For those of you who have followed this topic to a reasonable degree, you probably already knew what the lede had to say. For those of you who don’t pay quite as much attention to this topic, this post is especially important. The dirty energy worshippers have screamed about the costs of doing what’s required to keep our climate livable for some time now. Left unsaid during that whole period (thanks for that, corporate media) is the alternative: what would doing nothing and hoping our climate remains livable cost?
Some basic studies have been performed to ask that second question in recent years. They mainly deal with large-scale (national) economies and make a ton of generalizations and assumptions. Part of the problem is too little fundamental research has been performed examining what kinds of benefits we enjoy in a livable climate and what they should be worth to us.
On top of that, I have spent a lot of time and effort detailing a lot of the disadvantages of the assumptions made and processes left out of climate research to date. Keep that in mind: everything discussed here remains based off of data that contains too many unrealistic assumptions and therefore likely underestimates the problem at hand. Unfortunately, that’s all we have to work with right now. Some of those gaps will continue to be filled in the future, enabling more detailed and accurate cost analyses to be performed.
The American Security Project has released analyses for all 50 U.S. states’ costs as a result of doing nothing to stop our climate forcing. The report for my state, Colorado (pdf), has some interesting results.
I will begin with an enormously important note underlying their entire analysis: the calculations performed do not include snowfall and icepack melts, which the study itself notes “Coloradans depend on for much of the water supply and recreation”. That seems to me to be a critically important piece of information when judging what costs to society global warming will bring about: will we have water to drink or not? It goes to basic survivability. Nevertheless, the rest of the results have to be viewed through the lack of snowfall and icepack melt lens.
Temperatures are expected to rise 4-10ºF by the end of the century.
Water shortages could become a regular occurrence throughout the state.
Corn and wheat yields are projected to decrease by 8-33% as a result of water shortages.
Warmer temperatures and drier summers will lead to more fires throughout the state.
Colorado’s $1.9 billion ski industry—which employs 31,000 people – may become unprofitable as decreasing snowpacks will shorten the winter sports season by an estimated 30 days.
When global warming scenarios that are based on our current emissions path are considered, some notable differences appear.
Temperatures could rise by 13-18ºF by 2060. That’s only 50 years from now, not 90. So much hotter, much sooner.
Droughts could occur by 2060 that would make the Dust Bowl look moist by comparison. We’re in line to witness weather extremes that nobody in our species’ existence has faced.
With those kinds of higher temperatures and extreme droughts, agriculture and ranching would be impossible to conduct in most areas where they take place today (an increase of only 3-4ºF would likely be enough to force ranchers to move herds out of the state; where they would go instead is an interesting question left unconsidered), wildfires could burn at least twice as much area per fire year (May-October) as they do today. Of course, this year’s wildfire season started months early, thanks to the medium-term drought we’ve been in. If more snow falls as rain in the future, the ski industry will definitely become unprofitable by mid-century.
Some good news was also identified in the report:
Colorado has the potential to generate more than 35% of its electricity needs from geothermal energy. Its wind energy potential is even greater; the state could generate 1,100% of its current electricity use by employing this renewable source.
The state could also generate over 1000% of its current electricity use by leveraging solar energy potential.
Will it cost money to switch from dirty to clean energy sources? Absolutely – nobody has ever seriously advocated otherwise.
But would the costs of not making that switch be even higher? Yes. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world will have to spend an extra $500 billion to cut carbon emissions for each year it delays implementing serious action on global warming. This would be on top of the $10.5 trillion investment needed from 2010 to 2030 to boost renewable energy development and improve energy efficiency. And that’s just added costs to switching our energy infrastructure. That analysis didn’t look at rising sea levels, rising temperatures, more severe droughts, acidified oceans, or geopolitical unrest as millions more climate refugees start moving around, etc.
Suddenly, the costs of switching to renewable energies and living more efficiently looks pretty cheap.
Cross-posted at SquareState.