The American Security Project ASP, a non-profit, bipartisan public policy and research organization, has recently issued a series of 50 reports entitled Pay Now or Pay Later: A State by State Assessment of the Impact of Climate Change. The series turns the classic argument that it costs too much to do anything to prevent or minimize the impact of climate change on its head by exploring the costs of inaction on a state by state basis.
The series begins with the premise that climate change is going to cost a lot whether we act on it or not, but it’s likely to cost a great deal more if we wait to act. The impacts will likely affect our economy, security, competitiveness and public health.
As Republican NJ Governor and former EPA head Christy Todd Whitman, a member of the ASP board, said, “Too often the debate about climate breaks down over cost, with many Americans rightfully concerned about what limiting pollution would do to our economy. But what this series of reports shows is that there is a cost on the other side of the ledger, too. There will be costs to our economic security from climate change—and significant ones at that—if we do nothing but continue business as usual.”
Some examples of the findings include:
- Losses to Kentucky’s $9.3 billion timber industry due to drier seasons and more frequent fires
- Severe storms impacting the 10 million people in Florida’s coastal communities
- A potential $4 billion in shipping losses to Michigan due to reduced water levels in the Great Lakes which are projected to fall by 25%.
- Midwestern states are projected to lose billions in revenue each year in agricultural revenues, due to increased temperature and rainfall
- Loss of snowpack in the Northwest will lead to seasonal droughts and
- Energy costs in the Southeast are projected to rise by $60 billion due to rising temperatures by 2100
- NY could lose $122.9 billion in GDP and over 560,000 jobs by 2050.
- California could face costs of $6-30 billion per year in the San Francisco area alone due to sea level rise projected at 20-55 inches over the next century.
Most of the impacts featured in any one particular state will likely impact all the other states to one degree or another. Compared to these potential costs, the costs of mitigation efforts such as the estimated $22 billion for a moderate cap and trade proposal, are meager indeed. They should be evaluated, not as burdens, but as investment opportunities with very large potential returns.
This type of argument could be persuasive for those willing to be rational about the subject and consider the broad and long term economic implications of the climate disruptions that we have unwittingly brought upon ourselves through our prodigious use of fossil fuels. On the other hand it will have little impact on those who care about nothing but themselves and their own amusements and distractions. I’m still trying to figure out which camp the majority of climate-deniers reside in.
RP Siegel, PE, is a writer and consultant on various aspects of sustainability. His most recent book is the novel, Vapor Trails, the first in a series co-authored with Fowler Center Director Roger Saillant. The book addresses issues around global warming and energy.
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