Climate Change will Cost Us, Today or Tomorrow

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog reports today that the oil industry, including The American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Farm Bureau, is funding anti-climate bill rallies in towns across the country during Congress's August recess. The Senate is set to vote on the climate bill (ACES) next month. Among other things, the industry released fliers bearing messages like, "Climate change legislation being considered in Washington will cause high economic pain and produce little environmental gain."

Reuters reported yesterday that Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate change official, released a statement conceding climate change mitigation and adaptation will come with a hefty price tag. In this respect the oil industry's claim is not completely false. What it does not consider, however, is the tremendous and overbearing future cost of ignoring the problem now.

De Boer estimates climate change mitigation such as capping greenhouse gas emissions and switching to clean energy, in addition to aiding developing nations as they adapt and react to floods, droughts and other natural disasters, could cost the world $300 billion per year from 2020 on. $300 billion is a lot of money in anyone's book, but in crafting legislation that estimate must be weighed against the cost of doing nothing at all.

Last Sunday's New York Times ran a front page article linking climate change to national defense, describing what will likely be the counter argument by ACES supporters come September. Ignoring the cost of climate change today, the argument goes, will cost much more tomorrow in military effort and mitigation. Floods, droughts, mass migrations, pandemics and food shortages will increase in frequency and severity as the planet warms, and in responding to those disasters the developed world will be forced to spend money on climate change anyway. A huge geopolitical impact is inevitable, so we may as well face up to reality and get a head start by passing strong climate change legislation today.

The Times article ends with a bleak, but perhaps practical quote from General Anthony C. Zinni. "We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today," Zinni warns, "and we'll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms, and that will involve human lives."