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ECONOMIC CATASTROPHE

Government scientists say climate change will cost the US hundreds of billions a year

Residents wade through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey
Reuters/Jonathan Bachman
A high price to pay.
  • Ana Campoy
By Ana Campoy

Deputy editor, global finance and economics

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

A common argument made against climate-change mitigation is that it’s bad for the economy. A new US government report released Friday (Nov. 23) says it will be much worse for America’s economic health to do nothing.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, a 1,600-page, Congress-mandated study, is a detailed tally of the economic devastation climate change has already inflicted on the US, and the billion-dollar losses that Americans can expect in the future if they don’t reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. It predicts the cascading effects could severely impact human health, the environment, and economic growth.

The analysis was carried out by scientists that serve in the Trump administration, but their findings are at odds with president’s own environmental policies, which have mostly consisted of deregulating industry and leaving the Paris Climate Agreement.

The authors, who hail from 13 federal agencies, looked at the economic consequences sector by sector. Here are some of the costs they identified:

Labor losses

Climate change could have a big impact on labor, a key pillar of the economy. By the end of the century, productivity losses due to extreme heat in jobs that require being outside, such as agriculture and construction, could result in some $160 billion in lost wages a year, according to the report.

Higher energy costs

Another big economic blow will come from rising energy costs: up to $87 billion a year by 2100 due to mounting demand on a power system made less reliable by extreme weather.

Damaged infrastructure

As much as $507 billion’s worth of real estate is at risk of being inundated by rising sea levels by 2100, according to the report. Inland, flooding could destroy thousands of bridges, resulting in damages of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion a year by 2050.

Shrinking environmental capital

Americans would also suffer from the losses of natural resources they now bank on. Ocean acidification would take a toll—of up to $230 million—on shellfish harvests. Disappearing coral reefs alone would shave $140 billion off the recreation industry; cold-water fishing and skiing would also be affected.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The study also shows that working to reduce the world’s carbon footprint today would make for a less dire future.

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