Saturday, October 11, 2014

Cyclones and climate change: The $9.7 trillion problem

Brian Kahn at the Weather Channel via Climate Central: You can do a lot with $9.7 trillion: buy all the real estate in Manhattan 12 times over, purchase 22 carbon copies of Apple, or an absurd quantity of apples. It’s also the amount of money that tropical cyclones could cost the global economy over the next century, especially if climate projections of fewer but more intense cyclones are accurate. In comparison to those losses, the cost of action to reduce emissions and beef up coastal preparedness is relatively cheap say researchers.

Humanity and cyclones are no strangers to each other. Roughly 35 percent of the world’s 7 billion people are in the path of cyclones and coastal populations are expected to swell in the coming century. To understand the future damage that cyclones could inflict on ever-growing coastal cities, two researchers looked at 60 years of cyclone and economic data in a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study.

They found that cyclones — known as hurricanes or typhoons depending on the ocean basin in which they form — left lasting impacts on the economies of the countries they hit. In the case of major events, such as 1-in-100 year storm like Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the impacts were worse and longer-lasting than a full-blown financial crisis. If that sounds shocking to you, you’re not the only one who felt that way. “We didn’t believe what we saw at first,” said Amir Jina, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago and one of the study’s authors.

Part of the surprise for Jina was the robustness of the results and how they fly in the face of one commonly held thought in economics that disasters can actually give a boost to a country’s economy in the long run.

The losses are essentially hidden in plain sight, spread over long periods of time rather than one big hit. Countries hit by cyclones continue to grow. But the study showed that they are knocked onto a different, slightly lower growth track, like a car switching from a highway’s fast lane to the slow (or at least slightly less fast) lane....

A beach house in Breezy Point, Queens, New York, wrecked by Hurricane Sandy, shot by Jim.henderson, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

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