Stop asking about the cost of climate change

Politicians love to wax poetic about fiscal responsibility. Our own governor is cutting back on major social services and education funding to close our $1.6 billion budget deficit, even though he’s giving away more money in tax credits to oil companies.

National politics is no different. After U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York revealed her Green New Deal, a plan to dramatically reduce the U.S.’ carbon footprint, hysteria over budget concerns ensued. “Green New Deal would cost up to $93 trillion, or $600G per household,” a Fox News headline reads. Investor’s Business Daily ran a similar headline titled “How Does ‘Boss’ AOC Plan To Pay For Her $93 Trillion Green New Deal?”

Several members of Congress have chimed in as well. U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina likened the proposal to socialism.

Of course, the cardinal rule of the Republican Party is that you can’t put forward a plan to address climate change without calling it socialism.

And yet, as commentators and politicians scream from the heavens about how expensive this is going to be, I can’t help but ask: who cares?

Oddly enough, nobody asks how expensive emergencies of a lesser degree will cost to mitigate. Despite historically low undocumented immigration and the comparatively low levels of crime committed by those who do come, President Trump has declared a national emergency so he can build the $15 billion dollar wall he promised. Heck, even legitimate emergencies like natural disasters — which costs the U.S. up to over $300 billion each year — are unquestionable, non-negotiable spending priorities.

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So why isn’t climate change prevention considered worth spending big bucks on? Without exaggeration, climate change is quite literally a global emergency. The Earth’s warming of 1 degree Celsius from preindustrial levels has amplified deadly natural disasters all over the planet, and a UN report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment confirmed that climate change was an indisputable force. Heat waves, hurricanes, storms, water shortages and wildfires are wreaking havoc here in the United States as the frequency with which they occur drastically increases. 2017 alone saw a flurry of hurricanes like Maria and Michael wipe out entire communities, along with historic fires that blazed across California.

The effect on people’s lives cannot be overstated. On a micro-level, losing your home or business to a fire often means starting over. It affects the availability of public education, often in the places that need it the most. It disrupts major production centers that are crucial for the economies of states and communities. Related changes in sea levels affect disadvantaged communities, not including Alaska villages like Newtok being relocated as their homes literally plunge underwater.

As for the macro-level, it’s safe to say climate change will fundamentally threaten the way we live. There is no way to adapt to massive heat waves that destroy crop production, which affects how over 1 billion people in the poorest regions of Africa and Asia are fed. As ice sheets in the Arctic melt and water dries up, those displaced by climate change will quickly overcome the refugees from international conflicts. Air pollution in major city centers like Seattle will become impossible to ignore.

But if it is money people are so concerned about, you’re far better off paying the up-front cost of mitigation proposals like the Green New Deal than waiting until things get worse. Natural disasters in 2017 alone cost the government around $306 billion. However, when we include the costs climate change overall poses to governments, it becomes clear that these aren’t one-off costs we pay. A report by the Universal Ecological Fund estimates that climate change will cost the U.S. up to $360 billion annually.

Is that anywhere close to $91 trillion? No, not yet. But that isn’t the point.

Attempts to crunch numbers and match funds to the estimated cost of a particular climate change-related effect is as unreasonable as using a ladle to scoop water out of a sinking ship. Climate change is the sinking ship; disingenuous concerns about how much it costs to save everyone is the ladle.