[OPINION] Climate Change: A Bill of Billions

by Judy Weiss

Climate change is here, real, and already costing consumers, taxpayers, corporations, and federal, state, and local governments billions. Here’s how:

1. Soaring weather disaster damages: The biggest threat to our economy, now and in future, is climate change, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Short-term, Hurricane Sandy (worsened by rising sea levels) caused $82 billion in damage and losses – economic harm that will impact the national economy, agree 100 major corporations including Time Warner, MasterCard Worldwide, Alcoa, and Xerox.

Weather-related disasters in North America increased five-fold in the last thirty years, costing $1 trillion in damages, says Munich Re, a reinsurance company. And the record drought now impacting 60 percent of the U.S. is putting us on track for another bad year.

2. Coastal communities and businesses threatened: Annual revenues from U.S. fisheries exceed $4 billion and employ one million. But East and West coast commercial fishing is suffering as warmer waters disrupt fisheries and push schools northward. Super-storms are jeopardizing fishing fleets, docks and fish processing centers on all our coasts. Worse, the oceans are getting more acidic due to carbon emissions – acidic seawater prevents oysters and other shellfish from developing.

Beach tourism is also at risk. Florida tourism annually brings in $62 billion and creates more than a million jobs. Virginia tourism employs 300,000 people and generates $31 billion. However, beach tourism will suffer as popular beaches erode, rising seas flood famous resorts, and freakish storms cause vacationers to cancel travel plans. Not to mention the economic impacts on the beach vacation home industry.

3. Drought endangers U.S. transportation system: Shipping on the Mississippi River is a $180 billion industry that may come screeching to a halt this winter if river levels drop further after an extended drought and reduced Western snow packs. More than 20,000 jobs, $130 million in wages, and $2 billion worth of agricultural commodities are at risk if river traffic ceases for just two months, says Bloomberg Businessweek.

According to scientists, climate change is causing the Mississippi to experience extremes – the heavy rain and flooding of 2011, and droughts and low water of 2012.

4. Rising food prices: 2012’s drought reduced corn production by 13 percent and soybean yield by 4 percent from 2011 levels – increasing food prices. Since cattle and pigs feed on both corn and soybeans, that also meant reduced livestock and higher meat prices. Now the ongoing drought is seriously threatening the U.S. winter wheat crop.

Typically, U.S. food prices increase 2.5-3 percent annually, but in 2013 consumers can expect food prices to rise 3-4 percent, largely due to climate change. In future, scientists forecast long-term drought for many of the nation’s food growing regions.

5. Less water means less electricity, higher energy costs: Ninety percent of our electricity comes from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants, which need cooling water. In August 2012, the Millstone nuclear plant, providing half of Connecticut’s electricity was forced to close for two weeks because seawater was too warm to cool the plant. Coal plants also require water for cooling, and many are dependent on Mississippi barges for coal deliveries.

Low water levels can cause other problems. Hoover Dam provides electricity to 29 million people. However, the water level in Lake Mead has dropped by 60 percent, causing Hoover Dam’s electrical output to drop by more than 20 percent. Less water, and warmer water, in U.S. waterways means higher electricity costs.

6. Climate change is economic death by 1,000 cuts: Drought, extreme storms, extreme heat, acidifying oceans and other climate impacts are hurting the U.S. economy – and that harm will only worsen. A new poll shows 88 percent of Americans want government to slow climate change, even if those efforts have economic costs.

The situation is serious. How can we avert catastrophe? Many scientists, economists, politicians, and legal scholars favor a carbon tax with rebates to households. See citizensclimatelobby.org and carbontax.org to understand why this is the best approach. Ask your Representative and Senators to support carbon tax legislation.

Rabbi Judy Weiss, Ph.D. of Brookline MA, is an active member of Citizens Climate Lobby, a national volunteer organization lobbying for carbon tax legislation to stabilize the climate. ©Blue Ridge Press 2013.

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