National Journal Warns The Economic Price Of Climate Change Is Already Here, And Growing

(Photo by Iwan Baan / Reportage by Getty Images)

National Journal’s Coral Davenport has written a wide-ranging new piece laying out the myriad ways climate change, driven by human carbon emissions, is threatening the American economy. The point is backed up by myriad scientific reports: The draft of the upcoming Fifth Assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change determined that, by more than a 95 percent probability, human activities are to blame over half the observed increase in the global average surface temperature since the 1950s.

The draft of the Federal Advisory Committee’s Climate Assessment Report concluded that most of the United States is in for 9 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit of warming given the current path carbon emissions are following, with with ever-worsening extreme weather, sea-level rise, heat waves, deluges, droughts, storms, flooding, and ocean acidification as the result.

Using specific stories ranging from Norfolk, Virginia, to Netarts Bay in Oregon, to St. Louis, Missouri, Davenport illustrates the ways these impending upheavals in the climate and ecosystems can and already are undermining Americans’ chances of recovering from the Great Recession — or of prospering in future decades.

The Economic Costs Of Extreme Weather

Globally, extreme weather and climate change are already shaving 1.6 percent off worldwide gross domestic product — or about $1.2 trillion per year — according to a study by DARA. By 2030, it will be up 3.2 percent of global GDP, costing the United States over 2 percent of its GDP and India over 5 percent.

In the U.S. specifically, the heat waves and droughts that continue to sweep through Texas, Oklahoma and the Midwest have driven crop yields down a food prices up, resulting in record payouts for crop-insurance claims. Davenport cites a 2011 study by the consulting firm Mercer that warned climate change could increase investment-portfolio risk by 10 percent over the next two decades, by disrupting supply chains.

The country is suffering larger and more frequent wildfires, storms are damaging infrastructure and causing power outages and fuel-price spikes, and relief aid for Superstorm Sandy alone cost the federal government over $60 billion:

2011 and 2012 were the two most extreme years on record for destructive weather events. A record 14 weather disasters occurred in 2011, sustaining more than $1 billion each in economic losses for a total of $60.6 billion. Last year brought 11 weather disasters that each cost $1 billion or more; while the total economic loss has not been determined, experts say the dollar figure is almost certain to exceed 2011’s. Meanwhile, the insurance industry estimates that its losses from 2012’s natural disasters will total $58 billion—more than double the average yearly losses of $27 billion from 2000 to 2011.

Alternating droughts and floods have even disrupted shipping traffic on the Mississippi River, and lowered water levels on the Great Lakes have raised shipping companies’ costs by an average of up to 22 percent.

Ocean Acidification And The Marine Industries

The Earth’s oceans naturally absorb carbon dioxide, so as human carbon-emitting activities have increased carbon levels in the oceans have increased dramatically. That leads to more acidic water, threatening marine ecosystems around the globe as well as the various industries that depend on them. Davenport’s microcosm for this crisis is the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Oregon, which saw its oyster larvae production collapse from 7 to 10 billion down to 2.5 billion in 2008, part of an oyster crash that hit both U.S. coasts. But the ocean acidification problem reaches across the planet:

In the South Pacific, it’s eating away at coral reefs. The water is also slowly destroying microscopic shellfish called pteropods, a staple of Pacific salmon’s diet. New studies show that, eventually, the heavily acidic waters could deprive salmon of this essential food source, triggering a breakdown in a crucial food chain and a major industry.

The Effects Of Water Shortages

As precipitation becomes less reliable, snow packs melt earlier, river flows drop and glaciers continue to recede, fresh water is becoming harder and harder to come by both in American and around the globe, threatening both economic and political instability. The United Nations is projecting that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in regions with severe water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions. The need to secure fresh water supplies is actually driving intensifying conflicts between various U.S. states, as Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico are entangled in a series of suits over access to river water.

As Davenport points out, one of the biggest ironies of this situation is that many of the biggest carbon emitters in the power generation industries require copious amounts of water to operate, so they’re feeling especially pinched by the shortages:

A typical coal-fired power plant can consume up to 11 million gallons of water to operate each day. During the 2011 drought in Texas, water shortages threatened more than 3,000 megawatts of generating capacity, enough power to supply over a million homes. At the same time, electricity demand spiked as people cranked up air conditioners against the sweltering heat. Production prices shot up to $3,000 per megawatt-hour—more than three times the amount that generators are allowed to charge their customers.

According to figures from the International Energy Agency, water consumption by the energy industries will double from 66 billion cubic meters now to 135 by 2035, with most of the growth driven by coal-fired power.

