‘Cautious, Conservative’ GAO Calculates Massive U.S. Economic Losses Due to Climate Impacts
Severe weather brought on by climate change is already costing the United States tens of billions of dollars per year, and losses could mount as high as US$150 billion in labour productivity and $53 billion in lost crop yields in 2099, the U.S. General Accountability Office concluded in a report issued this week.
The report by the auditing arm of the U.S. Congress, jointly requested by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), “says different sectors of the economy and different parts of the country will be harmed in ways that are difficult to predict,” the New York Times reports. “The Southwest will suffer more costly wildfires, the Southeast will see more heat-related deaths, and the Northwest must prepare for diminished shellfish harvests.”
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The report counted up the cost of U.S. climate impacts over the last decade at $350 billion, EcoWatch reports. And “the tally does not even include the economic toll from this year’s horrific West Coast fires and successive hurricanes, which are estimated to cost at least $300 billion.”
The two senators behind the report were clear on the need for action.
“The Government Accountability Office—if you will, the chief bean counter—is basically telling us that this is costing us a lot of money,” Cantwell said. “We need to understand as stewards of the taxpayer that climate is a fiscal issue, and the fact that it’s having this big a fiscal impact on our federal budget needs to be dealt with.”
“My hope is the [Trump] administration will take a look at this report and realize there is an economic impact here that is significant,” Collins added. “We simply cannot afford the billions of dollars in additional funding that’s going to be needed if we do not take into account the consequences of climate change.”
But Harvard University economist Robert Stavins said the GAO may have been too cautious, and too focused on unanswered questions around future climate costs, to issue an unmistakable call to action.
“The GAO study is conservative, it’s not alarmist, it’s realistic and balanced and they go out of their way to point out all of the uncertainties involved,” he said. “I don’t see any likelihood it’s going to be taken seriously.”
Rhodium Group partner Trevor Houser agreed the analysis was “on the conservative side,” the Times notes. “The agriculture analysis, for example, looked only at how changes in temperature and precipitation would affect four commodity crops. It did not study the fiscal fallout of events like wildfires, and did not take into account the costs of infectious diseases linked to climate change.”
“Climate change is clear and present danger to the U.S. economy and the fiscal health of the U.S. government, and that risk is really unevenly spread,” he said. “It needs to be actively managed by the federal government.”