Overheating temperatures will not be tolerated.
It might seem huge that President Joe Biden proposed a $3.5 trillion price tag for his climate-heavy Build back Better Act. But it will be a pittance in the long term.
By zeroing in on that number, the public debate seems to have skipped right over the economic ramifications of climate change, which promise to be historically disruptive — and enormously expensive. What we don’t spend now will cost us much more later.
Already, the bills for natural disasters, droughts, and power outages are pouring in. In a few decades, the bill will grow exponentially as global migration rises, energy debts increase, and industrial disruptions follow. The threat is so severe that we must think differently about how we spend our money. The past budgets cannot be used to guide government spending in the future.
According to some climate scientists and economists, climate change could lead to the United States spending the equivalent of nearly 4%Its gross domestic product per year by 2100. It is likely that four percent is a conservative estimate. It does not include consequential costs such as damages from drought or climate migration. It assumes that the United States and other countries eventually switch to energy from oil, coal, and natural gas. However, this is not the case as many believe. This scenario will mean that the planet will still rise by about 3 degrees Celsius from its preindustrial level by the end century. This is a significant change that would be catastrophic.
Four percent of American GDP comes out to about $840 billion each year, if figured on last year’s economy. Measured over a decade the way the Build Back Better Act is framed, it’s nearly $8.4 trillion. But the true cost of climate changes to the economy could easily be higher.
Temperatures will rise faster for every ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted from today. Solomon Hsiang is an economist and climate scientist from the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the codirector of Climate Impact Lab. According to Solomon Hsiang’s estimates, each degree Celsius of global warming will erase 1.2% of the country’s GDP per year. These tolls are likely to increase. The United States could lose between 5% and 10.5% of its GDP annually if they fail to curb climate emissions. Based on last year’s GDP, this extreme — and unlikely — scenario could amount to nearly $2.2 trillion each year.
Since Congress was founded, it has been more than three decades. its first major hearingThe nation has spent approximately $1.2 billion on global heating nearly $2 trillionMany disasters were swept up by climate change, which is now believed to have made them worse. Since 2017, floods and hurricanes have caused a lot of damage. nearly $700 billion. 18 natural disasters caused significant losses this year more than $1 billion each.
And these figures don’t account for the drag of slowed growth. Hsiang and his colleagues have estimated, for example, that Hurricane Maria set back Puerto Rico’s prosperity by more than two decades.
What happens when these events become more frequent, more severe?
The Fourth National Climate AssessmentIn 2018, the Trump administration released a list of the kinds of costs Americans will see by the end of the century if emissions continue to grow. The economy could lose $155 billion each year in lost wages due to intense heat; coastal property destruction, $118billion; road damage, $20billion; West Nile virus spread, $3b; and so on.
The warming climate will cause major disruptions to almost every service, including water and sewage treatment, mass transit, food distribution, health care, and wealth erosion. Hsiang, who presented his findings to Congress in 2019, estimates that over the next 80 years intensifying heat alone will reduce Americans’ incomes by $4 trillion to $10.4 trillion as farming becomes more difficult, food prices rise and labor productivity falls. Climate risks are already reducing the value of real property in the most vulnerable areas of the country, including the $1.6 trillion worth private property that is directly at risk from wildfires and sea level rise.
“We’re going to be burning money just to adapt,” he told me recently. “Just the status quo is going to start costing us more.”
These numbers do not tell the whole story because the costs will be shared unevenly. High-risk areas on the Gulf Coast could see their economies disappear by 20%. Some parts of Oklahoma and Texas are experiencing low farm crop yields. projectedDrop by 70% to 90% People of color and the poor are likely to suffer the most.
But, not one of these projections is certain. Taxpayers will be less impacted if carbon dioxide emissions are reduced as quickly as possible. According to the National Climate Assessment (NCA), limiting global warming to about 2 degrees Celsius would in many cases reduce economic harm by between 30% and 60%. The Union of Concerned Scientists has found that emissions reductions can be made now, according to research could save$780 billion worth in residential properties and at least $10 Billion annually in property taxes revenues by the end.
This brings us back to the massive reconciliation bill being drafted by Democrats in Congress. The Build Back better Act proposes that the next 10 years will see several hundred billion dollars annually be used to cut emissions by improving electricity generation and making electric cars more common. Medicare, subsidized childcare and other family aid would all be expanded.
Climate scientists predict that any one of the spending programs under consideration in Congress will be able to pay for itself very quickly. One way to achieve the emission targets is to encourage the transition to cleaner power and electrifying infrastructure. Many economists argue that investing in social programs, such as health and child care, will help communities and families to withstand climate-driven shocks.
The nation is venturing into an era where the siloed definitions of programs — infrastructure versus social welfare versus health care — no longer match the blended nature of the threat. Economic policy is no longer distinct from environmental policy, because, for example, creating high-paying jobs in southern Texas isn’t worth much if it’s too hot to go to work.
Just as economists have linked hotter temperatures to declining crop yields, they have also linked them to more disease, more crime, more suicides and other effects on people’s health and well-being. All of them result in losses — both social and economic — and threaten the country’s strength and stability.
The policymakers must start somewhere. Among the bill’s lesser-known provisions are funding to survey forests and to hire people to fight wildfires; to provide agricultural research for farmers whose crops won’t grow in hotter climates; to help homeowners transition from gas appliances to low-emission technologies; to study the health risks associated with climate change, which can include pandemics and infectious diseases; and to provide better forecasting of dangerous weather.
Taken as a whole, much of the $3.5 trillion starts to look more like a down payment — an investment in keeping the planet, and the U.S. economy and standard of living, as close as possible to the way it is now.
It seems like a decision to ignore these societal defenses is now and to embrace chaos in a period of unpredictable, disruptive change that will be more significant than any other time in human history.
If you look at the stakes this way, it seems prudent to invest in economic stability. It is dangerously radical to fail to respond to economic and scientific forecasts.
This story was first published Oct. 28, 2021. ProPublica.com and co-published with The New York Times.