By Vishal Gulati
Climate change is annually impacting the US economy by an average of $240 billion, equal to an estimated 40 per cent of its current economic growth, scientists warn, saying burning fossil fuels “comes at a giant price tag which the US economy cannot afford and cannot sustain”.
Despite this, the Trump administration has begun the process of withdrawing from the historic Paris Climate Agreement adopted by nearly 200 countries, including India. The US, which is 80 per cent dependent on fossil fuels for its energy needs, says the Paris accord goes against its domestic interests.
Citing frequent and extreme natural disasters, the scientists estimate three hurricanes and 76 wildfires in the US, largely caused by climate change owing to the burning of fossil fuels, could cause damage of nearly $300 billion, said the scientists’ analysis, “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States”, released on Wednesday by the Universal Ecological Fund.
Saying that the economic losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and 76 wildfires in nine western states will be the most costly weather-related events in US history, researchers say such events can stunt US growth.
Giving the larger picture, the economic losses from extreme weather events — droughts, wildfires, severe storms, hurricanes and flooding — have almost doubled, from $211.3 billion in the 1990s to $418.4 billion in the last decade.
The scientists say it is time to act against fossil fuels.
“Burning fossil fuels comes at a giant price tag which the US economy cannot afford and not sustain,” an official statement quoted co-author Sir Robert Watson as saying.
“The evidence is undeniable. These recent extreme weather events are a continuation of a three decades’ trend of increasing numbers, intensities and costs of severe storms, hurricanes, flooding, droughts and wildfires,” he said.
“Simply, the more fossil fuels we burn, the faster the climate continues to change and cost. Thus, transitioning to a low-carbon economy is essential for economic growth,” added Watson, a former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading scientific body on climate change.
These massive costs fall mainly on individuals and families, not the government or the private sector.
“We can expect extreme weather events and economic losses and costs associated with them to continue increasing unless we make dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” said James McCarthy, co-author and professor of oceanography with Harvard University.
“The Trump administration is determined to maximise the use of America’s fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — as well as to cut energy industry regulations. This is taking us the opposite direction,” McCarthy said.
Alternatively, addressing this problem can fuel economic growth and create jobs.
“Clean and sustainable energy just requires smart decisions and smarter investments,” said Liliana Hisas, Universal Ecological Fund Executive Director and report co-author.
In the next decade, these economic losses and health costs are projected to reach at least $360 billion annually.
According to Watson, weather events are the result of natural factors. However, human-induced climate change has altered their intensity and frequency substantially and measurably.
Citing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information, he said the number of extreme weather events with at least $1 billion in economic losses and damages have increased by almost 2.5 fold, totaling 92 in the last decade (2007-2016), compared to 38 in the 1990s and by more than fourfold, compared to 21 in the 1980s.
The report says in August last year 30 inches of rainfall fell in a few days, flooding southern Louisiana.
As a result, more than 50,000 homes, 100,000 vehicles and 20,000 businesses were damaged or destroyed.
The economic losses due to the floods in Louisiana were $10 billion. Some 75 per cent of those affected by the record Louisiana rainfall were uninsured.
Fossil fuels account for 80 per cent of the US energy.
Coal, oil and natural gas currently account for just over 80 per cent of the primary energy generated and used.
This percentage has decreased slightly over the last two decades. As a result, 82 per cent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions are solely from carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning.
Currently, the report says, fossil fuel power plants generate 65 per cent of the electricity used in the US, contributing 39 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions.
Natural gas and coal are the main sources of electricity generation, accounting for 34 and 30 per cent respectively. (IANS)
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)