Some of my friends organized a booth at the Earth Day event last weekend. It was designed to explain the need for action to address global climate change and the Green New Deal as a method of doing so.
I helped man the booth and had the opportunity to discuss some of the issues with a variety of folks who stopped by. Most of those I spoke with wanted to know more about the issues. One lady in particular struck me as she was unconcerned about the impact of climate change. As long as she could turn on her television when she wanted to, she felt taking action was too costly.
Climate change is estimated to have cost the nation an average of $24 billion per year over the last decade and will likely rise to $35 billion per year by 2050. The reality is that it’s too costly not to take action.
Looking just at the impact within U.S. borders, current research estimates the cost of carbon emissions is nearly $48 per ton. An average American is responsible for 15.5 tons of carbon emissions per year causing a cost of $744 per year. The same study estimates India’s localized social cost of carbon at around $86 per ton, this is because while they emit far less carbon than many other nations, due to their geography, they suffer some of the worst effects of climate change. Saudi Arabia’s localized social cost of carbon is $47, and China, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates are $24 per ton.
Several other countries face damages above $20 per ton. The global cost when the economic impact on all nations is added up is around $417 per ton. The study’s authors believe those to be underestimates. The researchers used an empirical data that captures all market impacts of climate change that could already be seen affecting the economy by 2014. That data doesn’t include potential catastrophic events, short-term costs of adaptation, biodiversity loss, or the longer-term impacts of sea level rise and ocean acidification such as that which is killing the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and causing ocean fisheries to vanish.
Two of the greatest drivers to those costs are health issues, especially premature deaths, and coastal property damage and land loss. We already see barrier islands here on the Texas Gulf Coast being eroded by increasingly powerful storms and hurricanes. Add to that rising sea levels and our coastline is going to change significantly over the next century.
The effects of higher greenhouse gas emissions levels on global climate become most evident around 2050, when temperature, precipitation, and sea level rise projections begin to rapidly diverge from 20th century norms. With substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the increase in global annual average temperature compared to the 1800’s could be limited to less than 3.6°F (2°C). Without significant greenhouse gas mitigation, the increase in global annual average temperature could reach 9°F or more by the end of this century. Certain aspects of Earth’s climate system take longer to respond to changes in greenhouse gas concentrations, such as global sea level, so some degree of long-term change will be locked in for centuries to come regardless of future reductions in emissions. Early greenhouse gas emissions reductions can mitigate climate impacts in the nearer term, such as reducing the loss of arctic sea ice and the effects on species that use it. In the longer term, reductions can mitigate impacts by avoiding critical thresholds, such as Antarctic ice sheet collapse and the resulting consequences for global sea level and coastal homes and businesses.