by Joe Mendelson, via National Wildlife Federation
The election is over—now what on the climate change issue? Hurricane Sandy, the nation’s fiscal situation, and the election results have combined to create three key things that I think compel Congress to action on climate change.
1. Climate Change Impacts are Costing the Federal Government Too Much Money
Congress returns in mid-November to the fiscal cliff debate. Hurricane Sandy should put the issue of climate change squarely within this discussion. Sandy’s estimated costs are $10–$20 billion in insured losses with at least another $50 billion in economic damages. The $12 billion in government money set aside for disaster relief this year will be easily gobbled up in the recovery. Congress will be forced to seek additional money to help effected citizens. The federal price tag for the recovery from Hurricane Katrina reached $120 billion. Sandy may not reach that total, but the amount of federal money spent on the relief will be significant.
Hurricane Sandy, however, is only one piece of the climate impact puzzle. This year the country has also experienced record drought, widespread wildfires, and the worst West Nile virus outbreak ever. Munich Re put the cost of the first six months of 2012’s extreme weather events at over $14.5 billion. All of these impacts have required a federal government response. Lawmakers sought $800 million in additional funds this year to deal with wildfires and new legislation for over $300 million in drought assistance to livestock producers hit by the drought is expected soon.
But wait there is more. Sandy has shown that the country needs a crash course in preparing for and adapting to the changes and impacts that will occur in the future (read NWF’s prescription here). This is not cheap. For example, Norfolk, VA—home of Naval Station Norfolk and on the frontline of climate impacts—has a comprehensive adaptation plan that will cost about $1 billion. This is roughly twice the city’s entire annual budget and cannot be undertaken without federal dollars.
So, if we are serious about addressing the federal budget crisis, lawmakers need to look at the exploding costs of climate change impacts and how much it will take to better prepare for such events.
The choice Congress will face is who picks up the tab.
The past failure to put price on carbon pollution means that the costs of dealing with these “externalities” (read: impacts) have never been borne by the polluters. Instead, the federal government and taxpayers like you and me foot the bill. The looming fiscal crisis and the costs of climate change demand this equation be changed.
We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. President Obama, 2012 victory speech
2. Big Oil and King Coal’s Money Play Was A Costly Failure