The Cost of Ignoring Climate Change

sunheat_smMuch of the debate over addressing climate change hinges on the cost of proposed mitigation efforts.  Some say we can’t afford the extraordinary measures required to cut greenhouses gases, particularly in the current economic train wreck.  What gets less attention is the cost of doing nothing.

This has been a controversial idea since the Stern Review called attention to the issue in 2006. That report concluded that unless one percent of global GDP was diverted to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, the world could lose up to 5% of  global GDP each year and the total damage could claim as much as 20%.

A set of new reports out of the University of Oregon inserts fresh numbers into the debate. According to researchers, three western states are each likely to lose more than $3 billion a year in climate change-related costs by 2020, if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  By 2080, the projected annual costs range from $9-to-$18 billion for each state.

The reports, which focus on Washington, Oregon, and New Mexico, assume a business-as-usual scenario where both carbon emissions and temperature continue to rise at rates similar to those seen in recent years. Under these conditions, these states (and California, according to the prevalent research) can expect more severe droughts and floods, less snowfall,  more wildfires and habitat loss, and a higher incidence of climate-associated health problems and deaths.

In New Mexico, the study’s authors expect summer temperatures to climb 12.6 degrees above current averages by 2080,  spiking air-conditioning costs, health-care complications, and the state’s death rate.  By 2020, annual climate-related health care costs in New Mexico alone are expected to top $1.3 billion.

California’s temperatures, under business-as-usual scenarios, are widely expected rise between six and ten degrees by the end of century.  Even in a relatively cool state like Washington, health care impacts would make up $421 million, or 32%, of total annual climate-related costs, under this pr0jection.

The study attributed the largest costs (more than $1 billion annually in each state) to inefficient consumption of energy, a projection that might not pan out, given the Obama Adminstration’s focus on green technology and clean energy efforts.

Other costs cited by the study include reduced salmon populations and food production, lost recreational opportunities (sell your snowboard now), and more intense and frequent wildfires and storms.