenty-year policies at fixed prices. But insurance policies are customarily written for one year and repriced annually to reflect changing exposures. Increase possibilities of loss translate promptly into increased premiums.
So far, climate change has not produced more frequent or more costly hurricanes or other weather-related events covered by insurance. As a consequence, U.S. super-cat rates have fallen steadily in recent years which is why we have backed away from that business. If super-cats become costlier and more frequent, the likely - though far from certain - effect on Bershire's insurance business would be to make it larger and more profitable.
As a citizen, you may understandably find climate change keeping you up at nights. As a homeowner in a low-lying area, you may wish to consider moving. But when you are thinking only as a shareholder of a major insurer, climate change should not be on your list of worries.