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Environment and History

Sharing the Risk of Hail: Insurance, Reinsurance and the Variability of Hailstorms in Switzerland, 1880-1932

Franz Mauelshagen

Environment and History 17 (2011): 171-191. doi: 10.3197/096734011X12922359173131

This paper describes part of the early history of crop insurance in Switzerland as a process of adaptation to the hazard of hail. It argues that insurance is a means of socialising hazard through risk sharing and, therefore, that adaptation is an active process influenced by various decisions both within and outside the insurance market. These decisions are as much a part of the story as is the variability of hailstorms in Switzerland. A period of more extreme hailstorms, which challenged insurance provision, occurred between 1920 and 1930 and was linked by reinsurers with climatic change. Examination of this time period will lead to a discussion of insurance in the context of the current debate on global warming, its projected impacts, and possible strategies of adaptation.

KEYWORDS: Switzerland, climate change, hail, risk, insurance, reinsurance, vulnerability, disaster

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