The Cost of Sloth

The changing climate could cost Californians “tens of billions of dollars a year.”

Money Man

Those are just the direct costs, toted up in a new report by economists at U-C Berkeley.
“California Climate: Risk and Response” is billed as the first comprehensive report on the costs that may be inflicted on California from the effects of climate change. The 127-page report was co-authored by Fredrich Kahl and David Roland-Holst of Berkeley’s Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability (part of the Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics).

Higher energy demand, heat waves, scarce water, wildfire and rising sea levels–even the “collapse” of the state’s half-billion-dollar ski industry–are just some of the potential cost drivers. The “good news,” according to the report, is that much of this cost could be avoided by immediate investment in strategies to prepare.

A key question is where the money will come from—especially in tough economic times—to invest in the energy and other infrastructure needed to stave off the worst damage. Skip Laitner of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, says we’re not necessarily talking about finding “new” money for these investments. “In the US economy,” says Laitner, “we’re looking at almost two trillion dollars of investment anyway, regardless of how tight the market is. The point I think is a smart re-deployment of investment to more productive uses.”

That includes rapid development of renewable energy and measures to use water more efficiently. The study was funded by the nonpartisan think tank known as Next 10 and is just the latest in a repeating chorus of studies making the point that a full-on confrontation with climate change will, in the long run, be good for the economy, and may even provide some near-term stimulus.

Just weeks ago, Roland-Holst unveiled a separate study on the potential for job creation from promoting conservation and a shift to renewable energy. Earlier this week, a Cal State Fullerton study put a $28 billion-dollar current price tag on air pollution in the south coast and San Joaquin Valley regions.

Roland-Holst will be one of the guests on KQED’s Forum program tomorrow (Friday). He’ll be joined by representatives from Next 10 and Environment California, in a robust discussion of the cost of climate change.