Climate

Montana Faces The Devastating Economic Costs Of Climate Inaction

CREDIT: (AP Photo/Matt Volz)

Global warming could severely hamper the outdoor economy of the nature rich state of Montana, a new study by the state’s oldest conservation organization found. Thousands of jobs and about a billion dollars in earnings may be at jeopardy in the coming decades, the group found.

As many as 36,000 jobs and slightly over a billion dollars in labor earning could be lost in the next 35 years if greenhouse gas emissions don’t decline, according to the study commissioned by Montana Wildlife Federation. The study looked at the potential impact of a 5 degree Fahrenheit increase on a wide array of recreational activities, from sports fishing and hunting to skiing and state parks, but found the greatest potential for job loss in cattle raising and agriculture.

The economic effect of climate change is substantial but may not represent the total cost on the state’s quality of life, the study’s author said.

“We were really conservative in our estimates,” Thomas Power, professor emeritus in the economics department at the University of Montana, told ThinkProgress, “although that number of jobs represents far more than any industrial operation in the state.”

Montana is known for its diverse terrain and having landmark spaces like the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, a portion of Yellowstone and the Glacier National Park, within its boundaries. Outdoor recreation in Montana is a major driver in the economy as it produces 64,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in wages a year, according to the Outdoor Industry Organization.

The report comes as some outdoor industries have been reporting revenue losses, according to Montana Wildlife Federation, and effects possibly associated with climate change are disrupting business models. The state has been suffering from extreme weather events that an overwhelming number of scientists say could become more prevalent as the impacts manmade climate warming increase.

Montana’s recent fire season reportedly grew to be the second largest this decade.. The destructiveness of the fire season in the Big Sky Country added to a national problem as 2015 was the costliest fire season in the United States, ever.

The recent report notes that forest fires are predicted to increase as Montana’s climate changes, and Power noted that this raises questions of “just how habitable Montana is, if we are going to face even more frequent and much larger acreage [burning] across the summer season.”

Almost 8,000 homes worth $1.9 billion could be lost under the most likely scenario of climate change, according to the report. As far as employment, the study elaborated mostly on losses associated with skiing, sport fishing and game hunting, although cattle raisin and grain crop production was also calculated.

Power noted that warmer temperature means less snow for skiing resorts, but also that animals won’t be pushed by precipitation to hunting areas, as has been happening lately.

“Hunting has become more and more difficult,” said Power. He added warming temperatures during the summer means a shorter fishing season, too. “Already last year was the earliest were fishing was controlled or limited because low water flows and higher temperature.”

Dave Chadwick, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, said in an interview with ThinkProgress that some fish guides have reported one-third of business loss. Moreover, the report finds that the biggest losses come in cattle raising and grain crops, which account together for more than half of the total costs the study quantifies.

Yet despite the environmental issues at stake, the state’s political leadership, like much of the rest of the country, is divided on how to act.

Montana has one U.S. representative and two senators. Out of these three officials, only Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, has expressed that climate change is manmade.

“Scientists tell us that climate change will bring shorter, warmer and drier winters to Montana. I see it every time I get on my tractor,” wrote Tester in a 2013 USA Today op-ed.

On the other hand, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) and Sen. Steve Daines (R), don’t seem convinced.

“The climate is always changing. Is either warming or is cooling, the climate is dynamic. It’s not static,” said Daines, a chemical engineer, to Montana Public Radio in 2012. “I think the question certainly is, you know, what part is manmade climate change effect on this equation … I think there’s still reasonable debate here.”

For his part, Zinke said in 2014 that climate change isn’t “a hoax, but it’s not proven science either. But you don’t dismantle America’s power and energy on a maybe. We need to be energy independent first. We need to do it better, which we can, but it is not a settled science.”

Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock (D) has said climate change is an issue to deal with, but has questioned the Clean Power Plan, which calls for reductions in carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 32 percent over 2005 levels by 2020. Montana is also part of the lawsuit against the rule.

As politicians list costs associated with reducing emissions when debating action, Power, the University of Montana, noted that his report shows that a lack of action brings costs, too.

“Doing something to reduce carbon pollution is not some sort of pointless action or pointless public policy,” he said, “if we don’t do something and if we can’t cooperate with other people around the world … some of the things we like best about living in Montana, that make it an attractive place to live, are going to be lost.”