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Denying climate change will be more costly

Fri, Jul 20th, 2012
Posted in All Commentary

One of the most often heard arguments against reducing the use of fossil fuels to fulfill our energy requirements is how more costly it will be. However, it has been estimated that extreme weather events in 2011 cost $100 billion and thousands of lives. I’m not arguing that all of these events are the result of human influenced climate change, but the intensity of many of the events have likely been increased by the production of greenhouse gases.

Isn’t it about time that we acknowledge that human influenced climate change is a reality? Once we face the facts, we can work together to limit the damage. There is a consensus among well over 90 percent of climatologists that human beings substantially contribute to global warming. Allowing ourselves to believe those that endeavor to undermine the science may make it easier to dismiss any concerns, but even “rose colored glasses” can not change the numbers.

It is a fact that over the last twelve months recorded temperatures in the United States have been warmer than anytime since records were first kept in 1895. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) we have experienced since the year 2000 nine of the ten warmest years globally. Chris Field, director of Carnegie’s Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, declared, “As we change the climate, we’re shifting the odds for extreme weather.” On July 10, NOAA reported that 2011 was a year of extreme weather. We are on track for a similar designation in 2012. In the United States so far this year over 2 million acres have been burned in the West by wild fires. Nearly two thirds of the lower 48 states are in drought. High temperature records were surpassed in record numbers in June. The Agriculture Department has declared natural disaster areas in over 1,000 counties located across 26 states. Corn prices increased 45 percent over the last month due to the hot, dry weather.

Field suggests we may be experiencing extreme heat much more often, rather than every twenty years or so. Field insists, “Increasingly, we are loading the dice towards these very damaging extremes.” The extremes he refers to include high heat, heavy precipitation and floods, droughts, and higher sea levels. Some parts of the world may experience cooler temperatures rather than warmer, wetter rather than dryer.

Michael Oppenheimer, a climate expert and professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, recently said, “What we see now is what global warming really looks like.” He surmised, “The frequency of hot days and hot periods has already increased and will increase further. What we’re seeing fits into the pattern you would expect.”

Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist specializing in climate dynamics at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, says he believes that heat waves aren’t caused by man made climate change, but that they are made more intense. Record high temperatures are occurring at a higher rate than can be expected.

For decades the issue of climate change has been a political issue centering on the economy and cost. Perhaps the cost of staying the course is the truly economically costly way to go. We have always had extreme weather events which are costly, but what is the added cost due to intensity and duration. Climate is effected by a variety of factors, but the evidence that human activities can intensify or accelerate climate change is too much to ignore.

Simply a Precaution

Even if you still insist that there isn’t man made climate change, can’t we agree that it is prudent not to take the risk? We do not expect our house to burn down, but we install smoke detectors and carry fire insurance. We take that precaution. If your home is the only home you can ever have and it can’t be rebuilt, wouldn’t you take every precaution to protect it? The livability of this planet is it for us, there is no other. Each breath we take and the ability to produce the food we need to sustain us is largely taken for granted.

Perhaps climate change skeptics would be more responsive to the argument that a reduction in greenhouse gases will be a boon to the economy. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has estimated the cost due to global warming could be as much as 3.6 percent of gross domestic product. The high costs are due to hurricane damage, real estate destruction, higher energy and utility costs, water expenses, food prices, and so on.

Researchers from the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research conclude no part of the economy will be spared. There will be impacts on water and electricity costs, impacts on tourism, higher seas along coastal states, agricultural impacts leading to elevated food costs, pressure on available water resources, shipping impacts, real estate damage, and effects on human health. What has more value than the planet we live on that sustains our every breath?

Climate change skeptics argue that reducing the use of fossil fuels will drive up energy and utility costs. It is very possible that these increased costs would be only a fraction of the total costs outlined above that are likely with the status quo. The financial cost associated with ignoring the science may well be more than the cost to implement methods of energy production and its use that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Our concern for economic growth in the present may drive down the possibility of any growth in the future. The United States needs to lead as it will take collective action by world governments to slow climate change effectively.

Politicians aren’t likely to address this issue seriously without the public demanding action. Again, isn’t it about time that we acknowledge that the human influence on climate change is a reality? We need to work together to limit the damage by being more responsible in our energy usage. More importantly, we should take this issue into consideration when we go to the polls in November.


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6:32:15, Jul 25th 2012

John says:
Thank you for a well written article that even many republicans could comprehend.