What’s the real cost of doing nothing about climate change? How about nearly a trillion dollars’ worth of real estate in the United States either underwater or threatened by rising seas by century’s end? Or temperatures so hot and dangerous in the South that construction workers could become the coal miners of the 21st century? Or massive crop failures as heat and drought devastate Midwest farm states?
Those are the bottom line conclusions of a report released Tuesday that attempts to offer the most extensive tally to date of the economic costs of climate change over the next 75 years. Just who are these eco-Cassandras? A pair of billionaires and a bevy of Republicans from the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush administrations.
“In some ways, climate change is like an interest-only loan we are putting on the backs of future generations: They will be stuck paying off the cumulative interest on the greenhouse gas emissions we’re putting into the atmosphere now, with no possibility of actually paying down that ‘emissions principal,’ ” according to the report, titled Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change to the United States. “This is not a problem for another day. The investments we make today—this week, this month, this year—will determine our economic future.”
The report was sponsored by media mogul and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, and ex–Goldman Sachs chief and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.
It’s another attempt to grab the attention of corporate America and, perhaps, climate change skeptics by framing the consequences of global warming in terms designed to strike fear in a banker’s heart:
· Between $66 billion and $106 billion in coastal property will lie below sea level by 2050. The toll could rise to as much as $507 billion by 2100.
· As much as $730 billion property could be at risk from flooding by century’s end.
· Losses from increasingly deadly hurricanes could rise to $42 billion to $108 billion. Every year.
· Yields of corn, soybeans, wheat, and other crops are expected to plummet between 50 percent and 70 percent. Food prices are likely to spike as a result.
· Annual energy costs to cool an increasingly hot nation will jump between $474 million to $12 billion over the next five to 25 years and could reach $30 billion by mid-century.
Just going outside could pose a health hazard. The report estimates that by the turn of the century, the cool gray states of the Pacific Northwest will experience more days above 95 degrees Fahrenheit than Texas does now.
“Babies being born right now in the Southwest could see nearly four additional months of days over 95°F within their lifetimes,” according to the report. “As parts of the nation heat up, the worst health impacts will be felt among the poor—many of whom work or even live outdoors or can’t afford air conditioning at home—and among those too elderly or frail to physically withstand the heat or get themselves to air-conditioned facilities. “
That means climate change will affect different regions of the U.S. differently. Floridians, for instance, will be among the hardest hit, with the waves lapping between $15 billion and $23 billion worth of property by 2050 and as much as $208 billion worth underwater by 2100. The worse case scenario: property worth $681 billion at risk by that time. Although the report does not address the issue, such effects are likely to trigger mass internal migrations in the U.S.
So big business must be making climate change a big priority, right?
“As of 2013, over 40 percent of companies listed on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index were still not voluntarily disclosing climate risks,” according to the report.