Failing to Curb Global Warming Could Cost the Nation Hundreds of Billions by the End of the Century, New Report Finds

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Aaron Huertas, 202-331-5458

Failing to Curb Global Warming Could Cost the Nation Hundreds of Billions by the End of the Century, New Report Finds

WASHINGTON - Unchecked climate change could saddle taxpayers, businesses, and state
and local governments across the country with hundreds of billions of
dollars in damages, according to a new report
released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The report,
"Climate Change in the United States: The Prohibitive Costs of
Inaction," is an overview of more than 60 studies analyzing the
potential financial toll of global warming if we fail to dramatically
curb emissions. The costs are largely due to rising sea levels, more
intense hurricanes, flooding, declining public health, strained energy
and water resources, and impaired transportation infrastructure.

"If we don't address global warming, you can imagine a cash register going 'ka-ching' all across the country," said Lexi Shultz, deputy director of the Climate Program at UCS. "By late this century, the Midwest could be inundated with more torrential rainstorms costing tens of billions of dollars. California, Washington and Oregon could be hit with an additional billion dollars in property damage from wildfires every year. The Northeast and Northwest, meanwhile, could lose most of their snowpack, which would kill the ski industry."

The
good news is that the cost of taking preventive action would be
dramatically less than the cost of doing nothing. Two federal agencies
recently calculated the cost of a climate and energy bill, passed by
the House of Representatives in June, that would promote clean energy
technologies and curb global warming emissions. The Department of
Energy's Energy Information Administration estimated that the bill
would increase U.S.
household energy bills by only $10 a month in 2020. The Congressional
Budget Office arrived at a similar estimate. As Energy Secretary Steven
Chu pointed out, "We can move to a clean energy future at a cost of
less than a postage stamp per family per day."

"The
investments we need to make in a clean energy economy are clearly
affordable and will pay major dividends," said Rachel Cleetus, climate
economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "What we can't afford
are the steep and rising costs of doing nothing."

Global warming already has altered the U.S. climate, the report pointed out: "Average U.S. temperatures have already risen by 2°F
over the past 50 years, and are projected to rise another 7°F to 11°F
by the end of this century" if we do not significantly cut emissions.
Given that heat-trapping gases remain in the atmosphere for decades or
even centuries, continuing to emit them at current rates would place a
massive burden on generations to come.

Below
are just some examples of costs that would be incurred due to sea level
rise, extreme weather events, and diminished tourism if global warming
continues unabated.

IN THE NORTHEAST

If emissions continue on their current trajectory, many winter recreation areas are projected to become unsuitable for skiing or snowmobiling. The region could lose $405 million to $810 million in annual skiing revenues.

Sugar
maples and other trees that produce the region's stunning fall foliage
also are vulnerable to a warming climate. The region stands to lose $5
million to $12 million annually from maple sugar losses alone, due to
shrinking tree habitat and decreased sap flow.

Sea
level rise, meanwhile, comes with a high price tag. Constructing
seawalls to protect Northeast towns and cities could cost as much as
$1.2 billion.

IN THE SOUTHEAST

In North Carolina:
A projected sea level rise of 18 inches could cost the beach recreation
industry $11 billion in cumulative damages by 2080 and cause $2 billion
in cumulative property damage by 2100. 

In Georgia:
A sea level rise of 20 inches could require a cumulative $1.3 billion
in sand replenishment by 2100, and lead to a loss of 5,000 jobs in the
tourism industry.

In Florida: Sea level rise is projected to result in residential real estate losses of as much as $60 billion per year by 2100. Florida's tourism industry risks losing $178 billion annually by 2100 due to severe beach erosion, Everglades flooding, and coral bleaching. In addition, by 2100, Florida
residents could be socked with $19 billion annually in additional costs
for air conditioning. And property damage associated with more intense
hurricanes is projected to reach $111 billion annually by 2100.

IN THE MIDWEST

More
Floods: According to a June 2009 climate report by 13 federal agencies,
heavy rainstorms are projected to increase as much as 40 percent
nationwide, and the Midwest
and Northeast likely would experience the greatest increase in heavy
downpours. Recent floods portend significant future costs. In May and
June of last year, thunderstorms, tornadoes and floods caused more than
$18 billion in damage and 55 deaths nationwide, primarily in the Midwest.

More
Crop Damage: Climate change may mean wetter springs, which could delay
crop planting. One study projected a 7 percent increase in
precipitation in Illinois,
which would increase soil erosion as much as 38 percent by 2060,
driving up the costs of agricultural production. When combined with a
predicted 4.5°F increase in annual average temperatures, the annual
costs of climate change for Illinois's agricultural sector could reach $9.3 billion.

IN THE WEST

New Mexico:
The combined annual health costs from heat waves and ground-level ozone
are expected to jump by $1.6 billion by 2080. Reduced stream flows from
rivers primarily supplied by snowmelt would cost farmers an estimated
$21 million per year by 2080. In addition, wildfires would cost New Mexico an estimated $2 billion in timber value and additional firefighting expenditures a year by 2080.

California:
Annual heat-related health costs could reach an estimated $14 billion
by 2100, while rising ground-level ozone levels would boost medical
bills by another $10 billion. The cost of protecting low-lying coastal
property from sea level rise and the resulting storm surges,
particularly around San Francisco Bay, would range from $6 billion to $30 billion annually by 2100.

The
state's economy also would take a major hit. By the end of the century
Sierra snowpack could diminish by 80 percent. As a result, California's
ski season could disappear, and with it 15,000 jobs and $500 million in
annual industry revenues. Total annual tourism industry losses could
reach $7.5 billion. Meanwhile, annual losses to state agriculture,
forestry and fisheries could reach $4.3 billion. Hotter conditions
would slow production and reduce the quality of many of the state's
agricultural products. For example, milk production could fall as much
as 22 percent by 2100.

Additionally,
annual large wildfires would increase by as much as 53 percent by 2100.
Last year, the federal government spent $200 million on firefighting
efforts in California, three-quarters of which went to fight just three fires.

Washington and Oregon: These
two states together could lose $1.7 billion in annual revenues from
hydropower by 2080 because of shrinking snowpack and water shortages.
By 2080 the states' ski industry would suffer an estimated $525 million
dollar annual loss due to reduced snowfall, while the cold-water
angling industry would experience more than a $1 billion annual
decline. Oregon likely would suffer an additional $497 million in annual property damage from wildfires beyond today's price tag. Washington's wildfire bill, meanwhile, would likely be $380 million higher.

Alaska: Over the last 50 years, Alaska
has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the nation, and
melting permafrost has damaged roads, runways, water and sewer systems,
and other infrastructure. Continued thawing would add $3.6 billion to
$6 billion to the cost of publicly owned infrastructure by 2030, and
$5.6 billion to $7.6 billion by 2080. Oil and gas infrastructure is
particularly vulnerable to warming temperatures. Much of the
Trans-Alaska pipeline, for example, is built on permafrost.

Alaska
also is threatened by sea level rise. The cost of locating just three
threatened towns -- Shismaref, Kivalina and Newtok -- is estimated at
$405 million.

###

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

Share This Article

More in: