No more denying: Climate change is a growing economic crisis
What if we knew the U.S. economy was poised to lose hundreds of billions of dollars in value in coming years, resulting in 10 percent of our gross domestic product being wiped out?
Wouldn’t we expect our lawmakers and policymakers do something?
For perspective, imagine a hit to our economy like that of the Great Recession. Then more than double it, add in the destruction of tens of thousands of homes and businesses and the loss of thousands of American lives.
That’s exactly what we now know we can expect if our lawmakers and policymakers don’t move quickly to pass policies to address climate change, according to the Trump administration’s Fourth National Climate Assessment. Released under the cover of the Thanksgiving weekend, the report makes clear how rising greenhouse gas emissions and climate change will severely damage nearly every sector of the U.S. economy, from farming and fishing to real estate, construction and tourism.
Simply put, there’s no more denying that climate change is a huge economic issue. Any elected official or lawmaker who isn’t pushing for immediate action on climate change also isn’t doing their job to protecting our economy, our workers and our businesses.
If our lawmakers and policymakers don’t take action now, “the potential for losses in some sectors could reach hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of this century,” climate assessment authors wrote.
These aren’t some politically motivated pundits peddling scare tactics. Report contributors include more than 300 scientists and 13 federal agencies — including the departments of the Interior, Energy, Commerce, Transportation and Agriculture, which all report to President Trump.
In addition to impacting virtually every part of our economy, climate change will impact every region of our country. Some examples from the report:
· In coastal communities, increased storms combined with rising sea levels are now threatening approximately $1 trillion worth of coastal real estate and other assets.
· In the Midwest and other farming regions, higher temperatures, more flooding and other extreme weather events will cause major reductions in crop yields and livestock and dairy production, resulting in billions of dollars in economic impacts.
· In the Northeast and elsewhere, increased flooding and storms will compound existing issues with aging bridges, roads, sewer and water systems and other infrastructure, resulting in billions of dollars worth of damage.
· In construction and other outdoor occupations, almost 2 billion labor-hours are expected to be lost annually due to temperature extremes by 2090, resulting in an estimated $160 billion in lost annual wages.
Of course we’re already grappling with the economic consequences of our climate change. Damage from this month’s record fires in California is expected to reach $19 billion. Last year’s record hurricanes caused more than $250 billion in damage. Record drought in 2015–2017 led to more than $8 billion in agriculture and other losses.
This doesn’t have to be our future.
Just like last month’s UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on global climate change, the U.S. National Climate Assessment report notes that we can avoid many of these economic and societal calamities.
But to do so, our lawmakers and policymakers must move quickly to advance policies to increase renewable energy, low-emissions vehicles and energy efficiency, among other things, the reports note.
Doing so would drive economic growth, cost savings and jobs — creating the exact opposite impacts that we’d get from inaction on climate change.
We’re already experiencing evidence of this now too. Solar and wind energy is now the cheapest form of electricity in every major economy, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Thanks to smart policies in the past, more than 3.2 million Americans now work in clean energy in every state. Energy efficiency programs like the federal Energy Star program have already saved American families and businesses more than $450 billion in electricity costs.
Unfortunately, President Trump continues to ignore clean energy and disregard and dismiss science, even when it comes from his own administration. Asked about the National Climate Assessment his advisers prepared, he told reporters “I don’t believe it.”
That doesn’t mean members of Congress and state and local leaders shouldn’t take action now.
The new Congress can start by making climate change a priority again. It can stop the Trump administration’s planned rollbacks of commonsense policies that would cut emissions from cars and power plants and increase energy efficiency in our appliances, homes and buildings.
States can increase renewable energy and efficiency standards and authorize programs to get more electric and low-emission vehicles on their roads. Cities can incentivize building owners to improve energy efficiency and urban planning.
And the rest of us can take action too.
We can demand that our lawmakers no longer ignore the economic and societal costs of climate change, and instead do something about it — right now.