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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

What Are the Costs of Acting Against Climate Change?


I wanted to collect some information I’ve seen about climate change action costs.  Some of it is right-wing propaganda, some of it is reality-based facts from large-scale studies that have been done.  The short answer is what I’ve been writing for a while: it is far cheaper to act than not to act.

Beginning with the right-wing, extremist, denier propaganda:

On the subject of a still-in-the-works cap-and-trade plan, Con-servatives are running around screaming about a $3,128 tax that would befall the American people.  As usual, they’re trying to work up their base over … nothing.  As usual, they’re misquoting a scientific study by MIT that examined what a potential cap-and-trade plan would do to the “average American”.  As usual, they’re promoting a three-word catch-phrase designed to fool people into buying into their b.s.  They’re calling the cap-and-trade plan a light-switch tax.  What is the true number from the MIT study?  $79 per family (based on 2.56 people, just as the Con-servatives did) in 2015.  The long-term cost to a household?  $215.05.  That’s 6.9% of what the Cons are talking about.  They’ve boosted the number over 14 times its true cost – purposefully lying to generate fear and anger.  As usual, that’s disgusting behavior from the “family-values” crowd.

Reality-based details can be found below.

Moving onto some projected costs of a “business-as-usual” approach: doing nothing, as many climate change deniers advocate, for a long enough time period (as short as a few years from now) so that climate change effects take hold despite all but the most costly future actions.  The NRDC has a good summary table available:

The Global Warming Price Tag in Four Impact Areas, 2025 through 2100
Cost in billions of 2006 dollars U.S. Regions Most at Risk
2025 2050 2075 2100
Hurricane Damages
$10 $43 $142 $422 Atlantic & Gulf Coast states
Real Estate Losses
$34 $80 $173 $360 Atlantic & Gulf Coast states
Energy-Sector Costs
$28 $47 $82 $141 Southeast & Southwest
Water Costs
$200 $336 $565 $950 Western states
$271 $506 $961 $1,873

Without action, low-end estimates amount up to 3.6% of GDP (I identify this estimate as low-end because the NRDC depends heavily on the 2007 IPCC Report.  I have identified numerous instancs in which observed climate change effects are exceeding the 2007 IPCC worst-case scenario.  The NRDC costs are thus unrealistic best-case numbers, but they’re out there, so I’ll discuss them).  In the four sectors identified in the table above, non-action could result in costs amounting to 1.8% of GDP annually.  Currently, the U.S. GDP is approximately $14,000,000,000,000 ($14 Trillion) and is expected to be close to $100,000,000,000,000 ($100 Trillion) by the year 2100.  Thus, dealing with avoidable costs of climate change would end up costing us $3,600,000,000,000 ($3.6 Trillion) every year (and remember – this is an unrealistic low-end estimate!).  Over the next 90 years, climate change inaction costs (for the U.S. only) would total up to something like $4,936,675,000,000,000,000 (nearly $5 Quintillion!!! – at some point, these numbers just get downright silly).  When the Cons whine about their light-switch tax talking point, they’re not telling the public that the alternative would be a permanent multi-trillion dollar annual tax that would be borne by future generations – a tax they don’t deserve to have, but might have to because previous generations were too greedy.  In other words, their freedoms will be impinged upon due to today’s power-hungry, lying Cons.

Continuing along the path of reality, what would acting cost us instead of not acting?  Some really good work has been done analyzing that question.  Among the best I’ve come across is an analysis by the McKinsey Global InstituteA paper they released last year operates from the following realization:

Any successful program of action on climate change must support two objectives—stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) and maintaining economic growth.

Like I wrote – they’re reality based.  Their bottom-line finding:

The macroeconomic costs of this carbon revolution are likely to be manageable, being in the order of 0.6–1.4 percent of global GDP by 2030.

But wait, you might say.  Those are costs just like the costs the NRDC cited and I complained about.  Ah, but those costs are only part of the story.  They also note that:

Borrowing could potentially finance many of the costs, thereby effectively limiting the impact on near-term GDP growth. In fact, depending on how new low-carbon infrastructure is financed, the transition to a low-carbon economy may increase annual GDP growth in many countries.

As a result, climate change abatement has a net cost near zero.  That’s a much more desirable outcome than the Cons’ plan to institute a multi-trillion dollar climate tax on future generations.

This result is corroborated by the 2007 IPCC Synthesis Report which stated:

In 2050, global average macro-economic costs for mitigation towards stabilisation between 710 and 445ppm CO2-eq are between a 1% gain and 5.5% decrease of global GDP. This corresponds to slowing average annual global GDP growth by less than 0.12 percentage points.

0.12% or 3.6%.  In terms of realistic accounting of costs, it’s easy to see which one we should aim for – the same one which will seriously address our climate forcing.  I cannon emphasize enough that the 3.6% number is a seriously low estimate.  As real-world climate change effects have been identified through observations, it has become all too clear that the worst-case IPCC scenario (and worse) is the path we’re currently on.  Their forecasts of a few degrees warming and a small number of feet in sea level rise are woeful underforecasts.  More recent work, like that of MIT which I blogged about here indicate much more warming by 2100.  Along with that would come multiple feet of sea level rise (in some locations, much more).  Other impacts will be similarly worse under a business-as-usual approach.  Things like collapsing ecosystems, especially as the oceans get increasingly more acidic.  Things will happen that we can’t, at this time, imagine.  Some unforseen small-scale impacts have already occurred.  Others are sure to follow.

