Climate change has cost the U.S economy $240 billion per year over the last decade, according to a study published online last week by the non-profit Universal Ecological Fund, excluding three massive hurricanes in the last month and 76 wildfires burning across nine states that could cost the country another $300 billion.
“Putting it in perspective, $300 billion is enough money to provide free tuition for the 13.5 million U.S. students enrolled in public colleges and universities for four years,” notes reporter Stephen Leahy. The study concludes that, “in the coming decade, economic losses from extreme weather combined with the health costs of air pollution [will] spiral upward to at least $360 billion annually, potentially crippling U.S. economic growth.”
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“Burning fossil fuels comes at a giant price tag which the U.S. economy cannot afford and cannot sustain,” study co-author Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told National Geographic. “We want to paint a picture for Americans to illustrate the fact that the costs of not acting on climate change are very significant.”
The study points to a 400% increase since the 1980s in severe storms that have caused at least $1 billion in economic damage in the U.S. While some of that loss is due to increased coastal development, Watson said, “that doesn’t account for big increases in the last decade”.
National Geographic also points to a separate study in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the first national cost-benefit analysis of the renewable portfolio standards (RPS) that mandate specific levels of renewable energy use in 29 states and the District of Columbia. It found that the U.S. could create 500,000 jobs, improve air quality, and reduce health costs by doubling the share of electricity it produces from renewables.
“If existing RPS programs continued unchanged from now until 2050, they’d generate about 40% of U.S. electricity and save $97 billion in air pollution health costs and $161 billion in climate damage reductions,” National Geographic reports. “If all states met their Clean Power Plan obligations solely with renewables, they’d generate 35% of U.S. electricity by 2030 and 49% by 2050,” producing health savings and climate impact reductions worth more than $1.1 trillion.
But “the Trump Administration signed an Executive Order calling for a review of the Clean Power Plan last March, and the new head of the EPA has told states they no longer have to comply.”
“RPS programs provide a big social benefit to all Americans,” said lead author Ryan Wiser of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and they aren’t even considered the best way to encourage low-carbon energy. “Pretty well every economist will tell you that a carbon tax or cap-and-trade are better.”
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