Over the past few weeks, the political focus has shifted from the climate crisis to the financial crisis. But during this upheaval we must remember that achieving energy security and slowing global warming are equally critical to our nation. Failure on either of these fronts would cause more damage than the financial meltdown.
The costs of various damage control measures will only become increasingly expensive as weather disasters grow worse. The German Institute for Economic Research asserts that annual economic damages from such extreme effects as hurricane damages, real estate losses, energy costs, and water costs could total up to $20 trillion (in 2002 dollars) by 2100. In contrast, the Institute estimates that if strong climate change policy is implemented “as rapidly as possible,” global savings of up to $12 trillion can be achieved.
Just this year, Congress authorized additional emergency federal funding to fight wildfires, bringing the total fire-fighting budget to over $2 billion. Wildfire severity has increased significantly due to the dryer conditions and reduced precipitation that some regions, notably the western United States, experience as a result of climate change. In response to the current hurricanes, climate scientist Amanda Staudt affirmed, “There’s definitely a contribution from global warming to the storm activity and the intensity of storms that we’ve seen over the last few decades and we expect to see in the coming century."
The costs of inaction on climate change, in terms of both human and financial devastation, cannot be overstated. While the government took steps to secure against economic ruin by addressing the problems in the financial markets, it is even more critical that the federal government address a problem that threatens to cause much more severe and irreversible damage if ignored, but whose solutions hold promise for stimulating our struggling economy.
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