Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Costs of Doing Nothing

Excellent post over at Climate Progress spelling out the enormous costs associated with global warming for this country if we just keep doing what we’re doing. . . . Hmm. Where have I heard that before? Anyway, this gives you a very good idea of what we talk about here when we emphasize that the future will be different than today, and not in a good way, for state and local budgets. Yet another tree falling in the forest . . . .

A study released by the University of Maryland last October helps bring the cost issue into clearer focus. It concludes that the economic costs of unabated climate change in the United States will be major and nationwide.

Climate change will damage or stress essential municipal infrastructure such as water treatment and supply; increase the size and intensity of forest fires; increase the frequency and severity of flooding and drought; cause billions of dollars in damages to crops and property; lead to higher insurance rates; and even increase shipping costs in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence seaway because of lower water levels. And that’s just a sampling.

Climate change will affect every American economically in significant, dramatic ways, and the longer it takes to respond, the greater the damage and the higher the costs,” lead researcher Matthias Ruth told ScienceDaily.

How big are those costs?

Much more work is needed to quantify them, and the national Climate Change Science Program should give more emphasis to both the social and economic costs of local climate impacts. But recent experience gives an indication of how large the costs could be. The University of Maryland study puts the combined storm damages in the U.S. since 1980 at more than $560 billion, even though the impacts of climate change are far from fully felt.

Various estimates project that the maintenance of Alaska’s infrastructure will cost $10 billion; property damage from rising sea-levels will cost as much as $170 billion by 2100; and upgrading drinking and water treatment facilities will cost up to $2 billion over the next 20 years.

Two federal insurance programs also are a harbinger of pain. Since 1980,
taxpayer exposure under the Federal Crop Insurance Program has increased 26-fold to $44 billion. Several of the predicted consequences of climate change — drought, wildfires, extreme weather, new exposure to pests — will make that liability much worse.

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