Abonné·e de Mediapart

Billet publié dans



Suivi par 36 abonnés

Billet de blog 2 nov. 2021

There's no cheap way to deal with the climate crisis

Warming will bring enormous economic costs but cutting emissions now will save money later, reports US investigative newsroom ProPublica in this analysis of the debate in America over tackling the climate crisis.

Abonné·e de Mediapart

Ce blog est personnel, la rédaction n’est pas à l’origine de ses contenus.

By Abrahm Lustgarten

(This article was co-published with The New York Times)

There will be no bargains with an overheating climate.

As President Joe Biden takes an unfinished plan for U.S. emissions cuts to a global climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Congress and the country remain hung up on what that agenda, wrapped in the Build Back Better Act, might cost.

The current price tag of nearly $1.9 trillion for climate and other social spending might seem enormous — though less so than the original $3.5 trillion plan. But over the long term, either would be a pittance.

By zeroing in on those numbers, the public debate seems to have skipped over the economic ramifications of climate change, which promise to be historically disruptive — and enormously expensive. What we don’t spend now will cost us much more later.

The compromise plan calls for a half-trillion dollars directed largely toward tax incentives for low-emission energy sources. But it omits other provisions, which will make it hard for Biden to reach his climate goals.

The bills for natural disasters and droughts and power outages are already pouring in. Within a few decades, the total bill will be astronomical, as energy debts surge, global migration swells and industrial upheaval follows. The scale of the threat demands a new way of thinking about spending. Past budgets can no longer guide how governments spend money in the future.

Some economists and climate scientists have calculated that climate change could cost the United States the equivalent of nearly 4% of its gross domestic product a year by 2100. Four percent is likely a conservative estimate; it leaves out consequential costs like damages from drought and climate migration. It assumes the United States and other nations eventually move away from energy generated by oil, coal and natural gas, though not as immediately as many say is needed. In this scenario, the planet will still warm by around 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century from preindustrial levels, a change that would be disastrous.

Four percent of American GDP comes out to about $840 billion each year, if figured on last year’s economy. Measured over a decade the way the Build Back Better Act is framed, it’s nearly $8.4 trillion. But the actual cost of climate change to the economy could easily be far greater.

For every ton of carbon dioxide emitted starting today, temperatures will rise higher and faster. Solomon Hsiang, an economist and climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the co-director of the research group Climate Impact Lab, estimates that each degree Celsius of warming will erase 1.2% of GDP per year, and those tolls will mount. Failure to curb climate emissions at all could put the United States on a path to losing 5% to 10.5% of its GDP annually. Based on last year’s GDP, this extreme — and unlikely — scenario could amount to nearly $2.2 trillion each year.

In the more than three decades since Congress held its first major hearing on global warming, the nation has spent nearly $2 trillion sweeping up from disasters, many now believed to have been made worse by climate change. Since 2017, floods, hurricanes and other disasters that have cost nearly $700 billion. This year alone has seen 18 disasters causing losses of more than $1 billion each.

And these figures don’t account for the drag of slowed growth. Hsiang and his colleagues have estimated, for example, that Hurricane Maria set back Puerto Rico’s prosperity by more than two decades.

What happens as these sorts of events become more frequent and more devastating?

The Fourth National Climate Assessment released under the administration of President Donald Trump in 2018 lists the sorts of costs that Americans will see by late in the century in a scenario where emissions are allowed to continue to grow. Labor slowed by intense heat could cost the economy as much as $155 billion in lost wages each year; coastal property destruction, $118 billion; road damage, $20 billion; the spread of West Nile virus, $3 billion; and on and on.

The warming climate will worsen virtually every existing service, from water and sewage treatment to mass transit to food distribution to health care, and erode the wealth of millions. Hsiang, who presented his findings to Congress in 2019, estimates that over the next 80 years intensifying heat alone will reduce Americans’ incomes by $4 trillion to $10.4 trillion as farming becomes more difficult, food prices rise and labor productivity falls. Climate risks are already undercutting the value of real estate in the most vulnerable parts of the country, including the roughly $1.6 trillion worth of private property directly threatened by sea level rise and wildfires.

“We’re going to be burning money just to adapt,” he told me recently. “Just the status quo is going to start costing us more.”

These numbers tell only part of the story, because the costs will be spread unequally. High-risk areas of the Gulf Coast could see 20% of their economies erased. Farm crop yields in parts of Texas and Oklahoma are projected to drop by 70% to 90%. People of color and the poor will likely fare worst.

Still, not a single one of these projections is a foregone conclusion. Eliminating as much carbon dioxide emissions as possible now would reduce the cost to taxpayers later. The National Climate Assessment estimates that limiting warming to around 2 degrees Celsius would reduce economic harm in many cases by 30% to 60%. Research by the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests that emissions cuts now could save $780 billion worth of residential properties and preserve at least $10 billion in annual property tax revenues by the end of the century.

Which brings us back to the sprawling reconciliation bill being assembled by Democrats in Congress. The Build Back Better Act proposes several hundred billion dollars a year for the next 10 years be used to slash emissions by cleaning up electricity generation and making electric vehicles commonplace, among other things. Medicare, subsidized child care and other family aid would also be expanded.

Any one of the spending packages under consideration in Congress is likely to pay for itself quickly, climate scientists say. Encouraging the transition to clean power and electrifying infrastructure is one way to make progress toward the emissions targets. Many economists contend that investing in social programs like health and child care will also help communities and families withstand climate-driven shocks.

