Fires & Storms: Running Up a Big Bill

It’s been quite a year. Consider this lineup: Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, and Ophelia. Thanks to those hurricanes, 2017 has become the first year in more than a century in which 10 Atlantic storms in a row reached hurricane strength.

The record for the most weather-related disasters doing more than $1 billion in damage is 15, set last year. So far, 2017 has had 12, most recently the California wildfires. As of late October, the toll for those fires, some of which were still burning, was: 42 people dead, 8,400 homes destroyed, and 271,000 acres burned.

Hurricane Katrina still reigns as the U.S. weather-related disaster with the highest price tag: $160 billion. Hurricane Harvey ranks second ($86 to $108 billion), followed by Hurricane Irma ($64 to $92 billion), according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Despite all those eye-opening figures, many politicians continue to insist that taking steps to counter climate change would threaten our economic health. A more plausible view is that failure to take action will devastate our economy and impoverish our children.

That’s certainly the message from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued October 23 and picked up by Reuters, which wrote: “The U.S. federal government should adopt a strategy to manage climate change risks, as their cost to the government may rise as much as $35 billion per year by mid-century. “Our government cannot afford to spend more than $300 billion each year in response to severe weather events that are connected to warming waters," Republican Senator Susan Collins said in a statement responding to GAO’s findings. "I hope the release of this analysis will cause all of us to think more broadly about this issue, take a harder look at the economic consequences of inaction, and use what is known about climate risks to inform federal policy."

Tomorrow’s weather isn’t likely to be any better. "Within the next three decades, floods that used to strike the New York City area only once every 500 years could occur every five years, according to a new scientific study," AP reported. "The study, performed by researchers at several universities and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, primarily blames the predicted change on sea-level rise caused by global warming."

More and more Americans are getting the message. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released September 28 found that 55 percent of Americans surveyed say climate change is responsible for the severity of recent hurricanes, which is far more than the percentage who held that view shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The quickest and most promising way to protect ourselves is to create a carbon fee. That would accelerate the transition from fossil fuels, which generate greenhouse gases, to renewable energy sources. As Congress struggles to cut taxes without sending our national debt to levels never before experienced, it should turn to a carbon fee to bring in the kind of money that could offset the lost revenue that would result from tax cuts. It’s a chance to achieve TWO major national goals in one bill.