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How risk professionals are working to save the world

Medioambiental|Risk Management Consulting
Climate and Resilience Hub|Climate Risk and Resilience|Risk Culture

By Lisa Lipuma | January 25, 2022

I had originally wanted to be a veterinarian to help animals, but now I’m using risk management to protect threatened species.

I have a confession to make, as a child I did not dream of a career in insurance or risk management. I loved animals – especially dogs, elephants, manatees and polar bears. For a time, I thought I’d become a veterinarian. But something about risk kept my attention, and I couldn’t be happier that it did (all due respect to veterinarians).

In my opinion, risk management is an exciting field that impacts so many of the major issues of today: climate and environmental risks, social risks including workplace safety, diversity and wage equity, just to name a few. For example, I’m working to save the manatees. (I’ll explain later.)

Hurricane Katrina changed my perspective

I grew up on the Mississippi gulf coast. Hurricanes are as much a part of life there as fried seafood and Barq’s root beer. In 2005, I, like so many others, lost my family home to Hurricane Katrina. The force and scale of destruction was truly humbling – there were miles and miles of concrete foundations where there had once been houses and businesses. The city was devastated. The whole region was devastated. I was devastated. But I was lucky – my family was not injured, and we had both insurance and savings. The experience brought into sharp relief two foundational concepts of risk management:

  1. 01

    The improbable will happen

    And it can be worse than you imagined. Perhaps the thinking has changed, but at the time there was this dogmatic belief that no storm could be worse than 1969’s Hurricane Camille. No waterline would be higher. No wind would be stronger. Of course, we now know that storms are increasingly frequent and intense, but I think it’s important to consider that in most risks there is no upper limit. A high-water mark or any other benchmark can always be exceeded, and it’s just a matter of time until it is.

  2. 02

    Preparation helps

    An event like a hurricane is terrible. Losing a home is traumatic. But having a plan puts recovery in closer reach.

Between this experience and the math degree I was pursuing at the time, I became interested in the quantitative side of risk and insurance. I sought solace in learning – conquering a fear or a challenge by understanding it inside and out. So, I started my career in actuarial and catastrophe modeling roles at an insurance company. It was not the most exciting job of my life, but it was an amazing foundation for my later career.

Coming full circle

Now I have the opportunity to combine my love of animals and my knowledge of risk management in an effort to save Florida’s manatees by leading a resilience project for the state of Florida.

Harmful algal blooms are an increasing challenge for Florida because of chronic contamination from fertilizer runoff and septic systems. This contamination is indirectly starving manatees by causing widespread die off of seagrass, their primary source of food. By putting a price on contamination and a price on the loss of ecosystem services provided by seagrass, we can show that interventions to stop contamination are an excellent investment in Florida’s future.

While it’s too early for me to comment on the results of the project and changes enacted as a result, I have never been prouder to be on any project. And I have never been prouder to be in this field. This project is tackling other existential risks like future pandemics and climate risks on behalf of Florida.

The climate is changing and the manatees and other species are in trouble, but risk management can help save them and show us the path forward.

Author

Director, Risk and Analytics

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