Climate

Denying Climate Change ‘Will Cost Us Billions Of Dollars,’ U.S. Budget Director Warns

CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

OMB Director Shaun Donovan.

The new U.S. director of the Office of Management and Budget used his first speech to talk about the dangers not acting on climate change poses to the federal budget.

Shaun Donovan, head of the OMB, said in a speech at the Center for American Progress Friday that acting on climate change is “tremendously important” to him and that it’s “critical to our ability to operate and fund the government in a responsible manner.”

“From where I sit, climate action is a must do; climate inaction is a can’t do; and climate denial scores – and I don’t mean scoring points on the board,” Donovan said. “I mean that it scores in the budget. Climate denial will cost us billions of dollars.”

Donovan noted that climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, and singled out Superstorm Sandy as a storm that caused huge amounts of damage — $65 billion in all, making it the second most expensive weather disaster in U.S. history, behind Hurricane Katrina. According to a Center for American Progress report from 2013, the U.S. was hit by 14 extreme weather events that created at least $1 billion in damage in 2011, and 11 billion-dollar disasters in 2012. Added up, the disasters from these two years created up to $188 billion in total damage.

Donovan also pointed to wildfires as a major drain on the federal economy. Spending money fighting wildfires during the U.S. fire season — which climate change has already made longer and more intense — uses up the money that the U.S. Forest Service could use on forest management, he said. In 2013, the Forest Service ran out of money to fight forest fires, and had to divert $600 million in funding from timber and other areas in order to continue battling wildfires. It was the sixth year since 2002 that the Forest Service was forced to divert funds from other areas in order to continue fighting fires.

“So we spend what we have to in order to put out the fires, and then we under-invest in the tools that can help mitigate them, only leading to higher costs in the future,” Donovan said.

Drought, too, has been a major expense in the past. The 2012 drought, which hit states like Kansas and Indiana worst of all and decimated corn and soybean crops, cost the U.S. a record $14 billion. And this year’s western drought will likely cost California $2.2 billion and put about 17,000 agricultural workers out of a job.

Two recent studies back up Donovan’s fiscally-driven push to act on climate change: a report from the New Climate Economy Project and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both found that cutting greenhouse gases may actually lead to faster economic growth, and the IMF noted that the co-benefits of cutting carbon emissions — which will come largely in the form of improvements to public health, such as decreased asthma and other respiratory illnesses and attacks — will help drive down medical costs.

Donovan’s speech comes days before President Obama speaks at the United Nation’s climate summit in New York on Tuesday. The summit will come after what organizers are calling the “largest climate march in history,” which could attract more than 100,000 people who will march through Manhattan to show their support for climate action. Lawmakers have introduced bills on climate change leading up to the events in New York — on Friday, 10 senators introduced a bill targeting “super pollutants” such as methane and soot, and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a bill that aims at helping the U.S. prepare for the health impacts of climate change.