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The High Costs of Doing Nothing, Part I

By Bill Becker on January 8, 2008 at 8:00 am

"The High Costs of Doing Nothing, Part I"

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A dirty little secret of climate change is that somebody wants us to pay much higher taxes and higher energy bills. But it’s not the advocates of climate action. It’s the other guys.

Make no mistake: The costs of switching to clean energy and an energy-efficient economy are far less than the costs of doing nothing.

A study released by the University of Maryland last October helps bring the cost issue into clearer focus. It concludes that the economic costs of unabated climate change in the United States will be major and nationwide.

Climate change will damage or stress essential municipal infrastructure such as water treatment and supply; increase the size and intensity of forest fires; increase the frequency and severity of flooding and drought; cause billions of dollars in damages to crops and property; lead to higher insurance rates; and even increase shipping costs in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence seaway because of lower water levels. And that’s just a sampling.

Climate change will affect every American economically in significant, dramatic ways, and the longer it takes to respond, the greater the damage and the higher the costs,” lead researcher Matthias Ruth told ScienceDaily.

How big are those costs?

Much more work is needed to quantify them, and the national Climate Change Science Program should give more emphasis to both the social and economic costs of local climate impacts. But recent experience gives an indication of how large the costs could be. The University of Maryland study puts the combined storm damages in the U.S. since 1980 at more than $560 billion, even though the impacts of climate change are far from fully felt. Various estimates project that the maintenance of Alaska’s infrastructure will cost $10 billion; property damage from rising sea-levels will cost as much as $170 billion by 2100; and upgrading drinking and water treatment facilities will cost up to $2 billion over the next 20 years. Two federal insurance programs also are a harbinger of pain. Since 1980, taxpayer exposure under the Federal Crop Insurance Program has increased 26-fold to $44 billion. Several of the predicted consequences of climate change — drought, wildfires, extreme weather, new exposure to pests — will make that liability much worse.

Our liability under the National Flood Insurance Program will increase, too. Taxpayer exposure in that program has quadrupled since 1980, approaching $1 trillion in 2005. The program had to borrow more than $17 billion from the Treasury to pay claims following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and it’s likely that taxpayers will have to foot the bill.

“The national debate is often framed in terms of how much it will cost to reduce greenhouse gases, with little or no consideration of the cost of no response or the cost of waiting,” the University of Maryland’s lead researcher, Matthias Ruth, told ScienceDaily.

We can expect the demagogues to continue stressing that carbon pricing will mean higher energy bills, while aggressive federal action will mean higher taxes. They will continue to argue that climate action will ruin the economy. We shouldn’t let them get away with it.

The truth is that spending money now to mitigate and adapt to climate change is an investment. Spending money later to cope with public health emergencies, drought, crop damage and natural disasters is a waste.

It’s climate change, not climate action, that will break the economy and burden the nation’s taxpayers, and that liability gets bigger every year we delay.

– Bill B.

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4 Responses to The High Costs of Doing Nothing, Part I

  1. Shannon says:

    UMD has a number of good publications out that try to quantify the impacts from climate change to different countries of the world. Also see a workshop publication from April 2007 entitled, “Vulnerability, Resistance, and Adaptation: Societal Causes and Responses” by Elizabeth L. Malone at http://www.globalchange.umd.edu/data/publications/Vulnerability-Resilience-Adaptation.ppt. This presentation shares a modeling effort that calculates the sensitivity, resilience, and coping of different regions to impacts from climate change, based on future scenarios.

    Here are the types of sensitivities and coping/adaptation capacities that are modeled; they are driven on commonly recognized indicators of human security and progress that are implicitly connected to policy:

    Human Settlement and Infrastructure: Population at flood risk from sea level rise, population without access to clean water and sanitation

    Food Security: Cereals production/crop land area, protein consumption/per capita

    Ecosystem Sensitivity: percent irrigated land, fertilizer use

    Water Security: Water availability (demand/supply), precipitation amount

    Human Health: Fertility rate, life expectancy

    Economic Capacity: GDP per capita, Equity index

    Human Capital: Dependency ration, literacy rate

    Environmental Capacity: land use measure (% unmanaged land), SO2 emissions per unit area, population density

    The presentation suggests we change the focus of the global warming PR “from physical impacts to meaningful societal consequences.” This in turn can help societies to “build resilience and adaptive capacity” through policy change.