The nation is venturing into an era where the siloed definitions of programs — infrastructure versus social welfare versus health care — no longer match the blended nature of the threat. Economic policy is no longer distinct from environmental policy, because, for example, creating high-paying jobs in southern Texas isn’t worth much if it’s too hot to go to work.

Just as economists have linked hotter temperatures to declining crop yields, they have also linked them to more disease, more crime, more suicides and other effects on people’s health and well-being. All of them result in losses — both social and economic — and threaten the country’s strength and stability.

Policymakers will have to start somewhere. Among the bill’s lesser-known provisions are funding to survey forests and to hire people to fight wildfires; to provide agricultural research for farmers whose crops won’t grow in hotter climates; to help homeowners transition from gas appliances to low-emission technologies; to study the health risks associated with climate change, which can include pandemics and infectious diseases; and to provide better forecasting of dangerous weather.

Taken as a whole, these trillion dollar-plus plans look more like down payments — investments in keeping the planet, and the U.S. economy and standard of living, as close as possible to the way it is now.

Not to invest in these societal defenses today looks like an embrace of chaos and a choice to roll the dice on a period of unpredictable and disruptive change probably greater than anything in human existence.

When the stakes are viewed this way, investing in defending economic stability seems conservative. Failing to respond to the scientific and economic forecasts is what seems dangerously radical.


  • ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive its biggest stories as soon as they are published.

Bienvenue dans le Club de Mediapart

Tout·e abonné·e à Mediapart dispose d’un blog et peut exercer sa liberté d’expression dans le respect de notre charte de participation.

Les textes ne sont ni validés, ni modérés en amont de leur publication.

Voir notre charte

Les articles les plus lus
Journal — Nouvelle-Calédonie: débats autour du colonialisme français

À la Une de Mediapart

Journal — France
Des militants à l’assaut de l’oppression « validiste »
Ils et elles se battent contre les clichés sur le handicap, pour la fermeture des institutions spécialisées et pour démontrer que, loin de la charité et du médical, le handicap est une question politique. Rencontre avec ces nouvelles militantes et militants, très actifs sur les réseaux sociaux.
par Caroline Boudet
Journal — France
Une peine de prison aménageable est requise contre François Fillon
Cinq ans de prison dont quatre avec sursis, la partie ferme étant « aménagée sous le régime de la détention à domicile », ainsi que 375 000 euros d’amende et dix ans d’inéligibilité ont été requis lundi 29 novembre contre François Fillon à la cour d’appel de Paris.
par Michel Deléan
Journal — France
Au tribunal, la FFF est accusée de discriminer des femmes
Neuf femmes accusent la Fédération française de football de les avoir licenciées en raison de leur sexe ou de leur orientation sexuelle. Mediapart a recueilli de nombreux témoignages mettant en cause le management de la FFF. Son président Noël Le Graët jure qu’il « n’y a pas d’atmosphère sexiste à la FFF ».
par Lénaïg Bredoux, Ilyes Ramdani et Antton Rouget
Journal — France
« La droite républicaine a oublié qu’elle pouvait porter des combats sociaux »
« À l’air libre » reçoit Aurélien Pradié, député du Lot et secrétaire général du parti Les Républicains, pour parler de la primaire. Un scrutin où les candidats et l’unique candidate rivalisent de propositions pour marquer leur territoire entre Emmanuel Macron et l’extrême droite.
par à l’air libre

La sélection du Club

Billet de blog
Militer pour survivre
Quand Metoo à commencé j’étais déjà féministe, parce qu’on m’a expliqué en grandissant que les gens étaient tous égaux, et que le sexisme c’était pas gentil. Ce qu’on ne m’avait pas expliqué c’est à quel point le sexisme est partout, en nous, autour de nous. Comment il forge la moindre de nos pensées. Comment toute la société est régie par des rapports de forces, des privilèges, des oppressions, des classes sociales.
par blaise.c
Billet de blog
Un jour dans ma vie militante : l’Etat réprime impunément des familles à la rue
[Rediffusion] Jeudi 28 octobre, soutenues par Utopia 56, plus de 200 personnes exilées à la rue réclamant l’accès à un hébergement pour passer l’hiver au chaud ont été froidement réprimées. L’Etat via son organe répressif policier est en roue libre. Bénévole au sein de l’association, j’ai été témoin direct de scènes très alarmantes. Il y a urgence. Voici le témoignage détaillé de cette journée.
par Emile Rabreau
Billet de blog
Faire militance ou faire communauté ?
Plus j'évolue dans le milieu du militantisme virtuel et de terrain, plus il en ressort une chose : l’impression d’impuissance, l’épuisement face à un éternel retour. Il survient une crise, on la dénonce à coups de critiques et d’indignation sur les réseaux, parfois on se mobilise, on tente tant bien que mal d’aider de manière concrète.
par Douce DIBONDO
Billet de blog
Penser la gauche : l'ubérisation des militant·e·s
Les mouvements politiques portent l’ambition de réenchanter la politique. Pour les premier·e·s concerné·e·s, les militant·e·s, l’affaire est moins évidente. S’ils/elles fournissent une main d’oeuvre indispensable au travail de terrain, la désorganisation organisée par les cadres politiques tendent à une véritable ubérisation de leurs pratiques.
par Nicolas Séné