Part of the Series
Covering Climate Now
After decades as a loyal customer, I recently dropped my insurance policies with Liberty Mutual. I had not realized that the company I had thought was protecting me was, in fact, one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel insurers and is supporting violations of Indigenous rights worldwide.
Liberty, in other words, is one of the world’s worst climate criminals.
On Liberty Mutual’s website, I read this: “Over the past 100 years, Liberty Mutual Insurance has been committed to helping people preserve and protect what they earn, build, own and cherish.”
But wait. I want protection, not just for my car. I want protection for life on this planet — which I cherish!
I cherish the orca and the seabirds, the cool breeze and the safety of a healthy forest. I cherish having enough to eat and that others have enough also. I cherish the peace of a stable climate, and I cherish human rights — including the rights of Indigenous Peoples to safely inhabit the lands of their ancestors. I especially cherish children, and their right to grow up free of climate chaos and the hell it threatens to unleash.
Liberty Mutual has been identified by those working to protect the planet from climate catastrophe as among the worst when it comes to disrupting our fragile climate and the ecosystems that rely on it. The company has, in other words, knowingly become a threat to human societies.
I say knowingly because Liberty Mutual’s website contains “helpful tips” for homeowners trying to prepare for the climate chaos the company contributes to: “Weather-driven losses keep on climbing: From catastrophic wildfires to damaging floods, climate change is causing more frequent and more severe losses.”
And yet Liberty Mutual is not only a top global insurer of fossil fuels, it also invests billions in fossil fuel companies and utilities, according to Insure Our Future, a network of environmental, consumer protection and grassroots organizations holding the U.S. insurance industry accountable for its role in the climate crisis. Still worse, while fueling the climate crisis, Liberty Mutual is withdrawing coverage from and jacking up premiums for longtime customers in areas at risk of climate change impacts, like wildfire-affected counties in California.
When I first learned all this, I was shocked — I had purchased insurance for my home and car from this company for many years.
So I asked them to reconsider. Instead of dropping clients who are at risk of climate catastrophe, why not drop the cause of that catastrophe? I wrote the company to find out if they would reconsider. Dropping fossil fuels isn’t a radical ask: most European and Australian insurance companies have already ruled out insuring all new coal projects.
Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis has shown what happens when we ignore the warning of scientists. Climate researchers and analysts have been sounding the alarm for decades, predicting fires, floods, sea level rise and extreme temperatures that will make crops fail, water reserves dry up and vast areas of our planet unlivable. And pandemics like the one we are living through now will only increase.
Unfortunately, Liberty Mutual and other U.S. insurance companies like AIG, Chubb and Travelers remain far behind their global peers when it comes to concrete action on climate change. While some big insurers are exiting the coal sector and taking steps to restrict oil and gas business, U.S. companies are burying their head in the sand and plowing ahead with business as usual.
Liberty Mutual’s website makes clear that their executives and the board understand the risks to the company and to their clients that these trends represent, and they have taken some steps toward phasing out their investments in and insurance for coal. Still, the company continues policies that put it among the worst climate offenders. Liberty Mutual is insuring the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and is lined up to back the controversial expansion project as well. The existing Trans Mountain pipeline is a major environmental and public health hazard with a long history of disastrous spills.
The expansion project would multiply these risks by carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels of tar sands to coastal ports, vastly increasing shipping through the narrow island channels of the Salish Sea, against the wishes of coastal Indigenous Nations on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. The pipeline would lock in expanded production of Alberta tar sands oil, which is among the most polluting and energy-intensive fossil fuel sectors.
Last year, I attended Liberty’s annual meeting for policyholders alongside other concerned customers. I hoped that we would get responses to our questions about Liberty Mutual’s contributions to the climate crisis and human rights abuses. I even dared to hope the company would live up to its stated purpose: “to help people embrace today and confidently pursue tomorrow.” A transition to a just and sustainable future could, indeed, inspire that confidence in tomorrow.
To my dismay, the meeting lasted just six minutes, and they refused to answer my questions or even listen to testimonies from frontline communities and Indigenous leaders affected by Liberty-insured projects.
I’m still hopeful that the company board and executives will put the well-being of their children, and all children, above short-term profits. But my conscience did not allow me to wait and hope. After decades as a Liberty Mutual policy holder, I found a new insurance company, and I’m teaming up with current and former policyholders, frontline communities and environmental activists as part of the Liberty’s Climate Crisis campaign to demand that the insurance giant stop insuring new fossil fuel projects and fully exit the coal, tar sands, and Arctic oil and gas sectors.
This year, we’re not holding our breath for strong policies from Liberty’s annual meeting. Instead, we’re taking action. Join us on April 14 at our own meeting — The People vs. Liberty Mutual: Voices from the Frontlines — to hear from Indigenous land defenders and environmental campaigners. Let’s make our demands heard loud and clear by Liberty executives.
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