When the climate change debate heats up, we hear two different views of the future. On one side there's big business, focused on the cost of regulation if environmentalists are in charge. On the other side there are scientists and ecologists talking about environmental deterioration and the loss of natural resources. Who is right?
In a 2017 Gallup poll,
71% of American's believed that scientists have proven that climate change exists, and 68% agree that climate change is caused by human activities. Okay, if we agree that climate change is real, then what do we do about it? First, we need to define our key terms and measure the cost of climate change.
"Climate" is what the weather should be and weather is what actually happens. When summers are consistently warmer or winters are consistently cooler, every year, that's climate change. A 2006 documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth", said climate change is real and will result in warmer weather, thinner ice caps, more frequent super-storms, scarcer water, and mega forest fires will become an annual event. What actually happened?
1921 was our first recorded "hottest year", with the next in 1934 (13 years later) and again in 1998, 54 years later. That sounds right because the "hottest year" shouldn't be every year. After that, 1999, 2001, 2006, and 2012 became the hottest years. The gap between records was closing and most recently 2015, 2016, 2017, every single year, has become the hottest year ever!
Similarly, we have a storm of the century every year. In 2017-2018 we had the heaviest rains in Texas (Harvey), the highest winds in Peurto Rico (Maria), and a Super Hurricane that just missed Tampa (Irma). In the winter, two bomb-cyclones and four nor'easters. "Storm of the Century" is no longer meaningful when storms happen every other month.
The first California mega-forest fire was in 1932
, followed by 1970. A nice big gap! Since 2012, California had a mega-fire every single year.
Melting ice? Forget the numbers, click on this 1984 to 2016 time-lapse
. More ice in 1984, less in 2016. A LOT less.
After several terrible storms in the 1960's, the Federal government realized that many homes in flood zones lacked flood insurance. It was too expensive! The solution was to subsidize flood insurance through the newly formed National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Homeowners would be protected for now, and they would have the time to relocate before the next flood. Great idea, but it didn't work.
No one wanted to buy a home that repeatedly floods. Worse still, with subsidized insurance, banks issued more mortgages for new homes. More flood zone homes meant more flood payouts. The NFIP has over 5 million policies in force, paying half of the market rate, leaving the NFIP $24 billion in debt in 2017.
While some middle-class homes are protected by NFIP insurance, 80 percent of NFIP policies are in counties in the top income quintile
. Not surprising when you consider two characteristics of waterfront property. First, it's the first property to flood, since it sits on the water. Second, waterfront property is usually expensive. Unfortunately, when you subsidize insurance for waterfront property, you force the middle-class to pay for the wealthy to rebuild their summer homes.
Hurricane Harvey cost between $65 and $190 billion
. Irma cost $50 to $100 billion. Changing rain patterns and increased human competition for water drove forest fires that cost a record $9.4 billion in California alone
. The total cost to our agriculture industry will be billions more in lost productivity. Yet the US petroleum industry ( oil, coal, and gas), a major contributor to climate change, only adds $125 billion to our economy
which is the approximate cost of one hurricane season.
Superstorms, floods, and forest fires that were once separated by decades are now mere months apart. Climate change is still accelerating, raising costs every year. Essentially, we are transferring the costs of polluting industries directly to citizens, who will pay higher insurance rates, lose property, and pay for more disaster relief every year.
Houston can argue that Climate Change isn't the responsibility of local government, but when rain hits the ground, it is indeed a municipal responsibility and for good reasons.
Houston made an economic decision to fill in the wetland surrounding the city, turning this "cheap" land into strip malls and housing developments. Without this natural barrier, that soaked up rain and kept storm surges far from the center of the city, rain from Hurricane Harvey simply ran downhill, into basements and into the center of the city.
Houston can choose to sell off its wetlands, allowing one neighboorhood to drown another even when their own city planning department tells them flooding is inevitable. They can ignore examples from cities like Tokyo
and rebuilt New Orleans
, with its massive concrete and steel projects to control floodwaters.
Houston, however, cannot intentionally endanger their own citizens and then hand the repair bill to other states. When Texas received $51 billion from the federal government
, Senator Ted Cruz, a leading voice of climate denial, said, "We need to make sure Texas gets our fair share given the magnitude of the damage here in Texas." When Houston causes the flood, shouldn't their insurance deductible should go way up?
When ice caps melt, seas rise, superstorms drive stronger sea surges and cities flood. Should you move 'em or lose 'em? There is a third choice: make cities flood resistant. New York City has an initial plan for a mere $20 billion
and other coastal cities, like Maimi, will see much higher costs.
More rain on the coast means less rain elsewhere, especially in the plains states, where we grow most of our grain. That will cost our $135 billion agricultural industry billions in lost crops, while Russia and Ukraine benefit from higher temperatures and record wheat harvests.
Melting Arctic ice
has opened up new sea routes, potentially shifting control of global shipping to Russia's "Northern Sea Route". Even China recently asserted that it must be involved in governing the Arctic because it is a "near-Arctic" nation
, even though China's nearest border is 1,000 miles from the Arctic. These inflated claims tell us how valuable the Arctic has become.
America has the worlds largest military, yet we only have 3 icebreakers
to Russia's 33 icebreakers
(4 more under construction). They also have 26 more non-dedicated icebreakers (supply, patrol, and rescue ships), with 5 more under construction. Let's not forget, FOUR NUCLEAR ICEBREAKERS (2 under construction). 63 Rusian icebreakers to America's 3. If President Trump does rebuild the military, let's start with the growing "Icebreaker Gap"!
As the seas rise, existing coastal bases become less useful. Higher seas and stronger sea surges prevent military ships from docking. Heavier storms limit how many days planes can fly, troops can march, and ships can be deployed. Storms that crush cities also halt military operations.
Ignoring climate change will be incredibly costly, even when we just count dollars and not lost lives. Tomorrow's costs will continue to rise, unless we address basic issues, like insurance subsidies and bad city planning. The 2018 hurricane season is just around the corner, along with mid-term elections. Are you are a climate denier or a climate change believer? Fgure it out quickly so you can vote for your own interests!