More real-world information is available: there are current efforts underway to deal with climate change.  A news item came out over the weekend describing Dutch efforts to save the island of Manhattan.  The Rotterdam City Council, the Arcadis engineering firm and Amsterdam’s VU University work with New York officials and they have decided on a combination of a dam and a flood barrier already in use in the Netherlands.  The plans for the new sea defenses in New York’s Verrazano Narrows were presented last week and are expected to cost $6.5 Billion.  The article notes that the extensive coastline of New York prevents a number of other options from being employed to protect the city from rising seas.  I’ll say this: construction of climate change protective systems have the capability of employing thousands, if not millions, of Americans.  Combined with efforts to transform our lifestyles to a greener base, our economy could restrengthen quickly and last well into this century.

The following questions came to mind as I read the Manhattan protection article.  At what point are dams and flood barriers abandoned?  At what point are cities: people and infrastructure moved inland?  I can see dams and flood barriers being employed for small sea level rises of inches to a couple of feet.  What happens if sea levels continue to rise into tens of feet range?  How many cities do we protect?  How do we protect them against a 10,000-year storm in an environment with 20 additional feet of sea water pounding on their shores?  How do we protect them against increased numbers of Category-4 and -5 hurricanes?  What about countries that don’t have America’s super-sized economy?  How will they pay for climate change impacts?  After all, sea level rise of only 1 foot above current levels will cause millions of people to become displaced.  They may not live in luxury condos along the shore, but their inland migration will cause severe impacts to their countries’ stability.

It’s easy to see the NRDC’s real estate loss numbers are incredibly conservative estimates when you consider the extensive metropolitan areas along the east coast that will need to be protected.  I can easily imagine multi-trillion dollar losses from only one storm affecting one metropolitan area.  As has been widely recognized, the past 50 years’ worth of increasing population density along the coast coinciding with below average storm activity has created the potential for a disaster that, quite frankly, few of us are prepared for.

We have the opportunity to do something about this.  Right now, acting to abate climate change is a far cheaper and much more effective solution than doing nothing.  We can set up and pass good legislation.  We can make sure the record is set straight at every chance.

Cross-posted at SquareState.


8 thoughts on “What Are the Costs of Acting Against Climate Change?

  1. Wow. You really did drink the cool aide and are totally into this phony religion. What happens when the wheels fall off completely and you look like a complete ass? Oh, OK, by that time you will be totally into the new bird flu. Your banner should read where science serves politics. I am a scientist and you are a fraud.

  2. What happens when people can’t argue the facts? They engage in name-calling.

  3. Don J. Easterbrook, Ph.D., emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, asked, “What does it take to ignore 10 years of global cooling, sharply declining temperatures the last couple of years, record setting lack of sun spots . . . failure of computer models to predict real climate, predictable warming and cooling climates for the past 500 years. The answer is really quite simple — just follow the money!”

  4. A fool, quite frankly. There is no global cooling – rather, observed temperatures continue to be higher than those forecasted, which means the climate models are wrong in the opposite direction you claim. Regional temperatures might be cooler the last couple of years – fully explained by a moderate-strength La Nina. Global temperatures worldwide in 2008 were among the top 10 ever recorded – again, not even close to global cooling. Those global temperatures occurred during a continued lack of sun spots – if the sun spots were such a critical contributor, the world’s temperatures would have fallen more quickly. Computer models fail to predict the real economy – I don’t see a great clamor to denounce the financial institutions. Follow the money indeed. The climate is a highly nonlinear system. Those who don’t understand it as such have no business trashing those who do.

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  6. I suggest you broaden your sources aside from the 40 scientific groups that do all of the IPCC and US government research at great cost then peer review each other’s work. I am an active scientist in private practice. I saw these same jokers in the 70’s selling their labs for the man made global cooling campaign. I suggest you go to This is just one of 100s of sites that tear apart the AGW fraud those people you refer to as spreading right-wing, extremist, denier propaganda. However this is where the true science can be found.

    I think the best description of the ALGOR priests was provided by Lord Monckton of Brenchley who referred to alarmists as “bed-wetting moaning Minnies of the Apocalyptic Traffic-Light Tendency — those Greens too yellow to admit they’re really Reds,”

  7. There was no 1970’s global cooling campaign. There is no global warming religion. You’re big on talking points, conspiracy theories and name-calling but don’t address facts.

    When Spencer opens his first answer with: “There is no way to know if warming is ‘happening now’.” and the very next paragraph contains: “As you can see, we might have even entered a new cooling trend. The claim that the warming trend over the last 50 to 100 years is continuing right now, or that it is even ‘accelerating’ is pure speculation, based upon the assumption that what has happened in recent decades will continue into the future.”, the rest of it really isn’t worth getting into.

    Either there isn’t any way to know or there is. He invalidates his point that there isn’t by claiming that there is (in the opposite direction as most others are) in the same breath. His statement that “we might have even entered a new cooling trend” is just as speculative as the to-date observed warming trend, according to his own logic.

  8. Pingback: Climate Bill Farming Concessions – Good or Bad? « Weatherdem’s Weblog

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