If there’s anything consistent about the right, it’s that it believes economics are at the crux of every political, professional, personal, social, and environmental decision.
The “free market,” they say, “will solve all that ails us.”
Of course money is important, and we would be remiss if we did not consider the economic costs of our decisions.
But when it comes to climate change, people on the right aren’t repeating “the science isn’t settled” as much as they used to. Now they’re claiming it’s “too expensive” to do anything–as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts, and extreme heat continue to wreak havoc on our planet–and our wallets.
From a purely economic standpoint, maintaining the status quo actually costs more than enacting the changes experts suggest.
A new report from the Universal Ecological Fund, “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States,” states over the past decade extreme weather linked to climate change and health impacts of burning fossil fuels has cost the U.S. economy at least $240 billion a year.
This, however, does not include the $300 billion price tag associated with hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that made this season one of the most destructive in history; nor does it account for the 76 wildfires that blazed in nine Western states.
Sir Robert Watson, coauthor and director at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said:
“Burning fossil fuels comes at a giant price tag which the U.S. economy cannot afford and not sustain. We want to paint a picture for Americans to illustrate the fact that the costs of not acting on climate change are very significant.”
Climate change does not cause the aberrant and catastrophic weather we have been experiencing and will continue to experience; it does, however, contribute to its intensity and frequency. The science is settled about that.
The planet’s average surface temperature is 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C) hotter than it was before the Industrial Revolution, when we began burning fossil fuels. Since the 1980s, the amount of extreme weather events causing at least $1 billion in damages has increased more than 400 percent, due partly to increases in housing and commercial development along coastlines.
While slashing coal-generated electricity currently in use, we could double the present share of renewable energy and create 500,000 new jobs.
Even subsidized, renewable energy will save billions of dollars, according to the first national study of the future costs and benefits of renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which requires increased energy production from renewable energy sources.
Twenty-nine states already maintain RPS regulations.
The “Assessing the Costs and Benefits of U.S. Renewable Portfolio Standards ” study explains if existing RPS programs continue unchanged until 2050, they will generate about 40 percent of U.S. electricity, saving $97 billion in air pollution health costs, and $161 billion in climate damage reductions.
If all states meet their Clean Power Plan obligations solely with renewable energy, by 2030 they will generate 35 percent of electricity; by 2050, they will generate 49 percent. This will save a total of over $1.1 trillion in health benefits and climate impact costs.
Robert Watson admits his report does not account for economic losses resulting from crop yields, for example, or drought, which have racked up $56 billion since 2012.
“Our report is an under estimate of the real costs of continued use of fossil fuels.”
Amir Jina from the University of Chicago, co-author of another study, concurs:
“Anything we estimate now is an underestimate. Climate change is not isolated to small increases in global temperature, but to local impacts to our health and well-being that could be enormous.”
Moreover, research shows that after most hurricanes more people tend to rely more on unemployment insurance and Medicaid, which Republicans are always labeling “wasteful.”
According to researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, there is a one in twenty chance humanity will be rendered extinct within the next century from “low-probability high-impact” events resulting from rising global temperatures.
So, investing in green energy now not only makes good economic sense. It’s literally a matter of life and death.
Image credit: Rebeccah Robinson/LSHTM