Wild Weather Is Taking A Toll

One day recently, page three of The Wall Street Journal had three headlines: 1) Fire Threat Spurs Utility to Cut Power, 2) Farmers Wait and Fret as Soggy Fields Delay Planting, and 3) Flooding Takes Toll on Small Missouri Town.

If there had been more room on that page, we might have seen these recent Wall Street Journal headlines: “May Was Among the Worst-Ever Months for Tornadoes” or “CFOs Are Underestimating the Financial Risks of Climate Change, Executives Say,” over a story with an emphasis on how extreme weather is likely to affect companies’ bottom lines.

It sounds like we need to do something about our changing climate.

Many Californians would certainly agree. PG&E, the giant California power provider, cut off 21,600 businesses and homes the second weekend in June after the National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning. Red signifies high fire risk. You may recall that an investigation concluded that the company’s equipment sparked last year’s Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and laid waste to the town of Paradise. PG&E has warned that there will be more power shutdowns as wildfire “season” stretches toward 12 months. Companies in other states with wildfire vulnerability may follow suit, and any businesses enduring such power lapses can expect their revenues to dip.

Of course, farmers are taking enormous hits from extreme weather. Our nation is experiencing the wettest 12-month period on record. From South Dakota to Ohio, The Wall Street Journal reported, relentless storms have significantly postponed planting. As of June 2, just 33 percent of corn had been planted in Ohio, where the five-year average is 90 percent, according to USDA. “It’s going to be a year without income basically,” Doug Hafer, 48, a seventh-generation farmer in LaRue, Ohio, told reporter Kris Maher. He, his brother, and father started planting on May 26, the latest in 30 years.

“The level of financial, emotional and mental stress on farmers is significant as a result of late planting in 2019,” Eric Richer, an Ohio State University extension educator in Fulton County, told The Washington Post’s Laura Reiley. “The spring of 2019 is like no other I’ve seen in my career. The new normal for farmers is weather extremes, and that’s difficult to manage.

Down in Long Beach, Mississippi, a fifth-generation commercial fisherman named Ryan Bradley knew that he, too, would become a victim.  

The water that fell on all that fertilizer-enriched farmland made its way through streams and rivers into Bradley’s fishing grounds in the Gulf of Mexico. Tiny algae burst into bloom, then died, sank and decomposed on the ocean floor — a process that sucks all the oxygen from the water, turning it toxic, as The Washington Post described it. Fish suffocate or flee, leaving nothing to harvest.

Scientists predict that we will see one of the largest-ever “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico. An area the size of New Jersey could become almost entirely barren this summer. “It’s just a major punch in the gut,” Bradley told The Post’s Sarah Kaplan.

Then there are indirect effects of the floods. Because of the high water, officials in Minnesota could not treat some rivers with larvicide in May, The Journal reported, leading to an explosion of the black fly population. In Jordan, Minnesota, a single trap caught 127,000 black flies in one night. That’s not a typo--127,000 in one night. Some chickens in the area died of suffocation because the flies blocked their airways.

The mounting financial toll is receiving more attention in Washington, as it should. A June 11 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that the federal government must invest in resilience and make government-wide plans to manage climate change risks in order to prevent billions of dollars in future disaster aid costs. The government has spent $450 billion in disaster aid since 2005.

“Climate change is an environmental issue. It’s a public health issue. It’s a national security issue. And... it’s increasingly an economic and fiscal issue,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) said in a statement opening a June 11 hearing by his panel.

“The only people who fail to understand the seriousness of climate change are the Trump administration and some of our Republican colleagues,” Yarmuth said. “If they are not moved by environmental, health and security consequences, I hope the economic costs and the impact on the federal budget will get their attention — because we cannot afford to wait for them to catch up.”

Perhaps more of them will start to “catch up.” A June memo from the Republican survey firm, Luntz Global Partners, and obtained by The Hill, said: "Climate Change is a GOP VULNERABILITY and a GOP OPPORTUNITY… Yes, Republican voters want a solution. It is on measures of salience to vote that we have detected the greatest change… The appetite for seeing real action is palpable to voters of both sides." Many of the likely voters Luntz spoke with are angry that GOP leadership has "ceded the issue to the Dems."

The quickest, most efficient, and most powerful tool to reduce the cooking of our planet is an honest price on the carbon that is causing most of the trouble. All of us need to deliver that message to those who represent us in Congress.