And just to drive home the point outside of the energy world, lost of businesses that make various products require water, including major beverage producers: Coca-Cola actually lost an operating license in India in 2004 due to water shortage.

Flooding And Sea-Level Rise

We already have evidence that, due to global warming, sea levels may be rising up to 60 percent faster than predicted in the IPCC’s report, and the United States may already be in for an ultimate increase (many centuries from now) of 69 feet. In line with that finding, Davenport also points out a 2012 study by the U.S. Geological Survey, which found that sea levels along the East Coast will rise 3 to 4 times faster than the global average. “Over the past century, the planet’s sea levels have risen about 8 inches,” she reports. “Globally, scientists now project sea levels to rise another 1 to 4 feet by the end of this century.”

The U.S. Geological Survey study singled out Norfolk, Virginia as an American city particularly vulnerable to flooding and climate change. Floods have repeatedly damaged businesses in the community over the last few years, and future economic impacts to the community are estimated to run as high as $25 billion.

Tragically, Virginia’s state government has been a hotbed of climate denialism. The state’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, spiked a climate-change action plan proposed under his Democratic predecessor, Tim Kaine, and has aggressively lobbied for expanded oil drilling. McDonnell’s probably successor, GOP Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, has attempted to discredit climate scientist Michael Mann, has worked against the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gases, and even tried to block studies of the effects of to sea level rise.

As Davenport points out, this gives Virginia a dual significance: The state’s fate not only demonstrates the very real costs of climate change to human lives and prosperity, but also the political foolishness that’s rendering the arrival of those costs all the more certain.

41 Responses to National Journal Warns The Economic Price Of Climate Change Is Already Here, And Growing

  1. That is why it all the more important for Obama to emphasize climate change in his #SOTU address. It should force the Republicans to respond, and we know that Sen. Rubio will not respond honestly.

    AS Chris Mooney’s interview with Dr. Box states, a 20 meter rise in sea level will devastate the Virginia seaboard, especially the Naval economy, dependent as it is on the military port areas soon to be flooded.

    It all gives a true definition to the real estate term “under water.”

  2. Paul Klinkman says:

    We have 650,000 people without power and wind chills are either in the single digits or below. People freeze and they get heart attacks shoveling two feet of heavy, wet snow. Not too good today.

  3. Paul Klinkman says:

    Maybe it doesn’t count until it happens to Wall Street (in the picture). That’s when climate change becomes an issue.

  4. Obama should wave this report around in the SOTU address. The economic argument is his to win. The Republicans will be forced to refute anthropogenic climate change itself.

    That’s an opening for high-profile hearings in Congress, where each side can bring their best scientists to discuss what is going on. The Republikooks will be outnumbered 98 to 2.

    It’s the FDR moment for Obama. Time to call for WW2-style programs to bend the CO2 accumulation curve (at least the US portion) downward by the end of his term.

  5. fj says:

    Acting on climate change at wartime speed makes good economic sense.

  6. Brian R Smith says:

    see also:

    Friday, February 08, 2013
    New Book Reveals Human Cost of Climate Change

    Professor Andrew Guzman

    Berkeley, CA-February 7, 2013…A new book, Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change, predicts a grim future for billions of people in this century. It is a factual account of a staggering human toll, based on hard data. Author Andrew Guzman, an authority on international law and economics, is a professor and associate dean at UC Berkeley School of Law.

    “Solving this problem is not going to be free. But as long as politicians are punished for imposing economic costs now in exchange for larger economic gains later, it will be an impossible problem to solve,” he said.

    “People have to accept the fact that, as with social security, public education, or military expenditures, we have to pay now for benefits later,” he said.

    “I’m terrified for my children—for everybody’s children,” he said.

  7. Jack Burton says:

    No matter the dire warnings, simply look at the US political system. Are they worried? Yes, they are! They are worried we will not develop fracking of gas and oil fast enough. They are worried that federal regulations will slow down deep water drilling, they worry that the tar sands pipeline will take more time to get approved, they worry that mountain top coal extraction is slowing down due to drops in coal prices, they worry that approval for arctic sea drilling is moving too slowly, they worry that the arctic wildlife refuge is still closed to drilling. Etc. Etc.
    Your congress is hard at work, problem is that their work is aimed at development and burning of as much fossil fuel as humanly possible. Believe it, just check into the actions of this congress. And President Obama is owned by corporate America, he is no solution to anything. Just a friendly face on business as usual.