    Malone EL. 2007. “Vulnerability, Resilience, and Adaptation: Societal Causes and Responses.” CRCES Workshop: Societal Impacts of Decadal Climate Variability in the United States, Kona, Hawaii. 04/26/2007.

  2. The Maryland study was an eye-opener, but it didn’t try to put an actual price tag on the cost of inaction. Another study by Tufts University gets more specific, though it focuses only on Florida:

    http://ase.tufts.edu/gdae/Pubs/rp/FloridaClimate.html

    There’s a summary of the report on our blog:

    http://environmentaldefenseblogs.org/climate411/2007/11/28/florida-and-climate-change-the-costs-of-not-acting/

    Sheryl Canter
    Environmental Defense
    Climate 411 blog – http://climate411.org

  3. mark tyrol says:

    How To Reduce Your Heating Bills This Winter / Energy Conservation Begins at Home

    Imagine leaving a window open all winter long — the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan or AC Return, a fireplace or a clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day.

    These often overlooked sources of heat loss and air leakage can cause heat to pour out and the cold outside air to rush in — costing you higher heating bills.

    Air leaks are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Air leaks occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize heat loss and cold drafts.

    But what can you do about the four largest “holes” in your home — the folding attic stair, the whole house fan or AC return, the fireplace, and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

    Attic Stairs

    When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.

    Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood.

    Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door — do you see any light coming through? These are gaps add up to a large opening where your heated/cooled air leaks out 24 hours a day. This is like leaving a window open all year round.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an attic stair cover. An attic stair cover provides an air seal, reducing the air leaks. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

    Whole House Fans and AC Returns

    Much like attic stairs above, when whole house fans are installed, a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only leaky ceiling shutter between the house and the outdoors.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan cover. Installed from the attic side, the whole house fan cover is invisible. Cover the fan to reduce heating and air-conditioning loss, remove it when use of the fan is desired.

    If attic access is inconvenient, or for AC returns, a ceiling shutter cover is another option for reducing heat loss through the ceiling shutter and AC return. Made from R-8, textured, thin, white flexible insulation, and installed from the house side over the ceiling shutter with Velcro, a whole house fan shutter cover is easily installed and removed.

    Fireplaces

    Sixty-five percent, or approximately 100 million homes, in North America are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. Unfortunately there are negative side effects that the fireplace brings to a home especially during the winter home-heating season. Fireplaces are energy losers.

    Researchers have studied this to determine the amount of heat loss through a fireplace, and the results are amazing. One research study showed that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent.

    A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the air leakage and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

    Why does a home with a fireplace have higher heating bills? Hot air rises. Your heated air leaks out any exit it can find, and when warm heated air is drawn out of your home, cold outside air is drawn in to make up for it. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking the heated air from your house.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a fireplace draftstopper. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, a fireplace draftstopper is an inflatable pillow that seals the damper, eliminating any air leaks. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

    Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

    In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold air leaks in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.

    Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to try to reduce this air leakage. This is very primitive technology that does not provide a positive seal to stop the air leakage. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted air infiltration, and keep out pests, bees and rodents as well. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

    If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan, an AC return, a fireplace, and/or a clothes dryer, you can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

    Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover, an attic access door, and is the U.S. distributor of the fireplace draftstopper. To learn more visit http://www.batticdoor.com

  4. Phil Bickel says:

    The average mean temperature in North America was 7 degress below normal in 2008.

    The high tomorrow on the 2nd of July in Columbus Ohio is 68 degrees.

    When are you Zombies going to realized you’ve been scammed?

    The pollution issues that are causing ice melt in the artic and a declining air quality are dust and soot pollution in northern Asia.

    That problem was identified decades ago, and it’s effects were predicted as well. CO2 pollution is a straw man constrcuted to issue in global Marxism.