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Hullabaloo


Monday, February 11, 2013

 
Now that it might cost rich people money, it's time to talk about the climate

by David Atkins

Very Serious Person Coral Davenport is rightly freaked out about the economic impact of climate:

It’s important to point out, of course, that no single weather event, including Sandy, can be attributed to climate change. But the data show that climate change has already locked us into a future of more Sandy-like storms—which will come with Sandy-sized price tags. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental-advocacy group, estimates that by 2025, taxpayers could be shelling out more than $270 billion a year for disaster relief if no action is taken to cut the fossil-fuel pollution that causes global warming or to prepare for the damage that science tells us—and evidence shows us—is coming.

Despite all the evidence that climate change has started costing the economy, businesses, and taxpayers, and that much higher costs are to come, the congressional response has been to largely ignore the problem, except to pay for damages as they arise. And while Congress authorized $61 billion for Sandy relief, the House rejected amendments that would have required planning for the impact of sea-level rise due to climate change. In the past, FEMA’s budget has included money to prevent flood damage—to help pay, for example, for projects like elevating Jimmy Strickland’s office. But Congress slashed that funding last year, and the Obama White House has proposed eliminating it altogether. Over the past year, House Republicans have voted to block programs aimed at researching the effects of climate change on the United States, programs to help farmers adapt to the impact of climate change, and a Securities and Exchange Commission requirement that companies disclose financial risk related to climate change. In some state legislatures, lawmakers have pushed to have scientific data on the effects of climate change excised from development and infrastructure plans.

“Up until recently, the debate was, how much does it cost us to address climate change—and the cost of acting overwhelmed us,” says Matthias Ruth, an economist at Northeastern University who has published a series of reports on the economic impact of climate change on various states. “The cost of inaction is at the same order of magnitude, if not higher, than doing something about it.”
The graph of flood insurance payouts in an age of increasingly frequent superstorms is one such example of overwhelming costs coming our way:



RL Miller has other examples of Very Serious People talking about the economic impacts of climate as well.

I suppose this is a good and welcome thing. But it's also deeply troubling that issues as important as climate change only start to gain traction with the Very Serious People when they start to impact deficits and stock prices. The good of the world is much more than a series of corporate and national balance sheets. There are many things in this world that can, should and must be done, that will likely increase public debts and decrease corporate profits. They must be done anyway.

If the criterion for global action on an issue is that profits and bond ratings might be threatened, this world of ours is doomed regardless.


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