  8. Merrelyn Emery says:

    As reality strikes faster than the official predictions, so will the costs as they are most probably the result of the same reductionist and modelling methodology. And I bet they don’t include the costs of distressed and depressed people, ME

  9. Paul Klinkman says:

    But beware of the government’s merely talking at wartime speed,

    the government’s putting Exxon in charge of the wartime effort,

    and the government’s making sure that no independent inventor has enough financial stability to succeed, much less any possible path to develop actual products.

  10. Paul Klinkman says:

    Flooding is proving to be 100 times as big a problem (in this decade) as sea level rise. Instead of a sea level rise map of a probably underestimated 6 feet, why not post 100 year hurricane flooding maps and 100 year river flooding maps? That’s more likely to get the public’s attention. Also, something for 100 year firestorms and 100 year tornado disasters. These can be micro-aimed at individual towns.

    And blizzards.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Wesley, part of the problem, indeed an intractable, bed-rock cause of the ecological crisis, is the insistent concentration on ‘the economy’. The wretched economy, of infinite growth to feed the greed of a tiny few, is the root of the calamity and the real victims will be society and humanity.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    One of the morally insane and spiritually decrepit Right’s most perfidious and cynical excuses for doing nothing, is that economic growth is absolutely paramount. We know that, because it is, after all, their one true religion. They assert that, if we keep on growing, we will get so Goddam rich, in the future (they are vague about how rich we need to get, and exactly when we can turn to ecological care and repair)that our descendants will easily be able to afford to fix things then. Doing it now is ‘too expensive’. One need not list the serial imbecilities involved in such an ‘argument’, but they must think that it impresses someone. The real concern is whether they believe it themselves.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Democracy’ and capitalism are radically,indeed innately, incompatible. Until and unless that stark truth penetrates the cranial carapace of the great Western publics, reinforced as it is by lifetimes of brainwashing by capitalist MSM to love the agents of their destruction, we’ll get absolutely nowhere.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Budget busters. The insurance companies are already abandoning huge populations, and, in the era of deliberately enforced ‘austerity’ designed coldly and calculatingly by the Right to destroy Government and the entire public realm, social welfare will go next. I heard some Sandy victims on BBC last night, bewailing the fact that they have received no assistance whatsoever, so far. Pretty soon that will be the norm, and the Right will have its ideal society, of atomised individuals, without any assistance from Government, either chipping in together (dangerous-could lead to ‘collectivism’), or not. At least the gun industry will be happy.

  15. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Those Sea Level rises are still very conservative. Less than a foot, is thermal expansion alone and we know the ice sheets are loosing mass.

    The worst case of two meters is not at all the worst case. We have changed forcings so much faster than anything before, yet there have been melt water pulses much greater than than that.

    Even if we stop polluting today the sea is going to keep rising for centuries. We are already committed to ten meters, if not more.

    The stability of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and associated winds is expected. But if it does get perturbed then the response from the WAIS could be devastatingly quick. We could see rises that we expect over a century to happen in a decade, or less.

  16. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Representative democracy and the current form of ‘capitalism’ are not at all incompatible as they share a design principle and, therefore, the same effects. Participative democracy is incompatible, ME

  17. Yes, there are many opportunities for this to go badly. But government is the only organ of social cooperation big enough and with sufficient authority to do it. You’re right–it will have to be managed and watched closely. Still could completely fail. But doing nothing guarantees failure.

  18. We have imported the well-being and prosperity of the future into the present. Now the future has come calling, looking for the balloon payment.

  19. The capitalism-democracy partnership worked great when the world was in a state of surplus. Now it’s in a state of scarcity. It’s not merely different, it’s opposite. Things that work in one circumstance tend not to work when those circumstances are inverted.

    That’s what makes it hard for people–we’ve come to think of democracy-capitalism as a way of life. But it was a product of circumstance–the era of frontiers and surplus. Those days are gone. We’ve literally consumed them. To sustain the benefits of democracy-capitalism will take a lot of modification and effort. And some we just have to let go. Like open-ended growth.

  20. Paul Klinkman says:

    Climate change isn’t a new tax so that makes it ok as far as politics is concerned. Instead, it’s a doubling of your home insurance bill that you are forced to pay. If that’s not enough there’s always another doubling.

    Or, you can get insurance with fine print that says, “We won’t actually pay out if your home is flooded. Your mortgage holder is a fool not to require you to have flood insurance. But we all knew long ago that your banker is a fool. Your insurance company is pretty stupid itself, being in much the same industry.”

