Sea Change

The costs of climate change trickles down.

The Union of Concerned Scientists reported that there are 20,472 at-risk coastal households in California, of which 25% are in Marin County. There are many counties at risk across America but for the purposes of this article lets look at just one. Marin County faces being inundated with chronic flooding by 2045. Properties threatened in Marin alone have an assessed value of $2.7 billion. That equals about $40 million of property tax that would be in jeopardy, with other considerable costs that trickle down to businesses and homeowners.

The Marin Shoreline Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment looks at reasonable scenarios ranging from 10 inches of sea level rise in the next 15 years to 60 inches at the end of the century. We are facing billions of dollars of mitigation costs.

A report from NATURE in Sept. 2018 estimates that the global cost when the economic impact on all nations is added up is conservatively $417 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Consider then, that one round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person.

The social cost of carbon (SCC) is a commonly employed metric of the expected economic damages from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The United states, India, China, and Saudi Arabia stand to incur the largest costs to their infrastructure. “The argument that the primary beneficiaries of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would be other countries is a total myth,” said lead author Kate Ricke, an assistant professor at the University of San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Consider the economic, social and health costs of hurricanes and fires added to the cost of sea-level rise to coastal communities, health risks and the depletion of biodiversity. The total costs are still virtually untallied. Carbon is a bottom line metric that has been virtually ignored in our accounting of costs and now that invisible debt is starting to be paid in unforeseen ways.

The 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences went to two U.S. economists, William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, for their efforts to untangle the economics of climate change and technological innovations.

Nordhaus and Romer “significantly broadened the scope of economic analysis by constructing models that explain how the market economy interacts with nature and knowledge,” said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in a statement announcing the awards on October 8, 2018. Nordhaus, of Yale University, developed two computer simulations that weigh the costs and benefits of taking various steps to slow global warming. He has argued for taxes on the carbon content of fuels as an effective way to get businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency has used Nordhaus’ work, among others, to estimate the economic impacts of climate change.

The announcement of Nordhaus’ award came just hours after a United Nations’ panel on climate change released a report predicting grim future effects of climate change and calling for more vigorous action by world governments to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial times (SN Online: 10/7/18). This new report cites Nordhaus’ work.

Romer, of New York University, expanded the economic theory by arguing that government policies, such as funding for research and development, can stimulate technological advances. The presence or absence of such policies helps to explain national differences in wealth and economic growth, in Romer’s view.

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