All of Us Will Pay if We Fail to Tackle Climate Change

If our leaders, public and private, fail to tame climate change, all of us are going to take a serious financial hit. That’s the bottom line of a recent report issued by EPA scientists.

Those costs will come in multiple forms, including water shortages, crippled infrastructure and polluted air that shortens lives, according to the study. After examining 22 different impacts, the researchers estimated that damage to coastal property, primarily on the Gulf and East coasts, will reach $120 billion per year by 2090; lost labor productivity due to hotter temperatures, particularly in the South and Midwest, will cost $155 billion per year; and deaths from extreme heat waves and cold snaps will equal $140 billion per year.

Experts called the report the most comprehensive analysis yet of the staggering diversity of societal impacts that climate change will have on the American economy. “There are no regions that escape some mix of adverse impacts,” wrote authors Jeremy Martinich and Allison Crimmins.

The study suggests, the Los Angeles Times’ Julia Rosen reported, that climate change will bring more mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus. It will increase the temperatures of streams and lakes, reducing oxygen levels and harming water quality. Heavy river flows will put many bridges at risk, and intense heat will buckle rail lines.

Solomon Hsiang, an economist at UC Berkeley, told Rosen that the new research lays the groundwork for a meaningful conversation about the risks of letting climate change continue unabated. “The climate may be one of the largest economic assets this nation holds,” he said. “We should manage it with the seriousness and clarity of thought that we would apply to managing any asset that generates trillions of dollars in value.” Hsiang headed up a 2017 study that reached similar conclusions.

In fact, there is great consistency in such studies, according to Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The cost of inaction is really high, and [the cost of] reducing emissions pales in comparison,” she told Rosen. What sets the new study apart, she added, is its astonishing level of detail. The study appeared in the April 8 edition of Nature Climate Change.

Fresh evidence of the potential cost arrived last month in the Midwest. Reporting from Verdigre, Nebraska, The New York Times’ Mitch Smith wrote: “Ice chunks the size of small cars ripped through barns and farmhouses. Baby calves were swept into freezing floodwaters, washing up dead along the banks of swollen rivers. Farm fields were now lakes.”

The story he produced with two colleagues told readers that the “record floods that have pummeled the Midwest are inflicting a devastating toll on farmers and ranchers at a moment when they can least afford it, raising fears that this natural disaster will become a breaking point for farms weighed down by falling incomes, rising bankruptcies and the fallout from President Trump’s trade policies.”

The Partnership for Responsible Growth continues to believe that the smartest solution to the mounting woes of our runaway climate is a carbon tax. It has the power to drive down the use of fossil fuels and speed up the transition to clean energy sources.

Urge your U.S. senators to co-sponsor the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, introduced by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Brian Schatz. “We need bipartisan leadership, and market-based solutions have support across the ideological spectrum,” said Schatz. “Our bill would establish a set of incentives that allows capital to flow and businesses to thrive when they use clean energy, letting the free market hold polluters accountable.”

In the House, Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and David Cicilline  introduced a companion bill, while another measure (H.R. 763) was offered by seven of their colleagues.