  21. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Our mainstream sciences have always assumed stability but that is a dangerous assumption at times of rapid, systemic change, ME

  22. paul magnus magnus says:

    So if Obama had faced up to the reality of global warming publicly in his first term wall steet would have taken a beating.

    The reality is that any public acceptance of climate disruption etc means financial collapse shortly there after.

    That is one reason most avoid the reality. They are hanging on to their pension investments hoping that this bad dream is not real.

  23. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Evidence from Australia which acknowledges climate change and has a suite of policies to deal with it, does not support your hypthesis of financial collapse, on the contrary. I believe our experience is far from unique, ME

  24. Paul Magnus says:

    Simon says… oops Newman says…

    “We saw much more disruption to the coal export industry last time, the ports and the rail links, and there have been problems on this occasion but not to the same significance as last time.”

  25. fj says:

    We are rapidly approaching cascading extreme weather events of such frequency and force that they will cause Americans to unite against these “Climate Pearl Harbors”.

    Something is not impossible if it already exists.

    Northeast Digs Out From Blizzard After Bracing For Worst

  26. fj says:

    Enabling carbon free mobility, elevated bike paths are being planned and slow zones are rapidly being deployed in New York City.

  27. fj says:

    The late Mayor Ed Koch is now being remembered as a visionary of early-stage carbon zero mobility in New York City simply by creating livable streets.

  28. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Stealing from the future’ is an easy way to make money. All it requires is utter indifference to the fate of unborn generations.

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Absolutely agree. ‘Representative’ democracy is a sham in my opinion, and Edmund Burke gave the game away a long time ago. ‘Participatory democracy’ is virtually tautologous, providing we devise a means to encompass the non-participators.

  30. Sue says:

    The problem still remains with people, corporations, and politicians who are profiting from this mindset. The politicians create laws that allow for obscurity in corporate dealing because there is a money flow that leads to their pockets! The cycle lends itself to many inroads for change, but the citizenship of this country must insist that its government work for them, not the corporate powers. Still the first issue to change…REPEAL CITIZENS UNITED! We are people with voting powers, not corporations!

  31. Sue says:

    While I’m venting…We need leaders in cabinet positions that are knowledgeable of that area and willing to fight for its rights. The EPA should be run by someone who is pro-environment, the USDA should be run by someone who is for the farms and agriculture. These high ranking positions should not be sold to the people who would destroy those entities. I don’t care how many favors you are owed!!

  32. fj says:

    With the coming storms of climate change cars make little sense.

    Cold, Hungry and Stuck on the L.I. Expressway

  33. Mac says:

    Simple solution:
    Fill the House and Senate with Tea Bagger Republicans. When global warming gets too hot to handle they can use their extremist voting power to shut that whole thing down.

  34. Aldous says:

    Obama’s SOTU address is going to unfold along the same lines as his inaugural speech did. We are undoubtedly going to see him use his favourite rhetorical device anaphora. He is going to throw in a pinch of epistrophe and intentional bathos will be abundant.

    Were going to get several neoliberal catch phrases like, free market, innovation, skepticism of central authority and personal choices.

    The speech will exude of American exceptionalism and current populist ideals. Nothing riles the people like hearing how great they are and a few choice words about causes that deeply resonate with them.

    Above all, like his 2012 address, 2013 will be about the proverbial economy. Oh, wait, one more thing. Throw in some successful catch phrases from previous presidents and we have the prefabricated henhouse that are presidential addresses.

  35. Merrelyn Emery says:

    See Part III of ‘Participative Design for Participative Democracy’ (1993) and ‘Towards Real Democracy’ (Emery F), ME

  36. David B. Benson says:

    The word ‘consume’ is misleading when applied to cooling the bottom end of a Rankine cycle turbine. Water withdrawn from a river for use in a once-through condenser is returned to the river having been somewhat heated. Perhaps 25% of that then evaporates and so in that sense is ‘consumed’. If a water condensing tower is used instead then the much lower volume withdrawn is in fact evaporated.

    Near the beginning of
    there is an estimate of 2 gallons evaporated per kilowatt-hour generated. This may be low.

  37. David B. Benson says:

    I don’t known why I bother. Sequestered once again.

  38. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    A bunch of Cnuts telling Nature to obey their orders.

  39. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I thought that ‘riles’ implies dissatisfaction. I’d prefer ‘rouses’ in that context.

  40. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Check it out Mulga, contrary to today’s version, he was reprimanding his nobles for toadying and demonstrating that he did not have power over nature, ME