Climate deniers often claim that the price tag for climate action is too high, ignoring the real cost — dealing with catastrophe.
|Oct 4||Public post|| 2|
This post is part of Climate Conversation, a free newsletter for information, opinions, and action regarding the climate crisis.
Our planet is heating. And in the process, weather patterns are both changing and getting more severe.
It’s no secret natural disasters are becoming more deadly. This year, we saw a nearly stagnant Hurricane Dorian tear into the Bahamas for days, causing extreme flooding, winds, and storm surges. Hurricane Sandy, years before Dorian, should’ve been our first climate wake up call after its path of destruction along the Eastern seaboard. Deadly flooding in Houston after Tropical Storm Imelda, a successor to Hurricane Harvey, showed a city under siege from a warming planet.
The lives lost and destroyed remain the most disturbing effect of climate inaction. But policymakers usually don’t talk policy in terms of the number of lives it can save — they prefer to focus on monetary cost — ironic for a body with an over $22 trillion deficit and no negative ramifications (we can thank Modern Monetary Theory for that revelation). The price tag of climate plans is a favorite talking point of Republicans and conservative Democrats, allowing them to lead the conversation away from the staggering cost of inaction and towards what they frame as a reasonable point of disagreement.
Except it’s not a spirited debate over a mutual agreement to act on climate. Far from it. It’s an elaborate, circumlocutory way of expressing climate denial, which, in and of itself, can take many forms. Denial is not always as brazen as Fox News commentators’ fossil fuel money—induced craze; in fact, it usually isn’t. Climate denial’s most pervasive manifestation exists in the systematic toning-down of crisis warnings with misguided warnings of “we can’t afford it” or “we need a middle-ground approach.” Denial also rears its head with claims that we have time to address the crisis, and with predictable admonitions to remain moderate.
The unfortunate reality is that despite policymakers’ best efforts to insist cost is the real issue with climate inaction, it never has been — and it never will be. The roadblocks lie in fossil fuel lobbyists’ undue influence and corporate money’s governance of our democracy. If cost were the foremost bone of contention, there would be a rapid consensus among politicians to pass the Green New Deal now — because the environmental and monetary price tags will only increase the longer we wait.
Even Citigroup, an unabashed investor in fossil fuels, recently issued a report detailing the impending financial costs of a warming planet. The report claimed that in addition to the existential risk climate change poses, corporations — as though they are separate from the survival of the rest of us — should also be worried about their business models. It implored financial regulators to heed the warnings of climate science and begin factoring in new, more severe environmental externalities. “Financial risk from climate change is here to say,” the report concluded, in tandem with an ominous “Act now or pay later.”
In essence, “act now or pay later” is a fitting descriptor of our situation. Carbon emissions already cost the U.S. about $250 billion per year, with that number slated to increase as our emissions do the same. By the end of the century, climate change could cost the U.S. economy up to 10.5% of its entire GDP. Some companies are privately anticipating a $1 trillion total loss in 5 years due to warming. Perhaps more startling, a model by the IPCC predicted that in the worst-case climate scenario, one in ten assets could be destroyed by 2100. The mortality cost of unmitigated warming is just as urgent, if not more pressing. The WHO estimated an additional 250,000 deaths between 2030 and 2050 due to risks associated with air pollution, malaria, and more.
Another deceptive tactic employed by climate deniers is the idea that climate action will be a drain on the economy. Not so — in fact, the opposite is true. Investments in sustainable infrastructure could boost U.S. economic activity by $26 trillion by 2030 compared to typical spending. That’s a net gain of almost $10 trillion to the economy under the most ambitious Green New Deal, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s.
Ultimately, we all have a choice to make: demand climate action on both moral and economic fronts, or capitulate to the anti-environmental forces currently holding our government in their hands. Voters must make so-called “moderate” positions on climate change untenable, calling for a Green New Deal, in order to avert the most catastrophic consequences of an artificially warming planet — the likes of which we have never seen.