SOLUTIONS 10/29: The costs of climate inaction


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By Huck Fairman

Senator Joe Manchin and a majority of Republicans have been opposing President Joe Biden’s and the Democrats’ funding for climate spending intended to head off the worst impacts of climate change.

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Abrahm Lustgarten, a writer for the non-profit news organization doing investigative journalism, ProPublica, has made an effort to clarify the costs to the nation, and regions, of insufficient efforts to reduce emissions.

What does this mean? Lustgarten points out that nearly everything related to our economies, national, regional, state will be impacted by climate change.

The question is: how much will we allow?

The costs will be in the billions. Among them will be clean ups from the increasingly numerous and powerful storms. Real estate will be impacted by that destruction. Agriculture will also be impacted by flooding and storms.
Prices will rise for the public, with farmers able to produce less. Labor will be affected with reductions in production. Climate change unabated could cost the US economy 10% of its GDP. Even with some climate change abatement, the nation’s GDP could see a reduction of 4% – or $840 billion per year. Seen from this perspective, the Democrats’ climate proposals seem sadly inadequate to address the issue.

Since 2017, the nation has spent $700 billion cleaning up following disasters.
Again, the Biden bill, which encompasses more than climate action, is only
$1-3 trillion over several years. This seems self-defeatingly small, if we are
really going to tackle the problems. The calculations of those who oppose
serious climate action seem drastically out of whack. Just in 2021, disaster spending has reached $18 billion. A federal report on the impacts of climate change and its storms on labor has totaled $155 billion.

The portions of our society that have experienced the above costs include repairing urban drainage systems, road damage, health care impacts, wildfire fighting and storm cleanups. If this is allowed to continue, the costs could reach into the trillions of dollars.

The nation has to recognize that the impacts are not equally spread around the country. Many states in the South and middle of the country could lose as much as 20-25% of their GDP. Crop yields could be reduced by 70-90%.

What is the hope that these staggering losses can be avoided? Scientific evidence supports the proposition that the faster emissions are reduced and the more they are, the slower climate change will continue to impact our environments. This has been quantified by the U.S. government and by the United Nations. Some estimates of cost savings from rapid responses range between a 30-60% reduction in climate change costs.

Why then the reluctance, or outright opposition, to financing these cost-saving efforts? Lustgarten notes that local and municipal communities are often slow to see the relevance of spending on climate. They are against spending against future uncertainties and are against changing the focus of economies, even in the face of available predictions of unavoidable change. But the recent record of disaster costs, in contrast to the relatively small mitigation expenditures, should argue persuasively for action now. If we do not take action quickly and sufficiently, the destructive impacts that are already upon us will provide all-too graphic evidence of our future.


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