Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Cost of Climate Change Keeps Going Up

Let’s discuss the cost of climate change. The fossil fuel industry and its lackeys keep telling us climate change is good for us – the more the better. Literally, that is what they are saying. For example, take this quote from The Spectator:
Climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century. This is not some barmy, right-wing fantasy; it is the consensus of expert opinion. Yet almost nobody seems to know this. Whenever I make the point in public, I am told by those who are paid to insult anybody who departs from climate alarm that I have got it embarrassingly wrong, don’t know what I am talking about, must be referring to Britain only, rather than the world as a whole, and so forth.
By the way, his "expert" for all of this information is Richard Tol, an economist and well-known denier with a reputation for getting his facts wrong. In one of the big "Oops" moments in denier history, he analyzed the 97% consensus statement in an attempt to disprove it and - surprise! - proved it was correct. He has no scientific background that I am aware of.

I thought we could take a look for ourselves and see just how much global warming and climate change are costing us now and likely to cost us in the future.

One of the ways to look at the cost of climate change is to examine the economic cost. This is known as the social cost of carbon (SCC). Right now, the government puts the social cost at $37 for every ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted. We are currently emitting about 40 billion tons of CO2 per year, so that comes out to about $1.5 trillion per year. Yes, that was trillion, with a 't.' And, that expense is not only incurred every year, but is also increasing as emission amounts increase.

That is horrible news, but it gets even worse. Researchers at Stanford University examined this figure and have estimated it is more likely $220 per ton. That comes out to a staggering $8.8 trillion per year! Every year! And, climbing!

Why the big difference? The Stanford group included the effects current damage does to future growth.

“If climate change affects not only a country's economic output, but also its growth, then that has a permanent effect that accumulates over time,” Frances Moore, co-author and environmental scientist, said.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, they are on the high side with their calculation. It is possible, but it is widely believed the government figure is way too low. Just for the sake of argument we'll say the value is at the midpoint between their value and the government's value. The economic cost at that rate is then about $5.2 trillion per year. That amount is larger than the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S. and China.

By the way, the poorer you are, the more you'll be affected. Poor countries will fare worse than rich ones.

Keep that figure in mind when someone tells you climate change is good for you.

Then, there is sea level rise. A study found the sea level numbers for 1901 - 1990 were overstated and, as a result, the data shows the rate of sea level rise since 1990 is 25% higher than previously thought and accelerating.

If you live anywhere near a coast (as the majority of the human population does), you might want to think about how much damage you will incur as a result of rising sea levels and the cost of protecting yourself.  Factor that in when calculating how much climate change will cost you.

How about drought? The current drought in California is likely to a more common story in the future and will result in a series of ripple effects, such as increased wildfire, loss of timber, floods, erosion and degraded water quality, just to name a few. The drought is estimated to be causing California billions of dollars per year in economic damage, mostly to farmers and agriculture workers. Those are the people least able to afford the damage.

Then, I saw these little tidbits in Scientific American (August 2014, vol 311, no 2, pg 22-23):

Five National Landmarks Threatened by Climate Change:
  • Statue of Liberty - After Superstorm Sandy, the National Park Service began work on flood-proofing Liberty Island. Cost: Unspecified.
  • Faneuil Hall, Boston - The city is planning building renovations that may include flood-protection walls. Cost: Unknown.
  • Cape Hatteras Light, NC - In 1999 the National Park Service moved the lighthouse 2,900 feet to protect it against shoreline erosion and rising sea levels. Cost: $11.8 million.
  • NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston - Installed new roofs to protect withstand more severe hurricanes. Repairs from 2008's Hurricane Ike cost about $80 million.
  • Mesa Verde Nation Park, Colorado - The National Park Service is performing prescribed burns and treating the cliffs to protect against flooding and erosion. Cost: Unspecified.
The American taxpayers will be footing the bill for all of those expenses.

Still not convinced? How about the study that showed as temperature goes up, economic productivity goes down? A team at the Bureau of Economic Research found that every day life gets more expensive as the temperature goes up. They found a country's economic activity decreased by about 1% for every degree over 59 degrees F. The damage comes from increased costs associated with higher temperature. For example, if you have to pay more for electricity because you are running the air conditioner longer, you have less money to spend on other things. Notice that the people who benefit from that situation are the same ones responsible for creating it in the first place and are so eager to convince you it isn't a problem. As the temperature goes up, the total damage to economies around the world will amount to many billions of dollars.

Not enough? Take a look at this article in Eos that shows how climate change is causing cholera to spread. More epidemics around the world. Expenses for those epidemics will be in the billions of dollars.

I also saw this quote in Physics Today:

As the average global temperature rises, mountainous areas across western North America are experiencing significantly less ice and snow. A hundred years ago, Glacier National Park included some 150 ice sheets, but today it has only 25. The implications are vast for the surrounding areas. Rising air and water temperatures are affecting local ecosystems, fish, and wildlife. And because at least 80% of the water supply in the US West comes from its mountains, the loss of the natural reservoir that glaciers provide is also being felt by cities, farms, and industry all across the region. Although manmade global warming has a significant impact on the ice retreat, it is not the only cause. And the shrinking glaciers are only the first symptom of larger changes to come, says Daniel Fagre at the US Geological Survey.
To bring it home, take a look at this list I saw of seven ways climate change can kill you:

  • 1. Bug bites that kill
  • 2. Breathing problems, including asthma
  • 3. Less nutritious food
  • 4. An allergy season that goes on forever
  • 5. Heat waves
  • 6. Too much or too little water
  • 7. Sunny days that make you dreary
And, the fishery industry is expected to lose between $17 and $41 billion between now and 2050 due to climate change.  Also, don't forget that ocean acidification results in a declining shellfish population.

There is plenty more and I don't need to go through it all, but I thought I would mention one last piece of news. That blizzard that hit New York City this past week cost the city $200 million in lost economic activity. Severe weather events like this are already becoming the norm. Tell me, how many 'storms of the century' have there been in the last few years?

So, I think we can see from just a very small sampling that we can definitely say global warming and climate change are not good for us. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

But, you know who will make money off of climate change? The same people that are hell bent for everyone to believe its good for us.

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