The High Cost of Doing Nothing on Climate Change

The NRDC commissioned a report from my alma mater, Tufts University, on the costs of inaction on climate change. It is a must read for every person that believes that we can’t afford to address climate change. The truth is that we can’t afford to do nothing. Even those with a ‘take now and pay later’ attitude will find it hard to swallow that $3.8 trillion price tag by 2100 to the U.S. alone, of doing nothing. $1.9 trillion of that is just the cost of hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy costs and water costs. That’s 1.8% of U.S. GDP folks, eaten up by our inaction. The largest chunk of that is the $950 billion it will cost to deal with water issues; droughts, decreasing rainfall, desertification, it isn’t a pretty picture.

And it gets worse. Do you like it hot? How do your children feel about the heat? What about your grandchildren? Because doing nothing will cause an average temperature increase of 13 degrees in the U.S., with a whopping 18 degrees of that being in Alaska, by 2100. What foods can grow at those temperatures? And what foods can grow with little or no water since 5 out of 6 gallons of water in the U.S. is used for agriculture and we aren’t going to have enough left? Let’s see, what foods are native to an Arizona summer? Do you like to eat cotton? How about alfalfa?

Sea levels are expected to rise 23 inches by 2050 and 45 inches by 2100. Florida can kiss its current coastline good bye, and worry about relocating the 1.5 million people, 3 prisons, 2 nuclear reactors, 140 water treatment plants and 19,864 historical landmarks located on the 9% of the state that will be lost to a 27 inch rise in sea levels. The report also posits that by 2100, New York will be as hot as Las Vegas, Chicago will feel like Los Angeles, San Francisco will have the climate of New Orleans and Los Angeles will feel like Miami. Let’s face it, there would be a few winners, like Chicago, but a whole lot of losers, including our health, our agricultural sector and our biodiversity. The idea of living through a Hurricane Katrina scale event year after year due to the increased intensity of hurricanes they predict is particularly frightening given that New Orleans is still far from recovered 3 years after the fact.

Climate ChangeThe lead authors, Frank Ackerman and Elizabeth Stanton, base these assertions on the absolute worst case scenario; that we do nothing to address climate change and emissions continue to rise at existing rates. They used a method of computer modeling and analysis based on the 2006 Stern report and believe this to be the most accurate accounting of the future cost of climate change available. And none of this accounts for the costs to other countries, many of which will be paying a far larger percentage of GDP then the U.S. to deal with the consequences of inaction.

The NRDC makes three immediate policy recommendations:

  • Enact comprehensive, mandatory limits on emissions
  • Overcome barriers to investment in energy efficiency
  • Accelerate development and deployment of clean energy technologies
It’s not nearly enough, but it’s a start.

1 comment

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Charles M. 110°

Let's inject some reality here...

Where do the alarmist numbers of 13 degrees come from? Aren't those twice as high as any credibly numbers. IPCC says 1.1 to 6.4 degrees

Thoses prisons and nuclear power stations etc will not last until 2100 and thus won't need to be "relocated". They will have to be rebuilt long before then and can be rebuilt somewhere else.

You're really expecting people to worry about a 1.8% dent in GDP spread over 100 years? The military gobbles up 4% to 6% of GDP every year right now! ie. You're saying that this high cost of doing nothing is approx 0.4% as much of a financial burden as the US military.

Written in June 2009

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  • Posted on June 8, 2008. Listed in:

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