Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The higher cost of business as usual

An opinion piece in OregonLive.com: The Oregon Legislature is considering a suite of bills to reduce the state's carbon emissions, and some legislators seem to conclude that the costs of such measures are prohibitive. But they might be reaching this conclusion without considering the costs of not reducing emissions. Pay a little now or pay a whole lot more in the near future. That's the message of research we have been involved with that assesses the likely costs of climate change for Oregon families.

The Program on Climate Economics of the Climate Leadership Initiative at the University of Oregon has analyzed the costs to Oregon households of allowing climate change to proceed uncontrolled. A team of economists and scientists, led by ECONorthwest, an economic consulting firm, found that uncontrolled climate change could impose significant costs on Oregon. Rising temperatures will adversely affect public health, including more asthma- and heat-related illnesses, and will reduce the productivity of workers. More frequent winter floods and wildfires are likely to damage buildings and reduce property values. There will also be some direct expenses, such as higher costs for health care, air conditioning and supplying clean water.

After examining these and other issues, the team estimates that by 2020 each Oregon family could spend $2,070 a year -- more than 4 percent of the current median household income -- on climate change-related costs. That's a $3.5 billion annual price tag for the state. By 2040, per-family expenditures could increase to 6 percent, and by 2080 additional costs are estimated to consume 10 percent of average family income, totaling $13.7 billion per year. These estimates reflect the best science on global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

These costs are purposefully conservative, because the team did not assess all costs and included only the highest-probability effects of climate change, including flood and storm damage, reduced food production, increased wildfires, health expenditures and energy-related costs. Many other effects, such as more variable weather and increased pathogens, were ignored because of insufficient data. In addition, the team did not assess costs to Oregon families and businesses from climate effects occurring outside the state. Oregon also faces the real risk of far larger, even catastrophic effects because of climate change….

The Oregon coast near Brookings, shot by NicolasVigier, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

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